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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR DECEMBER 7, 1998


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

This week: Using mobile phones to bypass overpriced hotel phones; a slow start for the Heathrow Express; will hotels try airline-style alliances; New Year's football packages; and more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: The Cell-Phone Solution
If you think those fancy voice-mail phones in hotel guest rooms ensures you'll get your messages, forget it. Hotels still have a miserable record when it comes to getting guests their telephone messages. One example: I called someone last week to confirm an appointment only to be told he wasn't registered at the hotel. I knew better and, by luck, also knew the hotel's general manager. So I called the GM and asked him to find my party. He called back and insisted the person was not in the hotel and had never checked in. Of course, you know the ending to the story: the party called me several days later wanting to know why I hadn't phoned him at the hotel as we had previously arranged. The solution to lost and undelivered hotel messages? Use your cell phone. Rather than give out your hotel-room phone number, give your contacts your cell-phone number. Since long-life batteries now ensure dozens of hours of standby time, there's little chance of phone going dead. And most cell phones now have voice mail, which turns out to be infinitely more reliable than hotel front desks. In fact, some travelers are also eschewing the costly guest-room telephones for outgoing calls, too. With cell-phone rates, including long distance calls, as low as 10 cents a minute, it's often cheaper to use your cell phone for outgoing calls than dialing the surcharge-laden guest-room telephone.

CYBERTRAVELER: Everybody Party!
Want to know what's going on in a town before you get there? One way to find out is by surfing over to Festivals.com (http://www.festivals.com), which boasts 25,000 event listings in cities around the world. Although it is hardly an all-inclusive database, the information is extremely easy to search. You can check by city, by month or even by of special interests such as music, arts and children.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Train Talk
As world capitals sag under the stress of automobiles, many are trying to improve their mass-transit systems. Unfortunately, not all the attempts are meeting expectations. In London, for example, the much-heralded Heathrow Express is now running full tilt, connecting the British capital with Heathrow Airport in just 15 minutes. Surprisingly, however, the service has not met traffic projections. About 10,000 people a day are using the trains, well below the 13,000 daily customers expected by BAA, the private company which operates both the airport and the rail service. What's gone wrong? Some observers say the train's London terminus, Paddington Station, is not convenient because of its distance from The City and the West End hotels. Others blame the price, about $17 one way. Across the channel, however, the newest addition to the Paris Metro is a smash hit. The fully automated system--no drivers are aboard--runs for about 5 miles through the center of Paris. Known as the M14, symbolic of its status as the city's 14th Metro line, the train offers six stops, connects the Bibliotheque Fran¨ois Mitterand with Madeleine, and passes through the important connecting stations of Gare de Lyon and Chatelet.

IN THE LOBBY: Will There Be Hotel Alliances?
As airlines jumps into globe-girding alliances, the question is obvious: Will hotel chains follow suit? For the answer, I spoke to Graham Leslie, senior vice president of marketing and sales at Kempinski, the deluxe hotel group with two dozen hotels, most of them in Europe. "A luxury alliance is not out of the question, I believe there is an opportunity for a Star Alliance of luxury hotels," he says. "Very few cities in the world can support a hotel operated by every one of the major luxury groups. And no luxury hotel group can afford to have a property in every city in the world. Of course, it's in the nature of the discipline of hotel keeping that there are large egos at work. But, in the end, I think common sense will out and several deluxe chains may choose to work together."

THE WEEKLY WONDER: New Year's Football Frenzy
With three teams going undefeated into the final weekend, the much hyped new college-football rating system has broken down. But the bowl games roll on and, if you're interested, Spectacular Sports Specials (800-451-5772) can get you into the Big Four New Year's games. Besides packages for the "national championship" Fiesta Bowl in Phoenix on January 4, Spectacular Sports offers bundles for the Rose Bowl (Pasadena, January 1), Orange Bowl (Miami, January 2) and Sugar Bowl (New Orleans, January 1). Prices start at $1,570 a couple and include game tickets, three nights of lodging, daily breakfast and airport and game-day transportation.

This column originally appeared at biztravel.com.

Copyright © 1993-2007 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.