I asked a few of my friends. Many prefer to head to a coffee shop or the hotel bar to work - they find it more ‘clubbable' and they can get a coffee or drink while working. Ubiquitous WiFi has really changed people's habits.
Nor do we need somewhere to work next to the phone in case we need to chat to the office, because most of us now use mobiles when travelling. Mobiles haven't just freed us up to work outside the room - they've freed up where we need to be in the room too. Plus guests want to have some fun every so often and not be tied to a desk the whole time.
How often do I use the desk? If I'm reading, whether it's a novel or an annual report, I tend to sit in an armchair or even flop on the bed. With a laptop, sometimes sitting on the bed is nicer than sitting at a desk - particularly if you're only checking your emails quickly.
What's more, hotels are now becoming so tech savvy (well, most anyway - click to read about the dinosaur expensive hotels that continue to charge extra for WiFi) that many even offer complimentary laptops and gadgets with your room (The Lanesborough for example).
The desk isn't always ideally located. In my home office, I have a desk by a window so I benefit from natural light. In hotels, the desk is sometimes tucked away in a dark corner - not the place you actually want to work.
For the tech traveller, power points by the bed are probably going to get every bit as much use. One of my friends says he uses the desk just for charging devices and it's great for that - he travels with a DVD player, iPad, mobile, SLR camera and spare battery charger too, so he needs a decent sized space to spread his chargers out. Meanwhile, he lounges on the bed with his laptop or takes it out to a nearby cafe, he says.
Hotel desks are often too small to work comfortably on - no more than ledges to perch on. If you want to spread out a few papers and get the laptop out, there's often not enough space (definitely not on Tune's tiny pull-out desks - but then Tune is a chain of cheap UK hotels and the desks are only intended for a laptop while making good use of precious space.)
Hotel desks are also often covered with literature, further shrinking the amount of space available for the guest to work. Look hoteliers, the idea of a desk is to let me work if I want to work - but if you've overloaded it with your latest magazine, the TV instructions, the room service menu, feedback cards, breakfast ordering info and a laundry list, there's no space left! That rather defeats the purpose of having a desk at all...
In fact, as far as I'm concerned, the hotel desk is not really very useful. I'd rather have one of those nice little lap cushions for laptops and a couple of really comfy chairs to sink into. Maybe if you're going to give me a surface to work on, a nice tea table would be better rather than a traditional desk.
Better still, make sure the hotel has free WiFi and inspiring spaces to chill out and work in - which from the hotelier's point of view also makes it more likely I'll spend on incidentals than while being stuck in my room.