Is the Hotel Business Centre Past its Sell-by Date?
By Andrea ~ londonhotelsinsight.com
Monday, 6th February 2012
Thirty odd years ago, a hotel's business centre was essential to business travellers: without it, you simply couldn't communicate.

Will the hotel business centre begin to look as obsolete as these rather ancient looking computers?
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You needed the fax back then for a start and later when the internet arrived you needed a networked computer to connect to it (and wouldn't imagine getting one in your room). 

In fact, you relied on the business centre to do any work at all, laptops being almost unknown back then.  Doesn't that feel like eons ago?

The world has changed since then.  A laptop with a decent WiFi card and some basic software allows travellers to access email, create presentations and documents and make international calls via Skype much more cheaply than through the hotel's phones. 

Increasingly, mobile phones also offer similar functions – even a computer is often unnecessary.

More thoughtful London hotels - like The Rubens above - give guests free access to a PC with printer and free WiFi

So many of the huge hotel business centres that were a key differentiator in the 1980s have now disappeared.  More nimble facilities are useful; the Cavendish for instance has a few PCs in the lobby – as does the budget Tune Hotel on Westminster Bridge Road or the Rubens at the Palace.  That's quite sufficient for checking the news or your email on the run.

While individual travellers no longer need the traditional business centre, corporates often require meeting rooms and audiovisual services for conferences and events. 

That's where a big business hotel like the Hilton on Park Lane's can pay dividends with its 8 different meeting rooms accommodating from four to 50 that can be flexibly used as conference and break-out rooms, with the hotel's support personnel able to assist with teleconferencing as well as basics such as refreshment.

The business centre London Hotels Insight recently inspected at Radisson Edwardian New Providence Wharf is one of the best in town - and unlike at the Hilton on Park Lane and other London hotels, they offer free WiFi throughout the property too
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However the Hilton on Park Lane is a bit of a dinosaur in imposing WiFi charges on its guests and we personally prefer the discreet Mayfair meeting rooms within the hip ambience of the nearby May Fair Hotel, where they at least have the common sense to provide free WiFi for all corporate and leisure hotel guests.  The Chesterfield Mayfair – a luxury 4 star hotel where we recently did a free WiFi touchdown – also provides complimentary internet access and wonderfully intimate meeting rooms.

The Radisson Edwardian Heathrow is another recent free WiFi touchdown hotel we've personally inspected.  It's not typical of Heathrow airport hotels with its stylish decor and stunning chandeliers - and has 42 meeting rooms to accommodate between 2 and 700 people.  It has a state-of-the-art business centre too but with its versatile facilities and free internet, I ask again: why would companies or individuals need one?

The Radisson Edwardian Heathrow's business facilities (which we've personally inspected) are second to none.
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The Mandarin Oriental operates a "Red Fan" programme, which not only helps event organisers get their show on the road but also offers them various facilities to sweeten their stay – including upgrade to a suite, a personal pre-conference introduction to the hotel team and a personal phone. 

That type of service can greatly ease the task of organising an event – but why on earth do they charge guests extra for WiFi?  This makes absolutely no sense for a 5 star hotel in the 21st century.

Most four and five star hotels will delegate one or more dedicated staff to look after an event.  They will not only provide planning help, but will assist  during the event with problem-solving, photocopying and printing, and will generally ensure that the whole event runs smoothly. 

It's often the small things that matter most to business guests – such as the easy recharging portal pictured below available for guests at the Bloomsbury Street Hotel (when visiting the same hotel recently, we also noticed that it had one of the rare central London meeting venues with natural daylight).

The Radisson Edwardian Bloomsbury Street makes a charging portal available near its lobby.
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Experienced hotel event planners can suggest numerous ways to improve an event. 

For instance the format of a smaller meeting might be better using a U-shaped rather than auditorium-style setup if feedback and discussion, rather than just presentation of ideas is the purpose of the meeting.  Allowing a break between sessions rather than sitting delegates in an auditorium for an entire morning will help the audience keep focused.

But for the individual traveller – whether business or leisure - a hotel's business centre may no longer be useful. 

More important is the vexed question of WiFi charges, with many so-called luxury hotels slyly charging their guests hefty extra fees without mentioning this before they book.

This bedroom at Hotel 41 includes a private work desk and free WiFi for guests.
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London Hotels Insight also now provides a free consultancy service to organisations searching for their ideal conference venue in London.  We also invite London hotels to arrange for us to do an inspection tour of their meetings and event facilities to potentially include on our recommended shortlist – but they should only bother to do so if they offer free WiFi.

Photo credits: dolor_ipsum www.flickr.com/photos/dolor_ipsum/3262262008 , London Hotels Insight blogger Timea.


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