MINNEAPOLIS—Installing and offering premium wireless Internet access keeps guests happy, but it also benefits the hotel’s operations, experts said during a panel discussion at the Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition and Conference.
Connecting guests to a ubiquitous, high-speed network allows hoteliers to learn about their guests, including location, loyalty, spending habits and satisfaction.
For those reasons, Hyatt Hotels Corporation’s first thought when building its “digital hotel of the future” was to ensure guests were connected on a fast and reliable network at all times throughout the test hotel, a Hyatt Regency in Santa Clara, California.
team members—along with partner-service provider Cisco Systems—identified best practices for recouping wireless installation costs during a panel at HITEC in Minneapolis.
“When we got (to the hotel) and looked at it, it didn’t have anything; it didn’t look like a digital hotel,” said John Prusnick, director of information-technology innovation and strategy with Hyatt. “To create innovation we really needed to start with the plumbing. We realized that everyone needs Wi-Fi, no big deal, but then we asked what we could do to make it bigger and bolder.”
Hyatt turned to Cisco as a partner to help them install a wireless system throughout the hotel. The idea, Prusnick said, was to make Wi-Fi coverage seamless throughout the property—hotel rooms, elevators, lobby, meeting rooms, convention space—so guests could connect once and not have to reauthorize for their entire stay.
Cisco and Hyatt identified pain points they could eliminate with the property-wide service.
‘Super Wi-Fi’ advantages
Problems or errors with the network could be identified quicker. For example, employees in the Santa Clara property were initially experiencing a trouble spot in the kitchen where they would lose connectivity. The team was able to identify an access point that was losing its connection because it was sitting above a microwave.
To troubleshoot users’ problems, the team can drill down to each individual user, identify their Internet protocol address, and determine where and when the connection was lost.
“If a person says, ‘I don’t know what happened but earlier this afternoon I couldn’t get the Internet,’ before that meant nothing,” said George Manuelian, director of mobile aggregation solutions for Cisco. “Now I can look back three hours ago and see exactly where they were standing and identify the problem.”
Advanced wireless networks also allow hoteliers to learn about and gather data on their guests. For example, hoteliers can offer free Internet in the lobby/bar area and then monitor people’s actions in those spaces via their mobile connections.
“A dashboard zooms into the bar area and we can see: Are people spending more or less time at the bar since we gave them free Wi-Fi? How many devices come through and how many were unique? What was the average dwell time? What time did they come by?” Manuelian said. “Now we have the visibility, and we can tell what’s going on—when they came to the bar, how long they stayed and what they were doing.
“It’s not about Internet access anymore, but it’s about business intelligence.”
Dania Duke, GM of the Hyatt’s “digital hotel of the future” in Santa Clara, said she’s excited about the property’s “super Wi-Fi” because it allows her staff to engage with its guests in a new way.
“We did a lot of testing on free Wi-Fi, and we went back and looked at the analytics,” she said. “Guest experience helped drive the decision to offer the free superlative Wi-Fi access in the public spaces and lobby and pool. We are now seeing increases in lobby bar spend up to 25% to 40%. The dwell time is there, and we’re able to see that.”
Capturing guest data
Through a service called WeLink, Duke said her team can monitor social chatter—what guests are posting to social media sites from onsite at the hotel—in real time. For instance, recently the network connection went down in the convention space, and the team was notified via WeLink that attendees were posting messages about it to social media. They were able to address the problem immediately.
“The guests have this sense that we really care,” she said.
As another example, the hotel staff can use guests’ mobile Wi-Fi connections to monitor how long they are waiting in line to check-in. Rather than simply providing connectivity, “now it’s about watching human behavior,” Manuelian said.
“By knowing that you just walked in the lobby, I can send something to your device and have you log in. Would you like to check-in? I can recognize that you’re a Gold Passport member,” he said.
The panelists agreed that mobile connectivity can be monetized if done correctly. Duke said the “innovation lab” allows Hyatt to gauge the analytics and determine whether the technology has a strong ability to scale. If so, the potential is there to roll that information up to Hyatt’s chief innovation officer to consider brand-wide deployment.
“You have to look at the investment and see if it pushes the needle,” Prusnick said.