Hotel Chains Is Bringing Back Facilities to Win Business Travellers

Business travellers are the envy of their friends when they jet off around the world, but jet lag and missed family events mean many would forgo the travel for an evening at home. The feeling may soon be reinforced in Europe because of a trend towards cheaper, no-frills hotels, without room service or other luxuries, as cost-cutting travel managers are wooed by budget hotel chains such as Travelodge, Choice Hotels’ Comfort Hotels and Holiday Inn Express.Hotel chains say budget hotels are increasingly popular because they have shed unnecessary costs while retaining important services. However, the first generation of budget lodges may have cut a frill too far. To help their expansion across Europe, the second generation is adding back some of the services scrapped by the trailblazers.Choice Hotels, an American chain, has 164 Comfort Inns across continental Europe, mostly in France and Germany, and is opening Sleep Inn, another budget brand, in Spain and the UK this year. Holiday Inn’s Express hotels are pushing into Germany and Spain, after opening 54 hotels around the UK in the past two-and-a-half years.Spanish Sol Melia has opened its Sol Inns budget hotels in Germany, and several US budget names are preparing to follow. Cendant, owner of Day’s Inn and Howard Johnson, the US roadside chains, is planning up to 50 low-cost hotels in Europe over the next five years. Andries de Vaal, a partner at the hospitality consulting arm of Deloitte & Touche, says these budget hotels with added frills are a particularly European phenomenon. They draw on the experience of more basic US roadside lodges, but add back “extra” services such as modem points, telephones and some catering.Executives in the UK and France are already familiar with the limited-service budget hotel, but the hotel groups face more of a battle to attract businesspeople in other continental European countries, where the concept is newer, says Mr de Vaal. Shane Harris, vice-president of Express by Holiday Inn, says it intends to expand the hotel chain quickly, with plans to open 100 properties in both Spain and Germany. “We are gearing this product to the business traveller, and already 80 per cent of our customers are on business. The guest profile is a road-warrior middle manager.”Thanks to its volume of UK hotels, Express is now able to open countrywide negotiations with companies to include the group in their travel policies. Mr Harris claims he is winning customers away from older, traditional three-star hotels. While the first generation of budget properties stripped out so many services that guests might not even have a telephone in their room, the second generation – such as Sleep Inn and Ibis, owned by the French hotel chain Accor – realises that, although companies would like to pay less, their employees still need good communication facilities. Express has meeting rooms and a DIY fax and photocopier, as well as telephones and modem points.Andrew Fletcher, company secretary at BAE Systems’ military aircraft division, says: “In my organisation there is a demand to go down-market because it is in the company’s interest. We are seeing low-cost hotels like low-cost airlines.” Junior staff at the Irish Times newspaper are also being asked to use budget lodges while travelling. Joan Scales, the newspaper’s travel manager, says: “We certainly like to use them if the location is right. One essential factor for us is the telecoms system – if they don’t have modem points they are no use to us.”Louise Raisbeck, a consultant with public relations group Countrywide Porter Novelli, recently stayed at a Holiday Inn Express close to the Millennium Dome in London. She says: “We stayed there before taking clients out to dinner. It was fine, and had more services than I expected. Everything was new and not tatty like some hotels in London at around the same price. We had to pay in advance by credit card, which was a bit annoying. But I’m not sure I would feel the same about staying in one abroad – I would need more of a com fort zone, more support services in case things went wrong.”

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