Hotels are evolving to meet the changing needs of their best customer: business travelers.
Photograph by Diego Cervo
By Jeri Clausing
November 24, 2015

At the Langham Place Fifth Avenue hotel in New York, they call them simply IGIs—“I got it” travelers.

“No, I don’t need help with my roller bag,” they say, “I got it.” And “I can find my way to my room on my own, thanks. I got it.”

When they do want something, however, they want it now.

They are the new breed of road warriors: self-sufficient yet demanding travelers who are blurring the competitive lines for hoteliers and challenging them to find new ways to grab and keep the attention of business travelers.

“The business traveler today is a complex individual who doesn’t have a single travel profile,” says Bjorn Hanson, divisional dean of the Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism, and Sports Management at New York University. “He or she may be going to a conference and staying at that conference hotel with all the services. Other times they may be traveling wearing shorts and a baseball cap. That person doesn’t really want to check into a hotel with mahogany and English hunting scenes in the lobby.”

The hotel industry is responding, launching a host of new limited and select-service brands in recent years that offer vibrant, tech-friendly lobbies with kiosk and mobile check-in options, grab-and-go food stations, exercise areas and modern, fresh rooms that increasingly draw business travelers away from more traditional and sometimes sterile full-service properties.

Hanson says the new properties meet most business travelers’ needs, without the barriers of multiple doormen and all the confusion about who and how much to tip.

At The Langham, General Manager Francois-Olivier Luiggi says, the staff keep a close eye on incoming travelers to differentiate between the IGIs and families and leisure travelers who want the full doormen-to-room experience.

For the IGIs, they offer things like flexible check-in and check-out times, free bottled water and pressing for five items of clothing on check-in. For female travelers, they might also offer a free hair wash and blow-dry when they inquire about the gym, says Luiggi.

“Every luxury hotel does these things one way or another,” he says. “But we have come up with a list to engage those people who have been everywhere, don’t need anything.”

Full-service and luxury brands are also following the lead of the younger, hipper brands that cater to the constantly wired millennial generation, offering mobile check-in options, virtual concierge service apps to speed up valet car retrievals, and other programs to serve their guests as simply—and quickly—as possible.

The luxury brand Conrad, for example, has a virtual concierge app that works across all of its 26 properties and allows guests to order up whatever they need in 13 different languages. The request is immediately translated to the language spoken at the hotel and routed to the proper department.

And a new full-service Hilton in the Dallas suburb of Plano has effectively merged some aspects of select and full service, offering to-go food options at the entrance to its sit-down restaurant.

Full-service and luxury hotels still fall behind, however, when it comes to the one thing virtually every business traveler does need: Wi-Fi. And while survey after survey for years has shown that free Wi-Fi tops the list of travelers’ priorities, it’s still hard to find it free at many upscale and luxury properties.

And Hanson says he doesn’t expect that to change anytime soon, although he does note that Loews Hotels & Resorts recently announced free Wi-Fi, and Richard Branson’s new Virgin Hotels says it will offer free Wi-Fi with no bandwidth restrictions.

“Wi-Fi is changing,” Hanson says, “but at a glacial pace.”

John Vanderslice, head of luxury brands for Hilton Worldwide, says the cost of Wi-Fi is not a big deal for luxury guests.

“What they really want is [for] it to work,” he says. “For luxury, that’s really more important than price.”

But Hanson has a different theory. He says the higher-end hotels are more often operating under management agreements with their brands, which means the fees they pay the company whose name they bear are based on total revenue. More-economical properties often operate under franchise agreements based strictly on room revenue, so the franchise company wants the Wi-Fi included in the room rate so it can capture more of that income.

Hanson, who compiles an annual report on hotel fees, estimates hotels will make a record $2.25 billion from ancillary charges this year. And he expects that number to continue to rise as hotels add new fees and raise existing ones.

Marriott, for example, recently announced it was putting envelopes in hotel rooms to encourage tipping, leading to speculation that hotels might start including mandatory gratuities in their rates. Some resorts already do, on top of the dreaded daily resort fees.

Hoteliers at the recent Lodging Conference in Phoenix said they agree that housekeepers should be tipped. But Thomas Corcoran, chairman of FelCor Lodging Trust, which owns and manages hotels, says, “Hopefully we don’t copy the airline industry and fee people to death.”

This Executive Travel story appeared in the December 2014 issue of Fortune.

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