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Always in a rush, business travellers push for even speedier hotel services

[NEW YORK] Business travellers have long expected their hotels to provide good food, an array of fitness options and, perhaps, a place for a haircut or manicure. But lately, travellers have pushed to speed up those services.

So hotels have started to introduce offerings like grab-and-go food outlets, short workouts and express beauty treatments. In many cases, the amenities are free or low cost.

"In an increasingly time-pressed environment, business travellers care more and more about fast and convenient hotel services," said Sean Hennessy, a hotel consultant and an assistant professor of hospitality at the Jonathan M Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism at New York University.

That is in part because they are accustomed to instant gratification, he said.

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"They have access to so many services right through their cellphones, like food delivery and banking."

That, he said, "translates into their work lives as well".

But it is also the case that business travellers are more pressed for time because, he said, unlike previous generations, they're expected to be on call around the clock and respond to emails and other work requests immediately.

Scott Berman, the US industry leader for hospitality and leisure at Pricewaterhouse Coopers, said that the sped-up services come as hotels are competing more intensely for the loyalty of business travellers. According to the Global Business Travel Association, total spending on business travel in the United States reached US$292.3 billion in 2017, a 3.1 per cent increase from the year before.

"Business travellers," Mr Berman said, "are spending more, but they have so many hotels to pick from, and they want the properties that give them efficiency and value."

Much of the new focus on speediness emphasizes exercise, and that may be because working out is a priority for many business travellers. In a recent survey of 16,000 business travellers, the travel technology company Travelport found that nearly two-thirds said they were more likely to stay at a hotel that offered a robust lineup of fitness options.

To that end, several hotels have recently introduced free fitness programmes that provide more choices. Hotel RL, a brand with eight domestic hotels, for example, started a partnership in October with the audio fitness app Aaptiv that gives guests free access to more than 2,500 workouts — most 20 minutes or less — that range from yoga to outdoor running to strength training.

Guests get a code when they check in that they can use to download Aaptiv on their phones; the app usually costs US$14.99 a month, but they can keep using it for five days after they check out.

Hotel RL's senior vice-president of global brand management and strategy, Yvonne Choi, said the company teamed up with Aaptiv because its guests were saying they wanted more ways to exercise efficiently. "We've tried to find a creative and fun way to give them what they were asking for," she said.

Also in October, Hyatt Place introduced a partnership with spa and fitness company Exhale to bring free on-demand meditation, strength and interval routines to in-room televisions in its 136 domestic hotels. The routines come in various lengths including those under 10 minutes, 15 to 20 minutes and 20 to 30 minutes. Some require fitness bands, which the property's front desk staff has on hand and lends to guests.

Dream Hotels, with five properties in the United States, is starting fitness initiatives at several of its locations. Its Hollywood property begins a collaboration in January with the celebrity personal trainer Gunnar Peterson, who is designing a series of seven-minute workouts that will be illustrated on a card and delivered to guests as a turndown amenity each night.

Short beauty services are another new service at some hotels. Nine properties domestically, including Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows, in Santa Monica, California, and Loews Miami Beach have opened outposts of the blow-dry bar Glam & Go in the last few years. All the salons open at 7am and offer 15-minute express blowouts for US$25 that stylists do without wetting the hair and 30-minute ones with a shampoo and conditioner for US$45. (Several more hotel locations will open in 2019, including at the Dream Hollywood in January.) Glam & Go's owner, Erika Wasser, said that the salons are busiest in the morning when female business travellers get blow dries before work.

Marisa DiLemme, a record label lawyer from Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, goes to Glam & Go in Santa Monica when she's in Los Angeles and books both the express and 30-minute blowouts.

"I'm in the entertainment industry and always going to events where I need to look polished," she said. "I love how quickly I can get a blow dry at Glam & Go without feeling ripped off."

Hotels are also starting to offer an option other than room service, which can be a pricey proposition and not the ideal way to get a quick meal. Instead, they're opening grab-and-go outlets that serve tasty food at reasonable prices.

The Viceroy Snowmass, in Colorado, which serves a significant number of business travellers, opened a coffee shop, Café V, in its lobby this summer that serves hot and cold coffee drinks, pastries baked at the hotel and granola and panini. "A good portion of our business travellers communicated to us that they didn't want to wait around for a long breakfast or lunch before or in between meetings," said Robert Purdy, the hotel's general manager.

Late last year, Hyatt Regency opened a fast casual food outlet, the Market, in the lobbies of a handful of its domestic properties and rolled it out to 41 locations this fall; 11 are open 24 hours a day. While the menus vary by property, all have salads, regional specialties like beignets at the New Orleans property and made-to-order portable meals like personal-size pizzas.

Gary D Mote, a programme manager from Hartselle, Alabama, is a frequent guest at the Hyatt Regency in Atlanta and said he discovered the Market on a work trip there earlier this year. He has since become a loyal customer and said he was a fan of its chicken potpies for dinner and doughnuts for breakfast, which he picks up at 5am on the way to the airport to catch his flight back home.

And then there's the warm chocolate chip cookies that he often gets cravings for at 2am. "I love being able to walk down to the lobby and getting exactly what I want for a few dollars without having to wait," he said.