from: USA Today
Nowadays, business travelers want to hop on the Internet quickly, whether it’s for work or to stream their favorite TV shows at the end of a long day. And hotels have gotten the message, investing heavily in the infrastructure that’s necessary to make it happen.
A new report released by NYU’s School of Professional Studies projects that the U.S. lodging industry will spend a record $6.4 billion on capital expenditures this year, and upgrading Internet service is often one of the top priorities.
“It is one of the more common capital expenditures,” says Bjorn Hanson, the NYU clinical professor who authored the study, adding that the typical amount spent by a hotel to improve Internet service is $40,000.
And while some hotels, particularly more expensive, luxury properties, tend to charge for Internet access, the upgrades taking place throughout the industry are not about fees but keeping customers happy.
“The investment has been more about customer satisfaction than any enhancing of revenue,” Hanson says. “Whether people are paying for it or not, if they can’t get access or keep getting bounced off, it’s a ‘dissatisfier.’”
Many Marriott hotels are bolstering Internet offerings by improving access points, routers and wiring of the local area network around the individual property, says John Wolf, a Marriott spokesman. Those upgrades help improve Internet speed and reliability.
At Starwood, more than 50% of guests were connecting to hotel Wi-Fi as of 2014, and up to 75% of the devices being used to tap into the Internet are mobile.
To meet the demand, the company has boosted standards for its hotels each of the past three years to make Wi-Fi offerings more robust. Its properties are augmenting or replacing Wi-Fi equipment and working with their ISPs to expand bandwith. Starwood is also requiring all of its hotels to bring in independent third parties to conduct surveys and confirm that the property’s Wi-Fi adheres to Starwood’s requirements.
“It’s pretty simple,” says Brennan Gildersleeve, Starwood’s vice president of brand and guest technology. “More and more guests are connecting more and more devices all while enjoying media-rich content. Our hotels are continually investing in Wi-Fi improvements to satisfy this demand.”
Hilton Hotels have also been boosting their Wi-Fi technology. “Wi-Fi is the most widely used on-property amenity according to our customer satisfaction data,‘’ says Jim Holthouser, executive vice president, global brands, Hilton Worldwide. “We give guests the ability to choose how they want to connect during their stay and we’ve built the infrastructure to provide an easy and consistent online experience at our hotels globally.”
At some hotels, complimentary Wi-Fi is offered as a perk to the most loyal guests.
For instance, though certain hotel families under the Starwood brand, like Element andSt. Regis, offer free Internet access to all guests, and all hotels have certain spaces that are free hot spots, other properties within the Starwood family provide complimentary access specifically to members of Starwood’s loyalty program who book directly through hotel channels.
Similarly, members of Hilton HHonors, the brand’s loyalty program, who reserve a room through Hilton or associated channels, get complimentary Wi-Fi at Hilton hotels worldwide.“Guests may choose between two different Internet speeds,” Holthouser says, “standard Internet access, suitable for those guests looking to send emails or browse the Web, and premium access, which provides faster speeds to stream video or enjoy other bandwidth-intensive applications.’’
In the Marriott family of hotels, the JW Marriott Essex House in Manhattan has seen the benefits of its Internet investment firsthand.
“When the opportunity to have streaming Netflix, Hulu, Crackle and Pandora arose earlier this year,” says Kathleen Duffy, a spokeswoman for Marriott International, “the hotel was already in place with heightened bandwidth, allowing fast or even faster streaming than in one’s own home.”
But across the hotel sector, some business travelers say more has to be done.
“Most high-speed internet at hotels is really just medium-speed Internet, and it is getting slower as more devices access overworked infrastructure,” says Doug Houseman of Plymouth, Mich. A vice president of technical innovation and member of USA TODAY’s panel of Road Warriors, he added that “most hotels need to rethink the amount of bandwidth they have available. In 2000, it was fine. In 2015, not so much.”