A tassle-free room of one’s own

Not too up, or too down. But just right.

I’ve just spent the night at the Sheraton Airport Hotel; the one nestled up close to JFK Airport. I’m a bit of a hotel snob, and have my favourite places in the cities I frequent. In this case, I had no choice, as I needed to be up and on the road very early in the morning, and my flight didn’t land until midnight. Long story short, the Sheraton at the Airport is not somewhere I’d normally stay by choice. But, I’m starting to have second thoughts.

I think the current economic wobble is forcing the whole hotel industry to shift around, trying to figure out what consumers want. This is creating opportunities for an entirely new brand category to develop; and that doesn’t happen very often in any industry.

The thought of staying at the JFK Airport Sheraton would have, at one point, kept me awake at night. But not anymore. Check-in was a breeze. The room was clean, welcoming, and inoffensive. The bed was comfortable, and the amenities that I needed were all there. Wireless Internet worked, and my wake up call was on time. The hotel even passed one of my litmus tests: it had a great iron. All this for just a smidge over 100$.

All of which made me start to wonder. The more expensive “luxury” business hotels are hurting. Business travel altogether is significantly down in this economy, and those of us who must still travel are looking for more economical options. I’ve heard industry executives explain that even those who can afford to stay at luxury-branded hotels are choosing not to, because it doesn’t look fiscally humble enough on an expense account report.

Unwittingly, I think this Sheraton is coming pretty close to finding a middle ground, a place where road-weary business travelers can stay without missing the “luxury” hotels that they may have been accustomed to before the good times went on an extended vacation.

There is a huge hole in middle of the business hotel market. A luxury brand could re-make itself to fill that void, or a budget hotel could step up and accomplish the same thing. It’s about re-thinking what a business traveler wants, and what luxury extras are just too much to bear, fiscally or perceptually.

The perfect business hotel for these times needs to provide all the necessary comforts and none of the showy ones. For me, the must-haves include neutral and comfortable furniture, a great bed, quality bedding and towels, and a well-planned work space. I need wireless Internet, a coffee maker with decent coffee, and a choice of morning newspapers. A corner to sit in and read a book is a nice bonus. A good 24-hour fitness facility is imperative – not one of those musty basement rooms with an exercise bike from your parents’ rec room and few torn mats scattered on the floor. A mini bar is great, but no one needs three-dozen miniature bottles of obscure alcohol. Tia Maria anyone? Some water and juice would be nice. Maybe a healthy snack. The rest should be available from room service.

Could this be a Four Seasons Lite? A Sheraton Plus? Either way, whoever recognizes this opening in the market and jumps first will reap significant rewards. I don’t see the desire to stay in showy, theatrical, gold-braid-and-tassles hotels returning anytime soon.

Do you have a favourite “just right” hotel? Share it here. We’ll post a directory of your favourites somewhere terribly convenient, so you can all benefit from the collective common sense that is the hallmark of a BC Business Online reader.