A recent survey shows that only 58% of hotels and B&Bs have wireless internet access, despite the fact that free Wi-Fi is the number one requirement for guests. Daniel Thomas reports. Wireless access may be perceived as commonplace among UK hospitality providers but analysis of the 2010 AA guide, by small business website the Payroll Site, shows that of the 6,396 hotels and B&Bs listed, only 58% had Wi-Fi access.
Those properties not offering wireless access run the risk of missing out on a large swathe of the customer base, with free Wi-Fi the number one requirement for hotel guests - above a comfortable mattress and breakfast - according to a poll of more than 50,000 consumers by research firm JD Power & Associates.
Carol Montgomery Adams, vice-president of corporate marketing at mobile service provider iPass, says the impact of Wi-Fi services at hotels cannot be underestimated, especially for those businesses targeting the corporate market.
iPass's own survey of 1,200 business travellers shows that during business trips, respondents spent an average of 37% of their entire connection time at hotels - and spent an average of 90 minutes each time they logged on.
"Remember the expectations from travellers when staying at your hotel," Montgomery Adams says. "The influx of cheap, quick and easy-access broadband coverage across the UK sets a very high, competing standard for hotels. Whether you charge for internet connections separately, or provide it complimentary, make sure it meets a high standard - so that guests can get connected simply and quickly. A poor hotel Wi-Fi experience influences 36% of corporate travellers on whether they stay at your hotel again."
Operators must be mindful that corporate guests require online access at all times, so offering a problem-free Wi-Fi or wired connection is vital in order to retain repeat business, Montgomery Adams warns.
"If guests encounter ongoing problems with the Wi-Fi connection they may post their frustrations on review sites such as Trip Advisor, which can put off potential business," she says. "A further 17% of corporate travel guests don't inform hotels when they have a poor internet/Wi-Fi experience - so there's a chance of losing those guests in the future too."
Ensuring the appropriate staff are trained in basic troubleshooting problems and offering a quick service which provides 24-hour customer support to help guests if problems arise are both vital, Montgomery Adams says.
"Our survey found that when guests experience problems with in-room Wi-Fi connectivity, 50% will complain to the front desk," she says. "This will cause problems for employees who typically do not have the time or technical expertise to manage these problems."
When marketing the hotel's amenities, operators must ensure there is clarity for guests regarding the levels and locations of Wi-Fi facilities in the building, according to Montgomery Adams.
"Our survey shows that 63% of corporate travellers check, prior to booking, whether a hotel has internet access, while 24% assume a hotel has internet connections," she says. "If you offer a high quality Wi-Fi or wired connection experience that is hassle-free to access, you will go a long way to ensuring that the lucrative business travel segment keeps returning to your hotel."
With this increased demand from guests and businesses, as well as internal use by hotel staff, the range of applications supported with wireless network access has increased substantially. These include high-speed internet access, wireless point-of-sale systems for mobile check-in and food and beverage services. Then there's enterprise Voice over Internet Protocol for staff, video security networks for surveillance and monitoring, and location-based services for asset and staff tracking and monitoring in larger properties.
Given this range of applications, hospitality operators need to look at their Wi-Fi deployments from a total cost of ownership perspective, warns Stephen Rayment, chief technology officer at BelAir Networks.
"This means taking into account all of the costs associated with the network deployment, operation and management, rather than just a per access point cost, which can sometimes be misleading," he says. "In addition to costs, when it comes to implementation, a quick turnaround is an obvious measure of success, which is best achieved when there are fewer access points and wiring. The added benefit is that this helps keep costs down and maintain the aesthetics of the premises."
Being able to easily manage the network once it's installed is also important to wireless implementations and should be considered before embarking on any new technology, according to Rayment.
"There are two main developments in wireless technology for the hospitality sector," he explains. "Firstly [wireless standard] 802.11N helps solve issues around speed, making it as fast as a wired solution. Next, beam forming improves the signal and increases coverage. Large or multi-site establishments such as hotels, restaurants, bars or pubs should opt for standards-based solutions, to ensure a smooth operation and avoid being locked in to a proprietary supplier."
case study bovey castle
Bovey Castle, which opened in 2004, was the first hotel in the South-west of England to receive a five-star rating from the AA and RAC Hotel Guides in more than 50 years.
The hotel recognised that offering wireless internet access was a key demand, but before extending this service to customers, it wanted to ensure that the installation was discreet and understated.
Bovey Castle tasked Hotel Broadband, which had already provided internet access to the castle's conference rooms, to install a wireless infrastructure throughout the hotel. To address the security concerns, Hotel Broadband implemented a range of networking products from supplier Zyxel, with features such as 802.1x authentication and 256-bit WEP encryption.
The hotel also installed three Zyxel managed dimension switches, which isolate access points on the network. This allows security features to be programmed for current residents, meaning sensitive data on guest computers cannot be accessed by anyone else.
In addition, remote monitoring by Hotel Broadband on the health of all access points - using a custom developed guest service gateway - gives the hotel further reassurance, as it can pinpoint and resolve immediately any problems on the network.
"The wireless implementation, which we decided to offer at no extra charge to our guests, has really made a difference to the hotel's service and has helped us maintain our position as one of the UK's top five-star hotels," says Downing.
"By offering this as a free added extra for staff also, allowed us to kill two birds with one stone. We feel confident that we can now offer our guests and staff a secure and speedy internet service that can be accessed at their leisure."five ways to make
FIVE WAYS TO MAKE the most of a wireless network
1 Make it free Business travellers especially will be high users and complimentary access may increase bookings
2 Train in troubleshooting Someone should know how to rectify any connection issues
3 The bigger the better Make sure there's plenty of bandwidth so that guests aren't frustrated by a slow connection
4 Be transparent Communicate the levels and locations of Wi-Fi facilities
5 Make it hassle-free It will go a long way to satisfying guests