Is your Wi-Fi up to your guests expectations ? Is it legal ?

This is an article I wrote for a UK hotel trade magazine. 

As hotels in the UK gear up for the Olympics in 2012 and an overall increase in business travellers from around the world, many are facing challenges to provide a world-class internet service to their guests. Gone are the days when a dial-up internet service in the bedroom will meet the needs of a business guest.  Today’s discerning traveller expects high-speed, always-on, secure internet access throughout the hotel property. In fact, a recent survey by Trustive Europe revealed that 45% of travellers would select a hotel based on whether Wi-Fi was available – so hotels without a reliable Wi-Fi solution are potentially loosing out on over half of all business guests.

In addition to the speed of access, travellers insist on reliability.  There is nothing more frustrating for a guest than choosing a hotel that advertises Wi-Fi only to check in and discover a slow, unreliable or faulty system or worse still, that Wi-Fi exists only in the hotel lobby.  To make matters even worse, many guests report little or no technical support available when they do experience problems logging on to the internet or if they have a problem using a corporate VPN over the hotel’s Wi-Fi network.

The demand for high-quality service, combined with the technical skills involved in providing reliable access, has driven a global trend for hotels to use the skills of specialised Wi-Fi providers who can guarantee a 5-star experience for guests – without the headaches or costs that a homegrown system can mean for a hotel.

It is estimated that 43% of the worlds internet traffic is that of illegally gained content ranging from the file sharing of music and video to child pornography.  With the introduction of the Digital Economy Act which came into effect in June of this year to prevent illegal activity on the internet; it is now your responsibility to ensure your hotel is compliant with the new laws surrounding internet provision to guests.  That means you need to track and retain certain user data including the guests name, email address, MAC address, emails sent and received, time’s logged on and off as well as storing all of this information securely off site, should it be requested by the authorities.  Using a dedicated Wi-Fi provider can make it more straightforward for hotels to comply with the legal requirements involved in providing internet access to guests.  No hotelier wants to receive a visit from the police after a guest downloads questionable material!

With more and more Wi-Fi enabled mobile devices coming into the market place, your Wi-Fi network needs to be able to withstand the spike in users and traffic.  Gone are the days that only business users access the internet for work.  The internet is now social!  Leisure guests rely on its availability more than ever before.  Many users now carry two or even three devices that require an internet connection to function.

As airlines continue to encourage people to check in online, the need for guest printing services has risen greatly in the last 24 months.  There is an obvious risk about inserting a guests pen drive into your hotels own private network, however something that can be added onto your Wi-Fi network is a Wireless Printing service, allowing guests to upload a document to a printer at reception via Wi-Fi and collect it at their leisure.

The need for Wi-Fi availability in conference rooms and convention centres is the next challenge.  The model of installing 2 or 3 Wi-Fi transmitters in a conference room no longer works.  If you have a conference for 500 people, all trying to access the Wi-Fi on their iPhones, the transmitters will become overloaded and effectively stop the users from getting online.  A good Wi-Fi service provider will be able to show you a specialist conferencing product capable of handling up to 600 users in one room with no issues.

Hotels use different commercial models when providing Wi-Fi.  Some charge for access while some provide complimentary access to guests included in the room rate.  A model which is becoming more popular in hotels in recent times is giving the guest a reasonable amount of complimentary time, around 30 minutes and then charging for access thereafter. Reconciling diverse charging models with the legal requirements to log guests’ details can be difficult with some systems, so check if your provider can support a flexible billing model that suits your hotel. This can be made even easier by integrating your Wi-Fi system with your hotel property management system, allowing guests to log in using their name and room number while you retain the ability to charge some guests and provide complimentary access to others, whilst still meeting requirements set out in the Digital Economy Act.

When looking for a Wi-Fi provider for your hotel, here are some questions to ask prospective suppliers:

If a guest has problems connecting, is expert technical assistance available to talk them through their settings over the phone?

Do they routinely upgrade the hardware in your hotel to ensure that guests can use the latest technology?

What other hotels in the UK do they service, and can they provide reference contacts?

Can they integrate with your hotel property management system to provide flexibility and security?

Can they provide you with a hotel branded guest log-in page so that users know it is a service provided by the hotel ?

Will they train your staff on your Wi-Fi service so that they know what to do when a guest has an issue ?
Can they provide you with a Wireless Printing option so that guests can print documents from the comfort of their own bedroom ?

Do they have any specialist Conference products to deal with a large amount of devices in one room at one time ?

Do they perform a full on-site wireless survey to ensure guests will have access throughout your hotel?

Are they flexible enough to offer a business model that suits your needs?

Are they flexible enough to change this business model as the needs of your guests change ?

Have they any partnerships with global Wi-Fi roaming companies such as iPass, Boingo and Trustive who actually work at driving business through your door?

Modern 4- and 5-star hotels throughout the world have raised the standard that guests expect for Wi-Fi, and hotels in the UK are quickly catching up.

Make sure your property is ready to take the gold in 2012!

Russell McQuillan is, Business Development Manager with Bitbuzz, with offices in London, Dublin and Belfast.
russell.mcquillan@bitbuzz.com

0870 046 2899 

Bitbuzz is a Wi-Fi network provider, providing a range of managed services to cafe bars, hotels, pubs and other public locations throughout the UK and Ireland with over 240 locations

Bitbuzz was founded in Dublin in 2003 and soon became Ireland’s best Wi-Fi network, according to a survey by Espion Research.

Bitbuzz expanded into the UK market place in early 2008 and in 2010 opened a dedicated office in London.

Bitbuzz offers a range of services to the hospitality industry as well as roaming solutions to foreign network operators

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