You Can Print Out Any Time You Like ...

Welcome to the Hotel of the Future. (No, it's not in California). Your room is full of cool technology. Too bad all you do is work.

Hotels are finally getting serious about business road warriors. Among the major U.S. chains, Hyatt Hotels (800-233-1234) seems to be leading the way. It was one of the first chains to make standard rooms designed specifically for business travelers. Every guest room now includes dual-line phones, speakerphones, speed dialing, conference calling, and optional direct-dial lines. Certain properties, such as the Hyatt Regency Chicago (312-565-1234) also provide translation services and "international voice mail" (your callers hear instructions in various languages). Extras at certain Hyatts also include pager rentals, graphics services, a notary, in-house videoconferencing, and a shredder.

Under the Hyatt Business Plan, unveiled in January 1994, guests who pay $15 above the regular rate get an in-room fax, workstation, desk chair, phone dataport, voice mail, and free local, 800-number, and credit-card calls. Each Business Plan floor has central printers, copiers, and office supplies. The Park Hyatt Tokyo (81-3-5322-1234) takes technology a step further. It offers direct-dial international videoconferencing and direct access to the Internet from computers in its business center.

"Everyone's chasing Hyatt," says Richard D'Ambrosio, owner of Travel Ink. "They're the leading edge in services offered to business travelers."

Maybe not for long. The Hyatt's leading challenger is Westin Hotels (800-228-3000), which recently introduced the Guest Office program in North America. For $20 above the regular rate, business travelers get an in-room, three-in-one laser printer, copier and fax, a direct line for incoming faxes, a speakerphone with dataports and call waiting, free local, 800-number, and credit-card calls, and office supplies.

A few individual hotels are really pushing the envelope. In New York City, the Pinnacle Suites at the RIHGA Royal (800-3937-5454) offer three-line phones, personalized international voice mail, private direct-dial numbers for in-room phone and fax, and a complimentary cell-phone. Printed business cards list all three numbers. Call forwarding sends room calls to the cell-phone and then to voice mail. (These features don't come cheap; Pinnacle Suite rooms go for $450 per night.)

As plentiful as cool technology and innovative services are, sensible comprehensive packages are still hard to find. At the RIHGA Royal, for example, Pinnacle Suite guests get three phone lines but no speakerphone — and still pay 85cents to make local calls.

So in the future, when you book your hotel room, look for the features that matter to you. And don't forget to get out a bit. Remember: We are all just prisoners here, of our own device(s).

Lisa Wirthman (lwirthman@aol.com) has written on travel for "U.S. News & World Report" and "USA Today".

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