When our editor here at Technology Meetings, David Erickson, last had an opportunity to give his dog-and-pony show at the company sales meeting, he broke out his Mac laptop, loaded up his PowerPoint presentation, and set off to do what he does best. Dave loves an audience--especially when he can talk about Technology Meetings. Unfortunately, his presentation skills got more of a workout than he'd bargained for. The hotel's AV team couldn't figure out what was needed to make the projector work with the Mac. With our CEO, publisher, and other table-tapping execs waiting--and the AV guy literally crawling around on his hands and knees--Dave just had to start talking. The presentation was low-tech, start to finish.

If you know Dave, you know he got through it just fine. But what went wrong? Yes, he could have gotten in earlier and tested the system--but he had called ahead to reserve a Mac-compatible projector. If hotels want to compete, service is key, and computer service is the next big thing. What about the business traveler who can't figure out how to log on to the Internet away from the office, or the foreign presenter who shows up with a laptop that runs on 220 power? For those used to relying on their MIS departments, the concierge in the lobby probably isn't savvy enough.

That was exactly the case, in fact, at The Ritz-Carlton, Chicago. The number of computer-related calls to the concierge was up to about two a day last year, when the hotel finally decided to do something about it. In the fall, the hotel added a complimentary "compcierge" service. Joe Tesfai, compcierge and property MIS director, responds to guests' computer questions and can provide surge protectors, power converters, power strips, and other equipment, as well as his increasingly thorough experience dealing with printing problems, Internet connectivity, disk errors, and other horrors of on-the-road computing. Now that is a great idea.

Tesfai gets 15 to 18 calls a week, he says, more if there are big groups in house. He has also set up a computer on the concierge desk that guests can use to check e-mail or download information off the Internet at no charge. (It's intended to be used briefly. There's also a business center on site.)

Look for the Ritz-Carlton's compcierge idea to be copied around the country. It's the perfect service addition for properties that want to keep their guests productive and their meetings running smoothly. Often the biggest frustrations come from the smallest problems; a compcierge is sure to make a lot of travelers breathe easier.