News Archive Search
Taxi, Bike or Boat?
By Julie Weed
The Oberoi hotel in Mumbai employs female chauffeurs like Urmila Walmiki in a field dominated by men.
Rolls-Royce, Segway or tuk tuk three-wheeled taxi? Hotels around the world are offering business travelers more ways to get to their meetings.
While most business travelers still use car, limousine and shuttle van services provided by their hotel, there are a growing number of options.
The Affinia Dumont and Affinia Shelburne in Manhattan offer complimentary teal and yellow bikes, complete with helmets and front baskets to stow briefcases. Business travelers use the bikes to maintain their fitness regimen on the road, do some sightseeing and to commute to meetings, said Alex Spektor, general manager at the Affinia Dumont.
"Some tell me that biking to the meeting instead of riding in the back of a taxi helps them arrive with a clear mind," he said.
The hotel started the program with 10 bikes in May, will be adding 10 more this year, and is introducing the program at other properties. Bicycles can also be rented via Conrad Concierge at the Conrad New York near Wall Street and electric bicycles are available at the Conrad Miami.
Four Seasons hotels in the busy cities of Mumbai and Guangzhou also lend bicycles to guests, along with guidance about roads to ride. For guests who want to move a bit faster, the Four Seasons Hotel Firenze in Italy rents Vespas and the Circus Hotel in Berlin offers hourly and daily Segway rentals to its guests.
These alternative transportation offerings are not common, according to Scott D. Berman, who runs the United States hospitality and leisure practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers. "They are mostly a quirky differentiator to get customers' attention and to have something to blog about."
To transport guests to and from the airport, the luxury Peninsula hotel chain "prefers Rolls-Royces whenever possible," according to a spokeswoman, Sian Griffiths, and has for more than 40 years. The Rolls-Royce offers guests "a dramatic entrance to the city or a glamorous farewell," she said.
While the Rolls-Royce has become the signature vehicle of the hotel brand, some Peninsula properties go beyond the luxury car fleet. Their property in Bangkok features four riverboats and a tuk tuk, which is a three-wheeled open-air taxi outfitted in this case with Wi-Fi, drinking water and cold towels. Helicopters can take guests to and from the airport from the Peninsula hotels in Hong Kong, Bangkok and Manila.
Chris Kilham, who recently returned from Africa as part of his work researching medicinal plants and establishing trade for nutrition and cosmetic companies, uses more rugged hotel transportation vehicles. His travels routinely take him to remote locations, where one lodge sent a speedboat to take him up the Amazon River, and another sent a bicycle rickshaw to retrieve him from the local bus station. At Espiritu de Anaconda lodge in Peru, a hotel employee arrived on an old motorcycle with bungee cords, Mr. Kilham said, so he could secure his luggage on the back.
In big cities, Mr. Kilham finds his own way into and around town. "Some people feel more comfortable seeing a chauffeur holding a sign with their name on it when they arrive in a foreign country," he said, "but that's not me."
Mr. Kilham generally eschews the hotel transportation in these cases. "Unless it's interesting and fun, I'll get there on my own," he said. "Sometimes finding my own ride can be a way to meet someone with local knowledge."
Hotel transportation services are also integrating new technologies. Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills has rolled out "Meetings on Wheels," an eight-passenger Mercedes van outfitted with electrical outlets, Wi-Fi and plasma screen TVs so groups can get business done while sitting in Los Angeles traffic. All hotel cars and contracted limousines at Four Seasons worldwide now come equipped with Wi-Fi.
Back-seat multitasking is also growing. Rather than watch the scenery pass by the window coming in from the airport, guests can check in to their hotel room, book a massage or order meals through their chauffeur or the iPad waiting for them in the back seat.
Some hotels include a car along with the room. The Peninsulas in Tokyo, Hong Kong, New York and Chicago offer Mini Cooper cars free to guests who book suites. At the Four Seasons in Los Angeles, guests who book the most expensive suites have free use of a car like a Maserati or Lamborghini.
Since 2010, the Oberoi hotel in Mumbai has featured female chauffeurs, in a field dominated by men. "Sometimes a lady traveler prefers to have ladies look after them," said Devendra Bharma, executive vice president of the Oberoi in Mumbai. "But holistically they fit in very well with both men and women."
For business travelers who need to rent a car while on their trip, but do not want to take the shuttle bus to the airport car rental lot, some hotels offer car rentals on site. The AKA brand, with properties in New York, Philadelphia, Washington and other locations, offers hourly or daily car rental at its properties through Zipcar and includes insurance, gas and reserved parking to streamline the rental process.
Despite the variety of modes and gadgets, some travelers appreciate the basics - like a free ride to the hotel that's convenient to board. Joe Shaffner travels almost every week for his job at SAP, where he manages a technical team that supports a sales staff. He prefers hotels that provide a simple no-frills airport shuttle service. "When I go to our headquarters in Chicago, I know I can walk off the airplane and onto the Renaissance or Marriott Hotel shuttle because they're coming every few minutes," he said.
Car services and shuttle vans are expensive to run, though, said Mr. Berman, the hospitality and leisure consultant. "You need a consistently high revenue stream and a really good business case to justify their existence," he said, to pay for the vehicle, maintenance, depreciation, staff and fuel. "I've seen many discussions between hotel owners and managers debating how to manage expenses by reducing service hours or shuttle runs."
Source: New York Times
Visit our sponsors