Once upon a time, hotels attracted travelers with the promise of nice beds, fluffy robes, happening bars and restaurants and modern rooms. These days, there’s one amenity that all guests – and athletes are no exception – ask about first: the quality and cost of a hotel’s telecommunications infrastructure.
A recent report issued by NYU’s School of Professional Studies predicted that the U.S. lodging industry will spend a record $6.4 billion on capital expenditures this year alone, and the lion’s share of that money will go to improving Internet service. On average, each hotel in the U.S. will spend about $40,000 upgrading telecom amenities.
In years past, a hotel’s connectivity applied only to business travelers who needed a place to plug in a laptop to check e-mails, log in to desktop computers or polish presentations. With nearly all national and world travelers carrying some Internet-enabled digital device these days – a smartphone, a tablet or a laptop – hotels hoping to attract vacationers or sports tourists need to be just as ready to provide service at least as good as these travelers can find in their own living rooms.
“It is one of the more common capital expenditures,” Bjorn Hanson, the NYU clinical professor who authored the study, told USA Today. "The investment has been more about customer satisfaction than any enhancing of revenue. Whether people are paying for it or not, if they can't get access or keep getting bounced off, it's a 'dissatisfier.’”
Having service bundled with the cost of the room – or negotiated for by the sports event planner – is a plus as well. With more athletes carrying phones and tablets, and with several people sharing a room, nobody wants to pay a per-device, per-person charge.
Hotels are looking to improve the number of access points, routers and wiring of the local area network so Internet connectivity is available nearly everywhere on the property. The days of putting WiFi into each room and calling the project done are long over. Business travelers may need to be connected while they roam the property.
Sports tourists may wish to keep their eyes on the results of preliminary games or matches while they take advantage of other amenities. Traveling families may hope to keep their kids’ boredom at bay during a long check-in process. For all these reasons, a hotel’s telecom infrastructure needs to be seamless and not a collection of 500 different mini networks. Sports travelers in particular are some of the most digitally connected people in the world, and many leagues, teams and sporting events use the mobile Web heavily to engage with fans and spectators.
“It’s pretty simple,'' Brennan Gildersleeve, Starwood Hotel’s VP of brand and guest technology told USA Today. “More and more guests are connecting more and more devices all while enjoying media-rich content. Our hotels are continually investing in WiFi improvements to satisfy this demand.”
Whether hotel guests pay for the privilege or not is another story. Many hotels offer only their most loyal guests free wireless connectivity while requiring less-frequent guests to pay for access with a credit card. Some of these hotels, conscious of the frequency of meetings by non-guests, offer a limited number of free wireless “hot spots.” Other hotels, looking for a chance to differentiate themselves from competitors, are offering free Internet access to all guests. (Hotel families under the Starwood brand are currently doing so.)
Whatever their reason for doing so, hotels need to be conscious of what they’re getting from their investments. What might seem like “enough bandwidth” today might fall laughably short in just a few years, as Internet traffic, and particularly mobile Internet traffic, are growing exponentially. For this reason, it’s wise for hotels to turn to modular solutions that can grow with them…and their guests.