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For Long-Term Guests, Hotels Are a Second Home
Mar 30, 05 | 8:52 am
On Palm Sunday, Kay Severs attended an Easter party, complete with an egg hunt and a visit from the Easter Bunny. She did not celebrate with relatives and friends, however, but with a mismatched group of business executives, athletes, nurses and other adults from all parts of the United States.
Ms. Severs, a traveling nurse from Bradenton, Fla., is a long-term guest at the Oakwood Marina Del Rey, an extended-stay hotel that is within walking distance of Venice Beach, Calif. "It beats hanging out alone in your room," she said about the party. Since she checked into the property on Jan. 20 to work a stint in the emergency room of a local hospital, she has attended a number of such events, mingling with other guests at hotel-sponsored events ranging from bingo parties to Oscar night celebrations to Wednesday evening cooking classes.
As extended-stay hotels continue to proliferate across the country, some business travelers are spending so much time in them that they practically form families away from home with fellow guests. Better yet, they are discovering the hotel staffs are often under strict instructions to pamper them, and they say they are enjoying the extra attention.
The supply of long-stay lodging has surged over the last seven years, increasing 2.4 percent last year to 245,357 rooms and more than doubling from 107,000 rooms in 1997, according to the Highland Group, a hospitality consulting firm in Atlanta. And demand has been picking up even more lately, according to Smith Travel Research, growing by 4.9 percent in 2004, the fastest rate since 2000, and surpassing the 4.6 percent jump reported for the overall hotel industry.
What is driving the trend? Tight corporate budgets, for one thing. Rates are typically 30 percent lower than those charged by traditional brand-name hotels, specialists say, and the savings increase the longer a guest stays. For instance, a suite at the Residence Inn at the Depot in downtown Minneapolis typically goes for $169 a night, but guests who stay 30 days or longer pay about $89, said Lori Geiwitz, general manager at the 130-suite property. Even better, many of the hotels throw in one or more meals as part of the price. For example, at the Residence Inn, guests are served made-to-order breakfasts and light evening meals with wine and beer.
"The fact that we offer meals is a great cost-savings feature for companies," Ms. Geiwitz said. "It's what gives us a competitive edge."
Another reason for the surge in popularity of extended-stay hotels is that as hiring rebounds, more companies are willing to pay to relocate new employees or send them to training for weeks at a time, said Leo Henggeler, a regional vice president at the Oakwood Marina del Rey. Oakwood manages 41 extended-stay properties throughout the United States. Mr. Henggeler says his company is seeing a "dramatic increase" in the number of business executives who are being put up by their companies while looking for a new home.
He has also noticed a similar increase in the number of consultants and independent contractors. Ms. Severs, for example, is on assignment for a temporary employment agency, which is picking up her hotel bill. While their employers are able to reduce expenses by using a residential hotel, the benefits for the guests fall mostly in the warm-and-fuzzy category. Employees at many of these hotels are trained to help business guests stave off homesickness (the typical guest at an economy-priced extended stay facility stays for 42 days, according to a Highland Group study), and are often quick to respond to special requests, like moving furniture or bringing in special appliances.
At Homewood Suites by Hilton Colorado Springs-North, an extended-stay hotel with 127 suites that has a view of Pike's Peak, business guests "often find a haven from loneliness," said Tami Long, the general manager.
At the Residence Inn at the Depot in Minneapolis, where 65 percent of the guests stay five nights or more and some for a year or longer, hotel employees are trained to ask guests personal questions, such as when their birthday is or how many children they have. They are also conditioned to respond to requests from guests to make their rooms homier. "I can't tell you how many times we've been asked to go out and buy humidifiers, blenders and Crock-Pots," Ms. Geiwitz said. Hotel employees will also go grocery shopping for guests, free. The typical guest at the property is a middle-age male traveling by himself, Ms. Geiwitz said, "who is away from home and might need a little T.L.C."
"Our job is to befriend these people by carrying on day-to-day conversations," she said. "They don't have anybody else to ask them how their day is as they come in the door."
Source: The New York Times
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