Not all hotels are the same, even within the same chain. That means different amenities, features, and services. In order to avoid getting caught figuring out a solution to a problem that could have been avoided with planning, scope out your hotels before you arrive and supplement their configurations by bringing what you need to make your room work for you.
I will be using my stays recent stays at two UK Holiday Inn properties: Norwich, and London, Bloomsbury, as a examples.
Wi-Fi and Internet access
Just because you hotel offers Wi-Fi, does not mean that it is an affordable option. Because I was traveling for research purposes, the Bloomsbury property provided me with vouchers for one device for each day of my stay. Beyond that, and without vouchers, the cost of the Internet was £16 a day, or roughly $27 a day, probably similar to what you pay for a month’s worth of data on your domestic phone plan.
In Norwich we were in an executive room, which meant the Wi-Fi was included. A wired connection was available, and ran on the same password as the Wi-Fi system. There were no restrictions on the number of devices that could use the password in Norwich, which made the entire family happy. Everybody could Skype or FaceTime back home.
The two properties also differed on how they provided Internet access. In Norwich, I was provided with log-in instructions and a password. The Internet timed-out regularly, requiring logging in again after the timeout. I was told by the manager that this was due to the UK’s privacy laws. In London, I received a voucher that did not timeout until the time ran out, so every 24-hours, on the dot, even if you were in the middle of something the system tossed you out to the log-in page on their intranet. The voucher, once used, was tied to the initial machine that the code was entered on.
Elite members of Intercontinental Hotels reward program, called IHG Rewards Club, do routinely received complementary Internet, nationally and internationally. I did not experience this feature during this trip. In the US, elite hotel loyalty members, in general, usually just login and the charges are waived at check-out, or they use their loyalty program credentials to log-in which them provides them with special offers (like free Internet).
By contrast, we visited a Guoman hotel (Charring Cross) and found the following image in the lift:
The sign speaks for itself: “Free wi-fi is not a luxury. It’s a necessity. Fast, free, unlimited wi-fi. Now available throughout the hotel.” (Note, that this “free” wi-fi was provided by Bluetooth. BT hotspots in town ran £4 an hour so another service, like O2 or Free Wi-Fi were our go-tos while wandering London and Norwich.)
Printing was an issue at both properties. Norwich did not have a business center or a printer, but they allowed the front desk staff to print things if the customer e-mailed them to a special e-mail address. This was available on request, and not shared during check-in. At London Bloomsbury, the hotel had a small HP printed nuzzled between two PCs used as Internet access points (still running the now unsupported Windows XP, by the way). I tried to use the printer twice. It was out of ink both times, even after reporting it the first day (and receiving several pages of blank paper following a print request). As far as I know, the printer never received ink during our stay. We ended up going to concierge and asking them to print items, like discount tourist vouchers for places like Hampton Court that the Churchill War Rooms.
It would have been more efficient for us, and frankly for the hotel, to have a working printer with open terminals. Many US hotels offer basic web-services, including printing, in their lobby area. The PCs in London required asking for a “lobby/lounge” voucher at the front desk that worked only with those two computers. The first time I tried it I couldn’t get on. I finally took a shot and swapped the codes and was on—they had the codes reversed on the documentation.
If you think you will need to print, specifically ask the hotel before you arrive what they provide in terms of printing, and if they don’t offer printing, what other resources might be nearby (like a copy center) that can provide printing services.
As an alternative, you can bring your own printer, but travel printers are very expensive. If your work requires confidential printing, and your company is paying for it (and you want to lug around a printer) then your own personal printer, like the HP OfficeJet 150 Mobile Wireless Color Printer with Copier ($399.99) or the less flexible HP Officejet 100 Mobile Printer ($279.99) may be worth your while. And remember a printer requires paper and ink, or those add either to the weight of the solution, or the time involved in set-up or problem solving when on the road.
Power was not a problem, but that is only because I planned ahead. In Norwich, we had a desk with two outlets, both UK Standard. One was used by a lamp, which we occasionally disconnected to expose the other plug. The other outlet was open. In London, the desk lamp was plugged in under the desk, making both desk outlets available.
I plugged in the Lenmar World Travel Adapter with Dual USB Ports, which provided two international plugs, a US standard plug on top, and two powered USB ports. To that device I attached a Simran SM-60 Universal Power Strip that I brought in my checked luggage. This combination provided for enough plugs and ports to charge everything we had: An iPad, A Kindle Fire, two iPhones, and a camera battery. That configuration also left enough plugs for the Microsoft Surface Pro, and a place for my wife to plug-in her HSI dual voltage travel hair straightener.
Other European power tips:
- If nothing in your room works, check by the door for a keycard slot. Stick your keycard in the slot to “activate” your room.
- Many individual outlets have their own on-off switch. Make sure they are pressed to the bottom and the top is out (usually) to ensure that the power is on to the plug. This is in addition to “activating” the power in the room.
- Before you leave, count the number of simultaneous devices you will need to charge and make sure you have enough outlets and cables for all of them.
An early configuration of plugs at the Norwich Holiday Inn. Note the outlet switches in the “ON” position.
Video and Music
I brought cables. Everything I owned could be output to HDMI. And you know, the televisions had HDMI ports. Unfortunately, all of the switches controlling inputs were disabled at both properties. Many hotels now offer patch panels for plugging various devices into the hotel’s flat screen TVs for PC output, watching video or streaming music. There should be clear statements at all properties that don’t allow for this so people don’t waste time fiddling with the TVs, which also increases the risk of damage to the sets.
The room in Norwich also had an iHome. When I first arrived, I could get power out of the port. After looking around, I realized the clock was running on just the LCD battery backup. The radio had been unplugged, no doubt, so a previous tenet could use the outlet next the bed (take note, there should be available outlets next to the bed) I found all the bits and plugged it in. Still no power to the iPod/iPhone 30-pin port. Looks like the 30-pin connector on the iHome was also damaged. In London, it took us a while to realize that the clock was actually in the TV, which explained the lack of clock-radio. If you want to listen to music, you might want to consider your own portable Bluetooth speaker, as you can’t expect every room to have a working sound system to plug into.
Always remember to:
- Check the power to the clock-radio before trying to charge an iPhone/iPod. Bring adaptors if you have a Lighting device.
- Don’t expect rooms with Flat-panel TVs to permit use of their ports for your own purposes. When they do, though, it is very useful.
- Consider bringing your own Bluetooth speaker to ensure a viable sound system. Make sure to count its adapter among the outlets required for charging.
Holiday Inn Overall
I found both hotels clean, quiet, and restful. Both could use tech and power upgrades, like television inputs and business or Internet centers, to bring them up to the level of many US hotels in the same class. Upgrades should also include revisiting Wi-Fi policies so they are more affordable, more consistent across properties in the same brand, and more generally convenient for the customer. I would also like to see clear postings on televisions that the ports are disabled so customers don’t waste their time finding out for themselves. Television was pretty sketchy at both properties with very few channels, which isn’t unusual for the UK, but improved cable or satellite access would have been welcomed.
All the staff members were accommodating and helpful. I would suggest that they have a clear check-list of information for business travelers that is volunteered at check-in, such as how to print, if the televisions can be used as monitors or not, and what to expect from Wi-Fi in terms of costs, performance, and behavior.
Holiday Inn is continuing to evolve. They announced in July of 2013 that IHG® Rewards Club would offer free Internet in all its hotels globally. In Europe, free Internet is currently available for IHG® Rewards Club Elite members and will extend to all members from July 2014. Free Internet is currently available to all IHG® Rewards Club members, when staying at any of IHG® nine brands in Greater China, Asia, Middle East, Africa, and the Americas.
The company is also deploying what it calls Open Lobby, a concept that is currently available in five European properties. Holiday Inn Open Lobby transforms the traditional hotel lobby by combining the front desk, lobby, restaurant, bar, lounge area, and business center into one open, cohesive space, with a refreshing, contemporary design.
I really appreciate the opportunity to work with Holiday Inn on this trip and look forward to sharing my comments on their properties, and those of other brands, in the future.