Speedy and seamless hotel internet is no longer just a nice-to-have service. Good Wi-Fi has become one of the key criteria for travellers to choose a hotel – along with location and price.
Earlier this year, Hotels.com surveyed 1,000 travellers from around the world to rank 33 guest services in order of importance; free Wi-Fi was identified the #1 in-room amenity. As Hotels.com noted, the need for constant connectivity has never been higher. This is evidenced by the number of devices that contemporary travellers carry with them: according to a Wall Street Journal study from last September, 45% travel with two Wi-Fi enabled devices, and another 40% travel with three or more devices.
The cost of a poor Wi-Fi experience
Guests tend to take a home-like connectivity experience for granted. However, Tripadvisor, booking.com and other open web forums abound with critical hotel reviews pinpointing what the guest experienced and judged to be an unsatisfactory service. Travellers’ top complaints are, according to Forrester Research:
- An erratic or slow service – as the available bandwidth often remains at the levels of several years ago, while the demand for bandwidth has been doubling every 12-15 months;
- An arduous login process – surprisingly often it is anything but intuitive;
- Restrictions on the number of devices they’re allowed to connect – disregarding the fact that over 90% of travellers carry 2 or more devices today.
Having analysed millions of digital hotel reviews, Revinate found that Internet-related hotel reviews had lower average scores (3.8 vs 4.0) than those where internet services aren’t mentioned. One can infer that while a good Internet experience is expected, a negative one tends to create negative publicity. One can only guess how digital guest reviews that may be retrievable for years to come will influence the booking behaviour of guests over time.
The benefits of a quality Wi-Fi experience
Some hotel groups, like Accor in the UK and Scandic Hotels across the Nordic countries have turned the perspective around and invested in a quality guest experience, considering a free to guest, high quality Wi-Fi experience a competitive business advantage.
Both these chains have recently installed new Wi-Fi networks across their chain footprint, thus making a good Wi-Fi experience a part of their brand promise. To do so, they have gone through a strategic process of researching their guests’ needs related to wireless connectivity; mapping the required service objectives in light of continuously evolving guest demand; and aligning their technical infrastructures with the required service objectives. Finally, both chains have commissioned Swisscom Hospitality Services to design and implement a new, scalable wireless network in all their properties.
The main benefit clearly is improved guest satisfaction and greater guest loyalty. As demonstrated at Accor UK, where guest satisfaction ratings for connectivity have risen above 8.5/10 as a result of the new Wi-Fi infrastructure. Likewise at Scandic Hotels. As Martin Thell, the CIO of Scandic Hotels testifies, “We’ve effectively eliminated any complaints about connectivity. This gives us more time to focus on service innovation.”
The 6 ingredients for a quality Wi-Fi experience
Essentially, both Accor UK and Scandic Hotels have embraced six key elements to offer guests a high-quality Internet experience: a large data line into the hotel; an advanced Internet access gateway; a well-designed WLAN; a carefully designed user navigation; a professional service management package; and a systematic reporting function that delivers key network data for informed business decision-making.
- Data line
When we discuss bandwidth and availability, it all starts with the data line that connects your hotel to the outside world. It needs to be highly available, in the range of 99.97% at least, and it should provide sufficient bandwidth now and in the future. Hoteliers can estimate the demand for bandwidth in a given property based on criteria such as the number of rooms, the average room occupancy and number of users per room, the type of Internet service intended (Free to Guest, paid, or a combination of these), the allocated bandwidth per device and service type, adding a buffer of at least 40% for peak times and increasing demand.
- Internet access gateway
Hotels have been using access gateways for many years to deliver access through a branded login portal. Unfortunately, most existing hotel gateways have significant shortcomings. Commonly, they do not allow hoteliers to set the number of devices, or to assign bandwidth for a given access code or room number. And most importantly, how many megabits of throughput (Mbps) and how many simultaneously connected devices does your current Internet gateway support?
The fact is that many legacy gateways do not allow more than a couple of hundred guest devices to go online at a given time, which drastically inhibits service reliability during peak times and scaling in the future. Today, a major business hotel should be able to accommodate a few thousand concurrent Internet users through its Internet gateway. This is particularly true if it serves as a major meeting venue.
Another quality mark of a contemporary gateway is the ability to segment different types of users such as guests, visitors, conference attendees and staff. By 802.1x authentication, staff can log onto the same network as guests in complete security; this will save the cost for a separate back-office network.
- Wireless network design
The WLAN is the heart of any Wi-Fi service, and along with increasing guest demand come a few of network design challenges.
The explosion in the use of mobile devices – e.g. tablets/smartphones – creates a dense Wi-Fi environment that swamps legacy 2.4GHz systems. New WLAN survey techniques are needed to ensure proper coverage. The introduction of the 5GHz band delivers the right capacity and security levels, and moreover, virtually eliminates interference. This all translates into a far more reliable Internet service. However, 5GHz covers a smaller broadcast area per access point, so re-engineering work is needed to avoid black spots.
From a practical point of view, this means that an experienced system integrator should take care of the deployment – and hand the network over to you only after a proper post-deployment survey which has confirmed its full functioning.
- Guest experience design
The different types and sizes of end user devices mean that hoteliers need a 100% responsive portal design with full support for mobile devices. Luckily this is the case with most service providers today. However, to be easy to use and intuitive, the user navigation needs to be customizable to the pricing and revenue generation strategy (Free to guest, premium products, upgrade options, extra services) as defined by the hotel.
An innovative feature that Scandic Hotels recently introduced is Passport – enabling the automatic recognition of returning guests based on their mobile devices. This feature not only supports chain-wide digital branding and additional services such as online check-in and check-out; it also brings a lot of comfort to the guests that rely on applications rather than classical web browsing, and hence do not want to go through the normal, web-based login process every time they connect.
- Professional service management
A good data line, a next generation gateway and a smart WLAN are all necessary but not sufficient to deliver robust Wi-Fi to your guests. In fact, the service will only be good as it is taken care of, maintained and upgraded over time.
To ensure a consistent approach, hoteliers need a centralized management – ideally guided by a set of IT policies that a professional service provider should be able to match. Real-time network monitoring, a pro-active fault management and a commitment to agreed services levels (response times, issue resolution) are the cornerstones for such a network management agreement. The client benefits from a single point of contact for all network related issues across its entire footprint.
- Network reporting
As with any other amenity offered on property, hoteliers want to track the delivery of their services; take action in case of service issues; find out why service issues occur; and eliminate recurrent error causes.
The party that pro-actively monitors the hotel networks 24/7 must also provide the data needed for informed business decisions: service availability, bandwidth utilisation and peak times, product sales and usage trends, incidents and their resolution times, to name only a few, can all be collected from a fully-managed network. As an important bonus, the reporting function can include a detailed view on the provider’s compliance with the service level agreement. Transparency creates trust and fosters a healthy customer relationship.
Network data available to Swisscom Hospitality Services show that the data volumes transferred (upstream and downstream) in Swisscom-managed hotel properties has almost doubled over the past 12 months. When analysed over a longer timeline, we find that the intervals during which bandwidth demand has doubled in past tend to become shorter. In other words, scalability will become more of a concern in the future.
To enable scalability, hoteliers and service providers should meet the principles discussed above. As a general rule, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. The most sophisticated hotel WLAN has little value without a comprehensive service management, and the best web navigation will hit its limits without support from an adequate Internet access gateway.
For the guest, the equation is much simpler: He simply expects Wi-Fi to work for his actual needs.
About Swisscom Hospitality Services
Swisscom Hospitality Services, a division of Switzerland’s leading Telecom operator Swisscom (Switzerland) Ltd, designs, implements and manages converged hotel IP networks to offload hoteliers from the increasing IT complexity and to enhance their guest’s technology experience. Swisscom Hospitality is the market leader in EMEA and key challenger in North America for industry-leading High-speed Internet Access, Conference and TV solutions, serving all key hotel chains and many flagship independent properties.
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Since June 2015, Swisscom Hospitality has joined Hoist Group – the leading hospitality provider in the EMEA region
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