It might just be a first. In the gift shop at the Four Seasons Hotel in Austin, Texas, stocked among the perfumes, pens, and other easy-to-forget sundries, a bright blue box of Ethernet cards sits on the shelf. Most visitors to the shop will buy some film or a toothbrush and never notice these credit card-size laptop components, but that they're here at all seems to me a sign of a hotel ahead of its time and a clue to where the industry is headed.
You see, this Four Seasons property is one of the first hotels in the country to offer a high-speed Ethernet/T1 Internet connection in every guest room. A T1 link is incredibly fast (1.5 million bits per second versus 56,000 bits per second using a typical modem) but travelers must have the right equipment in order to make use of it. Most laptops are set up to handle regular (analog) phone lines, so the T1 service, which is digital, needs a special interface. That's where the Ethernet cards come in ($145 in the shop--the markup isn't too bad for a hotel).
You'll also need an RJ45 cable. If you forgot yours, the concierge will loan you one. But that's not the only way the Four Seasons is taking care of its high-tech customers. Reservationists are trained to ask callers if they plan to bring a computer with them and then to explain the connectivity requirements. (Information is also included with confirmation letters.) If a guest intends to bring a laptop, a service code is added to the reservation so the front desk clerk can inquire at check-in whether or not he or she needs a cable or other assistance. Bellmen are also trained to point out the availability of the high-speed connection. Confused by all the cords? Complete connection instructions are spelled out in the guest services directory in every room.
I suspect it won't be long before an article like this seems quaint (remember when most hotels still had analog lines?). But while new T1 lines will soon be yesterday's news, the story of a hotel's commitment to guest productivity and service is one that won't be outdated anytime soon.