Sunday musings: Bikes at hotels, smartphones change travel, hotel no-change rates


Hotels are starting to include a new amenity at some properties — bicycles. We take a look at how smartphones are changing the world of travel. And then, turn back to hotels to examine the growing use of non-refundable hotel rooms to secure discount customers.

Forget room service — order a bike

Hotels are adding bicycles to their list of amenities. Some of the first are coming at properties in bike-friendly cities, others seem to be cropping up at rural locations. From Portland, Oregon, to Vermont and from Mexico to New York hotels are providing bikes as one of their amenities.

Hotels have introduced all sorts of fun amenities over the years, from iPads to pet goldfish. One of the features that seems to be growing in popularity is bicycles, which are no doubt a great way for guests to discover a new destination.

While some properties charge for the privilege, many don’t, such as these 10 hotels across the globe that have free loaner bikes so their guests can get out and explore everything the area has to offer. So strap on your helmet, stretch out your quads and start pedaling.

How smartphones are changing the face of travel

Less than a decade ago the primary means of navigating was by using a map. Today, after GPSs and the proliferation of smartphones that feature computer-generated maps and built-in GPS functions, the paper map may soon be a relic of the past. Our smartphones also allow us to make reservations for hotels and rental cars, to find the top sights in towns and check in for flights. It is indeed a new world that most of us have moved into together.

In addition to standing in as your personal photographer while you’re on vacation, phones can be used to snap up deals on hotels and travel fare, shop around for the best prices on hotels and rental cars, and to occasionally book travel. However, a study by EMarketer revealed that tech-savvy travelers are still hesitant to finalize their bookings via their smartphone’s browser. Emarketer’s study concluded that 89 percent of travelers who wanted to purchase plane tickets and 73 percent of travelers hoping to reserve a car immediately used the “call business” feature of the site to speak with a representative directly rather than finalizing their purchases through their smartphone’s browser.

Lately, there has been a shift to “responsive design” of websites due to the growing use of mobile technology. Responsive design morphs a site to fit the screen it’s viewed on for a user experience that requires a minimum of scrolling and “pinching” of pages if viewed on a smartphone or other mobile device. While more and more websites overall are using responsive web design, some car, airline, and ticketing sites may still be a bit too much to navigate from a smartphone.

Hotels fight comparison shoppers with lower, locked rates

No business likes to have customers shifting to other businesses at the last minute. So, hotels that have not, for the most part, made reserved rooms non-refundable are starting to turn to those kinds of restrictions for discounted rooms. Priceline has long had the rule that any deeply discounted low-bid rooms were non-refundable. Now some of the top hotel groups are testing limited non-refund-ability of rooms.

Chris Anderson, a professor at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, studies hotel revenue management and pricing, and estimates that 20 percent of hotel reservations experience a price decline after the guest books the room and by the time the guest arrives. The average price drop of 10 percent leads to a net revenue decrease of 2 percent.

The hotel industry, with its history of being accommodating on room reservations, is realizing there is more to lose than just an empty room, said Jeremy Murphy, chief executive of, which compares amenities and prices of hotel suites.

“Empty hotel rooms can also mean emptier hotel bars and restaurants, so a canceled room can have a greater effect than the lost room rate,” he said. “Hotels prefer to lock in revenue rather than get stuck with empty rooms,” even if that revenue is 10 to 15 percent less than they would get otherwise, he said.