CHICAGO — In a world where hotel guests increasingly crave pampering, upscale hotel chains are turning club floors into over-the-top retreats where members can choose their pillow, groove to a free iPod, and pour a cappuccino day or night. Hotel "clubs," members-only floors with special perks not available to standard guests, have been used for decades to reward good customers. But now hotel chains are trying to raise the bar to justify higher rates and boost revenue.
Ritz-Carlton is adding fireplaces and barista coffee service, Sheraton's installing new computers that let users download music, while Hilton plans more late-night snacks. The chains are in various stages of launching new club concepts, but many expect to start in the next year. Some examples:
•Sheraton will start providing free wireless Internet and the new Microsoft Surface tabletop computer that lets people order songs or download photos. It's considering Starbucks single-serve coffee machines and self-service refrigerators to let guests help themselves to drinks or yogurt. New lounges are being tested at Sheratons in Chicago, Overland Park, Kan., and Toronto.
•Wyndham is planning a new look and feel for club levels in 2008 that will emphasize an allergen-free environment and more ways to personalize one's visit, by, say, pillow type or fruit request, says Peter Strebel, president of Wyndham Worldwide. The new concept can soon be seen at Wyndham O'Hare, now under renovation. Club rooms will cost 5% to 25% extra, depending on the market.
•Hyatt plans free wireless Internet and cappuccino machines on club floors. It's testing oversize, marble-topped tables to make it easier to work on laptops, hold small meetings and squeeze more people into small lounges, says John Wallis of Hyatt. Hyatt's trying new lounges at the Hyatt Baltimore and Hyatt Regency O'Hare in Chicago.
•Hilton is launching night club food and drink offerings plus concierge services for members. Test lounges will open this year at Dallas Lincoln Center, St. Petersburg, Fla., and Villahermosa, Mexico.
•Ritz-Carlton is offering free lunch foods such as sandwiches and salads and is considering more sophisticated adults-only club lounges after seeing the success of the adult lounge at its Cancun, Mexico, resort. A new club lounge is being tested at the San Francisco Ritz-Carlton, which has a fireplace and automated cappuccino machine, pet-walking services, and free use of music-filled iPods. Fancy services aim to justify higher rates.
The focus on club floors — also called concierge or executive floors — comes as nightly rates are rising and hoteliers are seeking ways to justify higher rates.
Furthermore, the chains face growing demand from leisure travelers willing to pay extra for VIP room assignments, as well as loyalty club members expecting them as free upgrades.
Guests who stay on club floors expect restricted key-card access to their floor, better bedding, fewer children, concierge service, and a lounge that offers a free breakfast buffet and evening snacks. Some offerings are better than others, and inconsistency leaves some people leery of the premium rate.
Now, chains across the price spectrum — from $200 a night to more than $1,000 — are brainstorming new formats to make club floors seem more like a hotel-within-a-hotel and worth the price. As chains launch their new club concepts in the next year, travelers will see them pitched as clubby, exclusive retreats for the well-heeled or just affluent-minded, says Chekitan Dev, an associate marketing professor at Cornell University's hotel school.
Source: USA Today
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