3 features to improve hotel WiFi and the guest experience

Hotel WiFi

We have long since passed the point where it became widely accepted that the provision of quality hotel WiFi is the number one desirable amenity sought by guests. Many of the larger hotel chains have taken giant leaps to make this so, with many of them adding strict WiFi requirements into the brand standards. Hotel operators must adhere to theses in order to comply with the terms of the franchise. Much of the focus is on the hardware requirements, having complete ‘edge of room’ coverage, the amount of available bandwidth allocated to each user, and a unified login experience in every hotel.

Hotel WiFi chart
Source: 2016 U.S. Luxury Travel Report, Resonance Consultancy Ltd.

It’s not just the large hotel groups. To remain competitive, many smaller groups and independently owned hotels are having to implement services that are equally capable, if not better, at meeting the customer demand for quality WiFi. However, it’s not all about the hardware and the ability of the hotel WiFi provider to ensure coverage and quality is consistent. There are a number of features that can be implemented, which will truly enhance the guest experience and transform the digital experience for all who use the WiFi service. And it doesn’t have to be expensive either!

1. An ‘at home WiFi experience’

Often, we see on hotel websites or in their marketing literature ‘a home from home’, or ‘our guests instantly feel at home’. In fact, what hotels really want you think is ‘this is better than being at home’. From the cohesive interior design to the services on offer, it has all been planned carefully to make sure that guests have a better experience than at home and expectations are high. However, the one aspect that continually does not conform to this ideal is the WiFi.

At home the WiFi is simple. You set it up once, you select your network name, you may even change it to something more personal to the one provided out of the box, enter your password, and that’s it. Every time you walk through the door, your WiFi connects. Not only that, you can connect lots of different types of devices and easily set up your own network. Streaming content to your Smart TV, Chromecast, Apple TV, or printing on your wireless printer is so easy that even you can do it, not just your kids!

For many reasons, including security and limitations of the hardware, this Hotel Home Experience has been unachievable for most hotels. Until now.

With advances in wireless hardware from vendors such as Ruckus, plus by adding an Over the Top (OTT) guest WiFi solution like Genisys or Captivnet, this type of Personal Area Network (PAN), as the techies like to call it, can now very easily deployed on the guest WiFi network.

Guests can choose their own SSID (network name) when they first use the service, they set their own WPA2 password, which makes this service much more secure than traditional guest WiFi, and their personal network is activated. A savvy guest may even choose the same SSID as their home WiFi, allowing all their devices to instantly connect without any further set up, or having to log them on individually.

Now, just like at home, all of their devices are securely networked, and are only visible to each other, not anyone else in the hotel. Guests can stream content to the biggest screen in the room and even set up devices like wireless printers, or Chromecasts. Furthermore, this service follows them to any hotel in the group where it is installed. Their personal network is activated simply by entering their room number on the login screen.

2. Guest engagement

In an earlier blog post we discussed the era of the Silent Traveller, the guests that increasingly wish to rely on technology to facilitate their hotel stay, where human interaction is becoming less important or even an irritation. They are all about saving time and getting on with things without the need for hand-holding. For this type of traveller, and likewise for many other guests, having information and available services on hand when they need it is of vital importance.

In an earlier blog post we discussed the era of the Silent Traveller, the guests that increasingly wish to rely on technology to facilitate their hotel stay, where human interaction is becoming less important or even an irritation. They are all about saving time and getting on with things without the need for hand-holding. For this type of traveller, and likewise for many other guests, having information and available services on hand when they need it is of vital importance.
Many hotels spend a significant amount on producing in-room information books and literature that must be updated frequently to reflect changes in seasons, or even changes to the hotel menu. Useful as these are, they don’t add a personal touch and they are simply inadequate for providing all the information that a guest may need. What about all the marketing literature; can you really expect guests to pick up a leaflet about the loyalty program and then go hunting for the details online?

Here are a few ways in which the hotel WiFi can be used to engage better with guests:

1. A simple welcome message – when a returning guest logs into the hotel WiFi, the portal page can show a personalised welcome back message with links to information, services, and promotions. There’s little more effective than showing you recognise your loyal customers.
2. Micro surveys – Guests can be directed to surveys where they can express views about their stay. If a guest’s answers highlight issues or concerns, then an alert can be sent to the front desk providing a timely opportunity to address the problem and rescue ratings.
3. Browser injections – Small unobtrusive menus, icons, or banners can be injected into the browser content as the guest is online and surfing the internet. These are a very effective method for linking guests to information, services, and loyalty program details while they are in the hotel and online.
4. URL redirects – WiFi users can be redirected to any webpage as they log in to the service. This can be a dynamic page that reflects what is going on at the hotel on any given day or time of day, or used to direct all users to the loyalty membership pages. Some hotels use this to direct guests to third-party pages to generate ad revenue. However, this should be carefully considered to ensure that the content is relevant and not seen as an irritation.
5. Email and SMS – Messages can be scheduled to be sent directly from the hotel WiFi platform or by integrating it with existing email and SMS services. Welcome messages can be triggered as soon as a guest logs in, or timed to promote services throughout their stay. They can also be scheduled after the guest has checked out asking for feedback or as part of ongoing campaigns.
6. Location Based Services – Content and messages can also be triggered as guests move around the hotel. These can be in the form of an email or SMS informing the guest of drinks or food promotions as the enter the bar or restaurant, or details of a local taxi service as they enter the lobby. Messages can also be sent to the front desk if the WiFi network detects a VIP, or there are several people queuing to check in, allowing them to deploy staff accordingly. The possibilities are endless.

3. API integrations

Hoteliers have an arsenal of hospitality platforms, apps, and different methods of collecting vital guest data at their disposal. Hotel WiFi shouldn’t be seen as just another guest service, or a way to collect data. WiFi should sit at the heart of the hotel’s digital strategy and be the one tool that brings all of the systems together. WiFi is the perfect tool for collecting guest and visitor data and for completing the missing information from your guest profiles. It can be used to augment the data already held and be used to automate many of the guest engagement processes.

What is an API?

The API, or Application Programming Interface, is a set of routines and protocols that allow different platforms and apps to be able to interact. In its simplest from, systems such as the hotel’s PMS can be integrated with the WiFi to allow guests to authenticate onto the internet simply by inputting their name and room number. But it can get a lot more interesting than just getting users online.

Data collection

The marketing team can send out thousands if not hundreds of thousands of email marketing messages to entice bookings, or encourage repeat visits. It is likely that this yields a degree of success, but as in many sectors, without the ability to have up-to-date information and valid email addresses for customers and prospects it can be challenging. Many hotels also rely on walk-in business, or receive group bookings from business customers. This is a lost opportunity to collect those vital contact details.

Many hotels also rely on the front desk to collect guest email addresses on check in, or have other systems where guests are asked to provide email addresses. Often this proves to be inadequate as many hotel databases are littered with email addresses such as mickeymouse@ or donaldduck@. Most are lacking a meaningful way for ensuring the information is valid.

Enter email validation. Guest or visitors can be asked for their email address, and other key pieces of personal info, when logging into the hotel WiFi service. A validation email is automatically sent and the user is given restricted access for a short period to allow the email to be received. Only once the validation link is clicked can the user gain full access. The incentive of free unrestricted WiFi is more than enough to entice guests to hand over key contact and personal data. Once the data has been collected, it is pushed into any other system with an open API. Marketers can collect better quality data and can see the effectiveness of their campaigns when they match visitors with the data stored in their CRM or other databases.

Personalising the guest experience

It’s not just the contact details and other contextual data that is collected. Device details such as MAC addresses are also stored against the user’s personal information. This means a guest can be identified by the devices they are using. As soon as they enter the hotel, the device is detected by the hotel WiFi network, instantly matching it with all the other data that is stored about that guest. This is when things get really interesting.

For example, when apps are downloaded and activated, all of the guest’s data can already be present without the need for filling out forms, front desk can be alerted to the arrival of a VIP as soon as their device is detected on the network, the message on the room’s TV can be personalised as soon as it is turned on. The only limitations are imagination and the level of desire to innovate.

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