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New American Express Meetings & Events Research Explores the Evolving Landscape of Technology in Meetings

Technology influences every aspect of global commerce, and new research released today by American Express Meetings & Events explores the many ways emerging technologies are changing the meetings industry landscape, as well as how that innovation can be harnessed to increase engagement and productivity and generate a greater return on a meetings investment. The American Express Meetings & Events report, titled “GREAT EXPECTATIONS: The Evolving Landscape of Technology in Meetings”, reveals the similarities and gaps in attendee and planner expectations across three areas of technological advancement: virtual and hybrid meetings, social media and events apps.

“Over the past decade, smartphones and wireless data have revolutionized the meeting and events experience for both planners and attendees, enabling the possibility of anywhere, anytime participation via virtual technologies and the integration of apps into meeting programs,” said Issa Jouaneh, Vice President and General Manager, American Express Meetings & Events. “These technologies provide planners with greater opportunities to increase engagement and generate and capture real-time feedback, while attendees can gain a richer and more connected experience throughout the event life cycle.

“What our research has found, however, is that there can be an ‘expectation gap’ between the technologies meeting planners believe should be incorporated into an event, and the solutions attendees expect to be part of their meeting experience. What they have in common is that as good as technology is, there is simply no substitute for in-person meetings.”

Meeting Apps Considered Essential for Scheduling

Meeting apps have increased in popularity at large industry conferences and events as they provide the ability to deliver real-time information to attendees right at their fingertips. According to the research, 67 percent of meeting planners found event apps to be important, compared to 55 percent of attendees. Communication and scheduling ranked among the most important features within a meeting app for both planners and attendees, and the ability to participate in games and contests was least important to both groups. Both attendees and planners cited having access to event schedules and session descriptions as key, and attendees explained that they often use meeting apps to schedule meetings with exhibitors and other attendees while on site.

Social Media Valued Higher by Planners than Attendees

The use of social media in the meeting and events space has grown exponentially in recent years, with meeting planners and attendees using social tools to communicate, obtain information and share feedback in real time. The study revealed that social media is more vital to meeting planners than to attendees, however, with 43 percent of planners feeling social media capabilities are very important, while only 35 percent of attendees felt the same way. And while creating social media buzz has become a significant part of the overall marketing strategy of meetings and events, having a meetings hashtag is more important to planners than to attendees with 41% of planners indicating it is extremely or very important.

Similarly, only 39 percent of attendees felt that posting and reading commentary or reviews about a meeting or event is very important, while 50 percent of planners felt that way. Participating in games and contests via social media ranked low among both groups, with 54 percent of attendees and 41 percent of planners indicating that this feature was not important.

Interest in Virtual Meetings Rises, but In-Person Meetings are Still Preferred

The surveyed attendees and planners cited a wide variety of reasons as to why they attend virtual meetings and events, but both strongly agreed that in-person attendance continues to provide the best overall experience. Of those surveyed, 74 percent of attendees and 85 percent of planners believe that in-person meetings offer greater value because they enable more opportunities for social interaction. While the number of virtual meetings offered and attended continues to grow, meeting organizers and technology providers still need to work on the overall experience, as 47 percent of attendees and 49 percent of planners agree that it’s difficult to participate when attending virtually and 68 percent of planners feel that attendees are too easily distracted when they attend virtually.

That being said, the study showed that attendees are nonetheless looking for more opportunities to attend meetings and events virtually: 63 percent of attendees agreed they would attend more meetings and events virtually if the option were available, while only 17 percent disagreed. However, planners don’t seem to realize that this appetite exists: 48 percent of the planners surveyed did not agree that attendees would attend more meetings and events virtually if the option were available. Moreover, 45 percent of attendees believed virtual attendance should be available for all meetings and events, while only 35 percent of planners agreed. Interactive features such as surveys, real-time Q&A and other techniques used in meetings can help keep virtual attendees engaged, making the time and cost invested worthwhile.


Thailand’s ex-PM develops food robot to test Thai food

A machine that can scientifically evaluate the make-up of Thai food has been developed with the help of the country’s ex-prime minister.

Fed up with poor Thai food when visiting other countries, Yingluck Shinawatra came up with the idea of a machine to rate food samples against authentically-prepared dishes.

The food robot was due to be unveiled in Bangkok on Tuesday.

It is part of a growing trend to use computers to analyse food.

The machine, dubbed e-delicious, has ten sensors which create a chemical signature for food, which is then measured against a gold standard recipe, as approved by 120 taste testers.

According to the website, the machine is composed of three parts:

“An electronic nose for measurement of smell by an array of 16 gas sensors, an electronic tongue that allows us to measure sourness, sweetness, saltiness, spiciness, and a central processing unit that gathers data and interprets the result.”

Each test takes no more than 30 minutes.

The food is analysed on a range of criteria.

Thai food is one of the world’s most popular cuisines but, according to the website, “the flavours of Thai food in many restaurants and in hotels abroad are deviating from the authentic ones.”

The government, which was ousted by a military coup in May, was so concerned about the idea of inferior Thai food that it set up the Thai Delicious committee and gave it $100,000 (£61,000) to build the machine.

Each recipe has had its chemical make-up recorded in a database to compare with other versions.

Food samples are inserted into the box to be analysed and are rated out of 100.

In the case of a Thai green curry, the dish will be tested to ensure it has the right mix of basil, curry paste and coconut cream.

The team from the Thai Delicious committee has also created an app with authentic recipes for chefs to use.

Improving Digital Customer Experience is Key to Increasing Traveler Loyalty in Hotels

The report examines the needs and expectations of travelers, the types of digital offerings from hotels that are most compelling to them, and documents the importance of mobile features to make travelers’ stays more convenient and informed. Respondents indicated that, in return, the hotels might gain their loyalty.

In today’s world, consumers are always connected – even, and perhaps especially, when traveling. As such, a travel company’s digital offerings are more important than ever. In fact, 70 percent of travelers indicated that a hotel’s website, app and other digital tools impact their decision to book a stay, with those who feel most strongly about this also being twice as likely to consider customer service/experience as their top priority when booking. Moreover, once the guests have arrived, 74 percent of travelers want substantial digital involvement from the hotels, in order to make their visits better. And 80 percent of travelers find it important that a hotel allows them to set personal preferences that can be updated and saved for future use , happily exchanging personal information for a more customized and streamlined experience.

“With competition as fierce as ever, hotels looking to stand out to today’s travelers need to meet their rising expectations for great digital experiences,” said John Caruso, creative director, partner at Magnani Caruso Dutton. “In particular, there is a huge opportunity for hotels to make better use of the device that is always with the traveler: the smartphone. Using mobile to increase personalization and convenience will create a better experience for guests, and factor into their next decision of where to stay.”

Desired Smartphone Capabilities

Travelers were asked which specific mobile capabilities they would be most likely to use if offered by a hotel. Indicative of a desire for timesaving and convenience, the top-five features were:

– To easily see offered amenities and hours (80 percent of travelers would be likely to use)

– To engage with maps of the areas they visit (78 percent of travelers would be likely to use)

– For automated check-in to bypass the front desk (73 percent of travelers would be likely to use)

– To request a late check-out (73 percent of travelers would be likely to use)

– To see concierge tips about the places they visit (68 percent of travelers would be likely to use)

For Business Travelers, Experience Is a Top Priority

Business travelers present particularly powerful opportunities for hotels to earn their return visits and increase customer lifetime value by giving them the digital experiences they want. This segment tends to stay with the same hotel brand again and again, more so than family and leisure travelers. When asked how frequently they tend to stay at 30 major U.S. hotel brands, business travelers selected “often” or “always” 2x more than family travelers and 3x more than leisure travelers. In addition, business travelers ranked past positive experience higher than participation in their preferred rewards program as an influencing factor when choosing a hotel.  This, along with their ability to de-prioritize price, points to the opportunity to increase customer lifetime value.


This study was fielded online from October 28 to November 5, 2013 and includes responses from 1,000 U.S. consumers evenly segmented as business travelers, leisure travelers and family travelers. Traveler type was assigned based on travel behaviors and patterns, and travel was defined as including a hotel stay. Respondents were 18 years or older, own ed a smartphone, and were diversified in age, gender, household income, and level of education.


Photography, Mobile Technology and Social Media Combine to Increase Brand Awareness, Generate Revenues

Knee-deep in budget season for 2015, hoteliers and meeting planners alike are looking for that special “something” to add differentiation and personalization to their venue offerings and event packages that will result in a quick return on investment and increased loyalty. RoamingAround, hospitality’s mobile engagement experts, has developed a unique solution that combines mobile technology, photography and social media to engage hotel guests and event patrons on a personal level. Mobile Photo Share by RoamingAround delivers event pictures wrapped by a custom-designed picture frame to attendees’ cellphones via SMS to showcase branding and jump-start customer engagement. With one click, digital photos — which can highlight the hotel, an association, corporation or the event itself — can then be shared via social media, taking the event branding viral.

“One of the best ways to heighten customer engagement is to get hotel guests or event goers actively involved in marketing your hotel or special occasion,” said Michael Garvin, RoamingAround President. “Mobile Photo Share by RoamingAround is a fast and fun way to put social media to work for you by promoting a property or event through the sharing of digitally-branded pictures. But the ‘picture-taking’ is just the first step in the customer-engagement process. Once armed with each guest’s mobile credentials, Mobile Photo Share can be used to deliver surveys, send single incentives and multi-redemption mobile offers, and even capture digitally signed photo release waivers in real-time. It can also drive traffic to onsite outlets. For example, a text message can be sent offering a bottle of wine ‘on the house’ when one is purchased from the hotel’s wine shop; or, a coupon for a complementary spa treatment can be offered if the guest participates in a quick mobile survey. Mobile Photo Share software provides analytics to determine campaign effectiveness and tracks event exposure by recording the number of photos shared.”

Photography, Mobile Technology and Social Media Combine to Increase Brand Awareness, Generate Revenues

Mobile Photo Share by RoamingAround enables hoteliers and event planner to:

  • Build a presence and promote their brand by marketing the company, its products and services
  • Use imagery to take a social media campaign viral
  • Connect with customers on a new, personal level
  • Capture information and opt-ins for engaging with customers continuously to cultivate loyalty
  • Generate revenue and drive traffic to in-house outlets (retail, spa, food, shows, casino) by offering coupons and offers through the MPS platform
  • Get involved in Cause Marketing

“Cause marketing is a great way to incentivize attendees to share their photos on social media to raise money for a specific organization’s cause,” said Sarah Smith, RoamingAround Vice President of Sales and Marketing. “Event planners can offer a ‘Money Raised’ thermometer viewable for all to see the total donation dollars increasing on a live streaming monitor as they share their photo.”

Distinguish Events by Distinguishing Guests

When event planners engage their guests with Mobile Photo Share, they are creating fun, interactive and memorable occasions that drive customer loyalty and strengthen the brand. From corporate events, holiday parties, tradeshows and conventions to weddings, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, sporting events and political campaigns, Mobile Photo Share by RoamingAround is the ideal tool to collect guest data and directly market to a qualified audience.

Photography, Mobile Technology and Social Media Combine to Increase Brand Awareness, Generate Revenues

“RoamingAround’s professional photographers or ‘Brand Ambassadors’ will take celebrity-style photos that will make attendees feel like they are gracing the Red Carpet,” Smith said. “Our team is trained to create an enchanting atmosphere by making event attendees feel like they are being honored and celebrated. On the back end, our in-house graphic designers will create custom photo frames that captures the distinctive essence of each event and its individualized brand. Attendees pose, preen and smile for our photographers, and then receive their photos in a flash on their mobile devices. Then those images can be shared on a variety of social media outlets, like Facebook and Twitter, or via live social feeds, such as trending #hashtags or following @brands. This takes the event and its branding to an entire new audience which can turn into potential new customers.”


The Newest of the New Generation Hotels: Hetras Helps Travel24 Rewrite the Rules

For the first time, an online travel agency launches its own chain

Travel24 Interior

Hetras, the technology provider for new generation hotels, and Travel24, an established German online travel agency, have announced a long-term partnership to support the launch of Travel24’s new hotel brand.

The first property, a 170-room hotel in a reconstructed historic Leipzig building, is set to open in 2015. Travel24 plans to open 24 additional hotels over the next five to seven years. Like most new generation hotels, the Travel24 properties will offer eye-catching style, convenient locations and quality amenities at attractive prices. But Travel24 will add its own twists. Guests receive a 2D bar code with their reservation. This bar code, with which guests are already familiar through air and train travel, serve as an identification upon check-in and check-out and can be used to operate the hotel kiosks as well. hetras is largely responsible for the design, development and integration of the technology.

The real novelty of the concept, however, is the fact that Travel24 is already well known as an online travel agency. The combination of an OTA with a hotel chain creates unprecedented possibilities.

“As an online travel agency, it is imperative that we maintain a neutral position towards all of our hotel partners, including our own,” explained Armin Schauer, CEO of Travel24 (pictured right). “The difference is not on the OTA side but on the hotel side. Our hotels do not need to differentiate between the direct and indirect channel. After all, each channel is essentially commission-free.”

“Travel24 is indeed stretching the definition of new generation, yet this is nothing new for us,” added Tanja Baier, senior account manager at hetras. “Virtually all of our customers have pioneered new technologies and we are always excited to be at the forefront of change.”

“Our choice for hetras was simple,” continued Schauer, a former executive at Accor. “We looked for vendors with positive references and experience in, among other areas, kiosks, OTA integration and digital signature technology. Only hetras could check off all the boxes. It’s no surprise that hetras is the standard for new generation chains.”


The World’s Most Hi-Tech Hotels

As consumer demands advance alongside technology, these hotels are responding with iPads, concierge robots and Google Glass

The Yotel, New York

By Victoria Monk

8:00AM BST 25 Sep 2014

Comments1 Comment

A robot concierge waiting politely to take your luggage, personalised mood-lighting at the swipe of an iPad and virtual postcards. This is just a taster of what’s on offer at the world’s most hi-tech hotels.

Novotel München Messe, Munich

Here, guests are not only welcomed by a real concierge, but also a virtual one. There are impressively large touch screens distributed around the hotel, offering accessible information on local attractions, weather and flight information. Guests can even send a virtual postcard at the tap of a button.

Yotel, New York

Self-service kiosks greet guests at this New York Hotel. In the mean time an automated robot, known to the staff as amicable YOBOT, will help you with your luggage and stow away your valuables in a safe deposit. Bedrooms come equipped with techno walls that have the ability to stream audio, super strength Wi-Fi and air conditioning is activated by motion sensors.

Eccleston Square, London

While the exterior of Eccleston Square emanates history, technology is at the heart of this hotel and is reflected in the extensive list of techno-amenities. Rooms are equipped with touch sensitive keypads to control music and lighting, an in-room iPad which doubles as your personal concierge, shower walls that turn from clear to frosted at the touch of a button and flat screen televisions concealed within bathroom mirrors.

W Taipei, Taipei

W Taipei is located in the hub of cosmopolitan life, right in the centre of the vibrant Xinyi district. It boasts state-of-the-art technology with large LCD flat screen televisions, modern sound systems as well as some of the suites offering video projectors.

Blow Up Hall 5050, Poznan

An enormous digital art installation captures guests entering this hotel and then projects the image back in a series of stylised surveillance shots. Instead of room keys guests are handed iPhones upon check-in that use digital recognition to navigate users to the correct room and unlock the door.

Prizeotel, Hamburg

Each of the rooms in this Hamburg hotel has a hi-tech music lamp that allows guests to listen to music via Bluetooth, recharge mobile phones or make phone calls as well as a flat screen television. Business travellers may also benefit from the Work&Surf Station and the digital newspaper kiosk.

Abadía Retuerta LeDomaine, Spain

This hotel, 120 miles north of Madrid, is the first hotel in Europe to offer Google Glass – free – to guests. Annie Bennett who visited Abadía Retuerta LeDomaine earlier this year, was surprised at how easily she could take photos and make videos.

If you haven’t come across it yet, Google Glass is a spectacles frame without lenses but with a clear plastic, rectangular prism mounted on the right-hand side. This prism forms a virtual screen on which you can access the internet, just like on a smartphone or tablet, only with a roll of your eye rather than the stroke of a fingertip.

Hotel 1000, Seattle

Built-in infrared detectors alert housekeeping staff as to when a room is occupied, thus avoiding any unwanted post-shower encounters. Hotel 1000 also has a fully converged IP infrastructure that allows guests to choose their own room temperature, artwork and music.

The Peninsula Hotel, Tokyo

No hi-tech hotels list would be complete without a representative from Japan. Guests at The Peninsula have access to an electronics service department if they run into difficulties with gadgets that include a nail polish dryer, unlimited internet radio with over 3,000 stations, a mood lighting pad and wireless phones with Skype capability. Also, the hotel is currently offering children who stay a digitally-interactive Pokemon treasure hunt, brought to life by augmented reality.

Citizen M, Amsterdam

Check-in is also automated here at Citizen M, with everything done through a self-serve computer. Each of the rooms comes equipped with its own ‘Mood Pad’ allowing guests to navigate the lighting, temperature, curtains and television to create the perfect ambiance.

Read the Citizen M hotel review here

Mama Shelter, Paris

As well as being very chic, each of the rooms in this hotel is fitted with an iMac entertainment system. This allows guests to watch television, free movies on demand, listen to the radio, connect to the internet and use Airplay and Skype.

A recent HRS ‘Hotel of the Future’ survey revealed that smartphones, tablets and corresponding apps are becoming increasingly important when planning a holiday.

The findings showed that 42 per cent of guests from the UK would rather operate their hotel room’s lighting, air conditioning and television via a display instead of using a separate remote control or switch.

Jon West, managing director for HRS UK and Ireland, said: “As the fast-paced high-tech world finds its way into hotels with tablets instead of guest folders, smartphones instead of room keys, and apps instead of remote controls, the findings show that the hotel industry quickly needs to adapt to the new user behaviour of many of their guests or risk falling behind.”


Food Delivery Robots Mark New Era for Hospital Catering

WA’s Fiona Stanley Hospital will be home to free-roaming food delivery robots along with cutting-edge cooking and fully traceable food safety protocols when it opens next week.

The hospital will feature 18 automated guided vehicles equipped with a combination of GPS, proximity sensors, wi-fi and powerful computing with the capability of delivering up to 2,200 meals direct to wards each day. Furthermore, this is all completed without human intervention once the robot has left the hospital kitchen, The West reports.

According to Serco’s soft services manager Breffni Doyle, (Serco being the patient catering service at the hospital) the robots have the ability to communicate with the hospital systems by wi-fi, enabling it to deliver food right across the campus. The technology is so sophisticated that the robots can even call for a lift to deliver food across numerous levels of the complex.

Serco’s head chef Steve Newson said that the robots will significantly improve efficiencies in the kitchen, in addition to providing a more enjoyable dining experience for patients.

“The technology means food is not held too long and the time between cooking and delivery is significantly reduced,” said Newson.

“We want to make the dining experience as rich and enjoyable as possible. We buy in fresh vegetables, steaming them and chilling them ourselves. All our wet dishes are made on site from scratch.”

Patients at Fiona Stanley Hospital will be able to order their meals via a patient entertainment system.


Gaming Industry Mobile Solutions Leaders Form Resort Mobile Solutions Alliance (RMSA)

Several of the gaming industry’s most innovative mobile solutions providers today announced the formation of the Resort Mobile Solutions Alliance (RMSA)RMSAwas formed to help resorts and casinos to: a) understand the opportunities for enhancing operational efficiencies and improving customer service using enterprise-class mobile technology, and b) select the most appropriate mobile apps and infrastructure to bring them to life at their properties.

Resorts, and particularly casinos, face unique challenges of regulation, privacy and performance parameters as compared to other industries. RMSA will offer best practices white papers, educational events, and other reference information to help resorts and casinos keep abreast of evolving mobile technologies, as well as provide guidance and appropriate assessment to successfully deploy them for maximum competitive advantage.

RMSA‘s initial focus includes helping resorts understand, select, configure and deploy Wi-Fi systems for best performance on a given budget with special emphasis on reliable coverage, encryption, extensibility and performance during emergencies, including power outages.

Additionally, RMSA will help the industry to define operational standards including appropriate jurisdiction certification minimal requirements, enterprise system connectivity best practices, mobile device app and user management guidelines, and mobile app interoperability / compatibility recommendations.

Lastly, RMSA will strive to ensure the mobile apps provided by its Member Organizations are capable, within the limits of technology, of operating on mobile devices that simultaneously run apps from other providers.

RMSA‘s founding Member Organizations include:

  • Acres 4.0, a leading provider of operations-enhancing mobile solutions
  • Resort Advantage, the recognized leader in mobile compliance solutions for the gaming industry
  • William Ryan Group, a trusted provider of Real Time Action™ solutions managing every customer interaction

“Our commitment to heavily invest in the development in our cutting-edge mobile technology solutions will provide our casino customers with enhanced patron experiences with immediate cost-savings,” said John Acres, Founder/CEO of Acres 4.0 &RMSA Co-Founder. “RMSA will allow us to revolutionize the resort and casino industry with our combined innovated mobile technology solutions.”

“RA is excited to provide our wealth of mobile solutions knowledge and real-world mobile experiences to the gaming industry,” said Brian Ferrilla, Managing Director of Resort Advantage & RMSA Co-Founder. “Forming this much-needed RMSA association will provide the resources to help properties invest in the right mobile technologies that yield the biggest return for their mobile app investments.”

“The customer journey, brand interaction, and internal operations of each resort and casino are counting on management to deploy trusted mobile systems across all departments,” said Robert John Hendrickson, President of The William Ryan Group, Inc. “RMSA leverages the consolidated solutions and experience of our expert partner organizations to insure that Casinos and Resorts adopt the appropriate strategies to support seamless mobile implementations.”

RMSA membership is open to anyone in the casino-resort industry. To participate in our trade association, or to receive updates about our progress, please email your contact info to

About Acres 4.0
Acres 4.0 designs cutting-edge casino solutions that allow operators to take advantage of the newest consumer technologies today rather than years down the road. These innovations allow immediate cost savings and enhanced customer experiences at a price casinos can easily integrate into their existing budgets. For more information, please visit or hear what Kai customers have to say at Visit us at G2E Booth #1636

About Resort Advantage
As the makers of the award-winning Title 31 Accelerator™Slots Jackpot Accelerator™SAR Workflow Accelerator™and Incident Report Accelerator™ suite of desktop and mobile compliance applications, Resort Advantage continues to lead the gaming industry with its innovations. Resort Advantage’s Complete FinCEN / IRS Compliance Solution has set the gold standard for desktop and mobile FinCEN / IRS compliance management and reporting and is the solution of choice for the industry’s most prominent casino properties. For more information, visit


Teleporting and Robots: It’s Time For Hotels to Quit the Gimmicks

Teleporting, Robots and Dog Sleds: It's Time For Hotels to Quit the Gimmicks

Will this little box really transport us to a tropical beach? (Photo: Marriott Hotels)

The latest hospitality trend these days is taking extreme, and often unnecessary, measures to impress hotel guests. We’re not talking basic room upgrades and an artisanal chocolate on your pillow.

We’re talking teleportation chambers and robot butlers.

In some ways, we commend these hotels for making such an effort and introducing us to unique experiences. But we also wonder if it’s really worth all the money they are spending.

Last week, Marriott began offering guests teleportation. Sort of. Marriott’s latest publicity stunt is the teleporter, based in Oculus Rift technology. It transports guests to Maui and London in a fully immersive 4D virtual reality experience. All you have to do is step inside the booth.

To be fair, the teleporter is an interesting step in the right direction of revolutionizing in-room entertainment in hotels, but it still feels awfully gimmicky. Check out eight other ways hotels are trying to attract attention these days.

1. Robots!


Great for robot selfies, but not much else.

Only a month before Marriott launched the teleporter, robots invaded a Starwood hotel. Starwood is testing new robot butlers at its Aloft Hotel in Cupertino, California, and plansto expand to the rest of Starwood’s hotels in 2015. Aptly named Botlrs, these machines can navigate the hotel and fulfill guest requests, allowing the actual humans working to spend their time doing other things.

Forget the robot butler, though. How about a robot that records your sleep? It’s not as creepy as it sounds; there is no actual robot in the room with you. For their Sleep Art campaign, a few Ibis hotels filled select beds with sensors that send signals as you sleep to a robot that turns those signals into art. It actually sounds pretty amazing, albeit extreme and a little uncomfortable.


WiFi – Free or Pay?

Most articles on this subject prompt a veritable tsunami of comments from social-media-literate, business travelers, who find it inconceivable that any hotel could ever be justified in charging for Internet access. Do they have a point?

The Guest’s Perspective

The need to remain connected has become almost ubiquitous and it isn’t just a business requirement. Leisure hotels now show the largest year on year growth in WiFi usage. recently released a survey where hotel guests stated that free WiFi was the most desired in-room amenity. Some people have even adapted Mazlo’s traditional “Hierarchy of Needs” to illustrate how the WiFi has taken over our lives.

WiFi - Free or Pay? | By Graeme Powell

Given that background, it is hardly surprising that protagonists such as Andrew Zobler CEO of The Sydell Group state: “To charge for WiFi is just terrible. It’s like charging for water, something you just don’t do. Having really good WiFi and having it free is critical.”

Others take a more financially based approach, and compare the cost they are charged in a hotel with the price they pay for access at home. They typically conclude that the former provides very poor value for money in comparison with the latter, and that hotels are therefore fleecing customers in the same way as they did with telephony, before mobile phones turned hotel-provided in-room phones into “the most expensive paging system in history” (according to Nick Price former CTO of Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group).

There is also the paradox of where free WiFi is available. This applies both not only within hotels but also across the hospitality industry. The argument goes along the lines of: why should hotels charge for WiFi when cafés and restaurants often provide free access? The paradox becomes even stranger when you consider that the majority of budget / select service hotels provide free access, whilst luxury hotels continue to charge. To those who are used to the way airlines operate, it is counter-intuitive for the premium hotel brands to have add-ons when the “no frills operators” bundle everything in the headline price.

The Hotelier’s Perspective

Hoteliers with whom I have worked have often complained of “amenity creep.” Is WiFi in 2014 just another example of this, or are there reasons why some may hold out against offering the service free to all?

Let’s look at some of the arguments. Since these are usually ignored when this topic is discussed, I have decided to go through them in a little more detail.

First of all, the investment in the network. Many hotels would argue that to provide an enterprise grade WiFi network throughout a hotel is expensive. There are three main factors driving this:

  • Handheld devices now account for over two-thirds of hotel connections
  • Congestion in the 2.4 GHz wavelength has led to a requirement for 5 GHz connectivity
  • Density rather than coverage is the driving factor in public and conference space

Many of us have noticed the phenomenon in our own homes, that good WiFi connectivity for our laptop does not mean good WiFi connectivity for our mobile phones or tablets. This is a result of the weaker antennae in handheld devices. It is the same in the hotel environment. However, it is clearly not acceptable for two-thirds of desired users to be unable to access the WiFi, so additional Access Points (APs) have to be installed.

The beauty and the curse of WiFi is that it is that both the 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz wavelengths are unlicensed spectrum (does anyone in Europe remember the costly auctions for licensed 3G spectrum?). However, the fact that it is unlicensed also means lots of other devices can use it. The 2.4 GHz spectrum is particularly crowded with interference from WiFi itself, cordless phones, microwaves, etc. This has led to a significant increase in the number of so called dual-band devices, which can operate in both the 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz wavelengths. Although potential speeds are greater and interference is currently lower in the 5.0 GHz spectrum, the downside is that the area of coverage from a given AP is reduced. This has also led to a need to install additional APs.

Unfortunately, the requirement for hotels to install more and more APs does not stop there.

According to the recent iPass Hospitality Findings Report, the average business traveller now carries 2.68 devices. Anecdotal evidence suggests that leisure travellers now exhibit similar characteristics. Enterprise grade APs can usually cope with between 50 and 100 simultaneous users per aerial. Because of the number of devices we now carry, it is possible to fit more devices into the coverage area of an AP in an open space than that particular AP can support. As a result, hotels with large conference rooms or public spaces again have to install more APs.

The end result of all of these technical issues is that a typical European hotel installation in a luxury hotel can now easily cost in excess of €80,000 for a 200 bedroom hotel.

Secondly there is the ongoing cost. There are two aspects to this – the costs of the data line and the support fee.

Data lines are an area where the overall speed bandwidth requirement has grown massively over time and that growth looks set to continue for the foreseeable future. This growth is being driven by growth in all the different drivers for bandwidth. More people want to be online, more devices are being brought to hotels by guests and these devices are consuming more data than before. As a result, most hotels should now be looking at fibre data lines providing 100 Mbps or above. Whilst in metropolitan areas this might cost about €1,000 per month, in more remote locations it could cost considerably more to get a circuit with business level SLAs.

The requirement for support is an area where expectations differ greatly between the hotel and restaurant sectors. Within cafés, I have often experienced situations where obtaining fast secure reliable WiFi access was difficult, but have been left to my own devices to try and resolve it. This is not acceptable within a hotel, where the service must not only be properly supported but also provide enterprise grade security. Not surprisingly, the major international brands all require 24/7 multilingual support. Even though average call rates have dropped from about 5% of users in the wired days to less than 0.5% of users now, the requirement to provide quality multilingual support and rapid replacement of equipment drives cost. Overall the cost for this would be nearly as much as the data line, resulting in operating costs of c. €10 / room / month for a quality service, roughly equaling the initial capital cost of the network over a three year period.

Additionally, despite the widespread use of WiFi and the vociferous comments of these users, WiFi is not used by everyone. Certainly not everyone requires large datalines. This gives rise to the classic economist’s problem of the so called “free rider” issue, where someone uses a service without bearing the cost of providing that service.

There is a Solution

An international hotelier once told me, “Ideally, we would like to charge the high usage guests an amount which means we could provide free access to everyone else.”

Is this practical? Well maybe.

Here is some of the data I have derived by looking at numerous hotel networks in recent years:

  • 70% of users transfer 125M or less of data in a session – these are the people who are just checking email and ensuring they are up to date on news, sport and social media
  • 5% of users transfer more than 1G of data in a session – some even transfer as much as 700G in a session
  • These “super-users” account for more than 70% of all data transferred across the network
  • The majority of the “super-users” upload more data than they download – to me this implies either they are using hotels to “spam” others or they are transferring large amounts of data to other people

So data usage in a hotel network is even more skewed towards super-users than the 80:20 rule would imply. Were these super-users to be charged €10 per session, our standard 200 bedroom hotel would be able to generate over €1,500 per month, covering most of their operating costs. Although this does not the cover the infrastructure investment, the data analysis of the myriad of guests’ interaction tools opens up even more possibilities (which I may talk about in another article).

It seems logical to me that the small number of users who are driving the majority of the cost should pay, whilst the large number of users who are merely “dipping their toe in the Internet pool” should be provided with free access.

It isn’t enough to just offer tiered WiFi. However, if all hotels offered tiered access, for six devices, using in-room dual-band APs, on fibre data lines wouldn’t the world, or at least the hospitality industry, be a better place!