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Some hotels charging fees to guests who tie up phone lines surfing

©New York Times

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 22, 1999

To keep guests from plugging in their laptops for hours and tying up trunk lines, some hotels are imposing fees on extended use of local and toll-free telephone numbers.

Sheraton, Westin and Four Points hotels, part of the Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide chain, are the latest to charge these fees. The three companies impose a surcharge of 10 cents a minute on toll-free calls that last longer than 60 minutes.

Last year, Hilton Hotels Corp. set a similar policy; its hotels charge 10 cents a minute for local and toll-free calls longer than 30 minutes.

Hyatt Hotels Corp. is conducting a trial at the Hyatt Regency Chicago in which it is charging a fee of 10 cents a minute for toll-free calls that are longer than 20 minutes, said Gary Ross, a spokesman for Hyatt. He said that the test would last another few months, and that he could not comment on findings so far.

And Jennifer Ploszaj, a spokeswoman for Bass Hotels & Resorts, a division of Bass PLC, said U.S. hotels operated under the Bass Inter-Continental brand could charge a fee for toll-free calls if desired for competitive reasons. But she said other Bass hotel brands -- which include Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express and Crowne Plaza Hotels & Resorts -- were not charging such fees.

Julieann Knudsen, manager of telecommunications for Carlson Hospitality Worldwide, which operates Radisson and Country Inns and Suites hotels, said the company considered imposing fees on lengthy toll-free phone calls, but so far had decided not to charge them. And a spokesman for Marriott International said that his company -- whose chains include Marriott, Courtyard by Marriott, Fairfield Inn, Residence Inn and Renaissance hotels -- has no plans to impose such fees.

Many hotel companies say that once they offer high-speed Internet access in guest rooms -- something many are installing -- the phone-line problem caused by laptop users will end.

But Charles Rutstein, an analyst with Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass., disagrees. He said it would "probably be another couple of years before employees of the majority of U.S. companies can use the Internet for a secure connection to their home network. In the meantime, a lot of companies still will require employees to dial up directly to get their e-mail or contact headquarters."

Bjorn Hanson, who heads the lodging practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers, said even more hotels independently impose phone surcharges than their management companies realize; he thinks almost half of hotels in the United States impose such fees. And he predicted that 65 percent of U.S. hotels would charge these fees in the next few years.

Hotels have imposed these fees -- along with new or higher fees for parking, minibar items and business center services -- to generate revenue as occupancy rates decline, he said. And he said they are not always using income from the telephone fees to upgrade their telecommunications systems.

Rutstein said such upgrades are not necessary in the long run because travelers eventually will be able to access their corporate network through the Internet.

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