The idea of clumsy features being phased out altogether is something we’ve gotten used to with technology — Apple is a great example. The company is constantly doing away with ports, drives and other features in order to create a more slim line product that redefines what’s useful and necessary.
Could hotel business centres go the same way? Are they fundamentally an obsolete concept? Could their functionality be accomplished in other ways?
Many people walk by hotel business centres without even noticing, but rest-assured, they do exist. Since the advent of computing in business, hotel guests have been trickling into these out-of-the-way rooms and using them (in relatively low numbers, and for short amounts of time) to get things done.
But like every aspect of the hotel experience (lobbies, exercise rooms, guest rooms) business centres are being picked apart, re-tooled, and in some cases done away with completely. What’s the future of this archaic amenity?
Why people use business centres
Traditionally, hotel business centres have been used to print boarding passes or other important documents, or just to check mail and stay connected. There was a time when fax was super important, and business centres provided a valuable service in this respect.
But things are different in 2017. Not many business travelers are in need of a fax machine, and the need for public PC access is at an all-time low. Most of us take a laptop, tablet or smartphone wherever we go. Boarding passes? Printing those ahead of time is becoming obsolete too, as more airlines and passengers use QR codes to check in.
This isn’t to say that print, fax, and even PC services are completely obsolete and that no guest ever needs them. It’s only to say that a dedicated space may not be worth maintaining, if only for the convenience of a very few.
Constraints and concerns
The worst type of stereotypical hotel business centre is stuffy, dated and windowless. The CPUs are dated and struggle to execute the most rudimentary commands. In some embarrassing cases, the screens may not even be flat. This is simply not an area of the hotel where people want to spend a lot of time — closed off, isolated and uncomfortable. It’s like being in an airless bubble. Get in, get it done and get out.
But this isn’t even the main concern. Forbes ran a piece in 2014 called “Why You Should Never Use a Hotel Business Centre Computer” which nicely summarises the hacking concerns associated with business centre PCs. The need to protect data, passwords and sensitive accounts is even more prescient after the global “ransomware” virus that made news in May of 2017.
There is software (such as FreshStart) which effectively erases the user data of each guest after using a public PC, and goes some distance to address security concerns, but this may prove redundant as more properties do away with public machines, choosing instead to create dynamic and inviting spaces for guests to plug in, work, print, and enjoy a beverage from a comfortable chair or standing workstation whilst using their own devices.
The case for removing business centres altogether
So back to our original question: Is it time to phase out the hotel business centre? Several major hotel brands say yes. Starwood, Klimpton and Comfort Inn Suites are some of the bigger names who have taken steps to remove business centres.
Actually, the idea isn’t really to remove the business centre. It’s that the entire hotel (especially the guest room) is the business centre. Larger desks, ergonomic roller chairs, abundant charging ports, reinforced headboards for back support, wireless printing capabilities, and even standing or moveable workstations — these are some the in-room solutions hotels are coming up with. Couple this with BYOD solutions with modern TVs and the need for a business centre seems quite archaic.
But what about the need to be social? What about the need to separate work space from living space? Many hoteliers believe the business centre is still a valuable amenity — and that it only needs to be refreshed and reimagined. Integrating workstations with lobby, café and bar areas is one way to do that. Recent trends in both residential and office design have favoured open floor plans with multiple uses, and many hotels are following suit.
The five star Peninsula Hotel in Tokyo was discussed in a New York Times article dating back to 2011 (“Farewell to the Business Centre” is the title) for having printer-scanners in every guest room, and flat screens that connect to laptops. Meanwhile, the basement of the property featured a staffed business centre that was in danger of being nixed due to lack of use. As of today, however, the business centre in the basement of the Peninsula Tokyo still exists.
Three options for hoteliers
Hoteliers have three options where business centres are concerned. The first is to do away with them. Then, create inviting common areas for guests to sit and work, provide free WiFi through the property, and allow wireless printing to a dedicated station or directly to the front desk. And put better workstations in the rooms.
The second option is to retain the business centre, but make it cool and contemporary. Make it a place where young professionals actually want to spend time. Comfortable furniture, inviting artwork on the walls, ample space for laptop work, and access to quality food & beverage would all be good bets.
Given how quickly the world is changing, the third option — sticking with that stuffy old business centre of yesteryear — seems roughly as viable as trundling along with an iPhone 1. You may be comfortable with it, but you are the only one.
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