Guests expect sophisticated and free connectivity

Some years ago, I stayed in a globally branded hotel on Jamaica’s north coast. It claimed to have free Wi-Fi in every room and in its public areas. While this may have been true, the boast said nothing about the bandwidth or the property’s ability to deal with the level of demand at peak occupancy.

The problem was that I and many others were there for a major industry conference as were hundreds of vacationing families. It meant that connectivity was virtually non-existent other than between 1am and 5am, causing me to take a taxi to a nearby property late at night to beg their help so that I could meet a deadline.

It is something I have never forgotten and ever since I have avoided staying at the hotel in question even if offered as conference accommodation. Subsequently I decided to avoid the chain completely as in some of its city centre properties in North America the cost of one day’s wi-fi access was absurd.

I mention this as almost all travellers whether on vacation or on business now expect free high-speed broadband, seamless connectivity, carry at least two devices, and are of the opinion that any hotel that cannot provide a stable service at peak times should think twice about whether they have any future in the hospitality industry.

There are of course some wonderful exceptions in Jamaica and elsewhere in the region. These are the hotels where guests specifically go to escape being connected, but for the most part visitors want to feel able to communicate at will with friends and family and know what is going on in the wider world.

Connectivity relates directly to competitiveness as Cuba has just recognised. In recent months both the country’s President and Tourism Minister have said that as a matter of government priority the digital transformation of tourism is essential and that its state directed industry will address the poor quality or absence of wi-fi in most Cuban hotel rooms and in many public areas.

The reality is that both digital technology for hotels, and customers’ requirements are changing rapidly, with the number of millennial travellers, the most connected generation ever, expected to make up around 50 per cent of all guests by 2020.

Recently, telecoms industry studies have shown that hotels globally will have little option other than to respond, whether to improve in-house efficiency or to meet guest demand.

At its most obvious the requirement expected of every property will be to constantly upgrade bandwidth. The trend is for travellers to arrive with ever more devices which they wish to connect so that their ability to stream movies and play games is uninterrupted, creating a never-ending battle that all hotels will be expected to respond to.

Experts also suggest that guests increasingly will prefer to have their room key on their mobile device and will want the option to check in using self-service automation. While this may not be for everyone, the suggestion is that hotels should develop in-property apps for every guest as these offer huge efficiencies and better guest service. Such apps on a mobile device would be able to offer, for example, ordering room service and beverages from anywhere on a property, requests to make up rooms, advice from housekeeping on when laundry is ready for delivery, a direct link to concierge services, and simplify checking out.

It is also suggested that hotels offer tech enabled meeting spaces and ballrooms. Just as importantly as enabling business meetings using the latest videoconferencing facilities, connectivity will enable service enhancements with clients determining when they can accept an interruption to their meeting by catering staff. More interestingly perhaps, companies such as the Canadian telecoms company Mitel speak about the growing demand for advanced technology in ballrooms and event spaces so that those not able to be present can join remotely occasions like wedding celebrations.

What it and other companies like them make clear is that the tech revolution is central to future destination and hotel competitiveness and guest satisfaction, and unlike before, offers visitors real time opportunities to criticise or praise to a wide audience what is good, bad or indifferent about their experience.

Travellers from the Caribbean’s major markets of North America and Europe are used to free Wi-Fi everywhere from their coffee shop to public transport and in the private and public spaces they use. They expect to be connected for nothing and as far as possible for the service offered to be seamless. To remain globally competitive Caribbean hotels and destinations need to invest now in the sophisticated free connectivity that most visitors are coming to take for granted.

David Jessop is a consultant to the Caribbean Council and can be contacted at

david.jessop@caribbean-council.org

Previous columns can be found at www.caribbean-council.org

13 February 2019

The views and opinions expressed in the Business of Tourism are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Caribbean Council.

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