As the country packs its bags and forms an orderly queue in crowded departure zones, the plethora of smartphones, tablets and laptops being carried and clutched highlights a deep need to spend the next week or two keeping in touch with home and the office just as if we were still there. For this is the age of the connected consumer. And as travel surveys and online review sites repeatedly confirm, after the glorious views on offer (just) there’s only one thing connected consumers care about, and that’s Wi-Fi.
Whether venues like it or not, wireless internet access is now as essential to customers as electricity, or water in the bathroom – and more important even than a clean room or a brilliant hotel restaurant. Yet when my company spoke to 150 small and medium-sized hospitality and leisure venues in the UK, a worrying number told us they believe guests secretly welcome a lack of connectivity (45 per cent), that visitors need time offline to recharge (53 per cent) and that no Wi-Fi or poor Wi-Fi is a price worth paying for the experience on offer (43 per cent).
In fact, 76 per cent of the hospitality venues we spoke to believe that the quality of service and facilities available are far more important to customers than Wi-Fi. Unfortunately, few visitors agree with them. We asked 2,000 UK adults who had at some stage been confronted by poor or non-existent Wi-Fi while on holiday whether they had welcomed being offline for a while. Just a quarter said yes.
Young visitors, in particular, struggled with the lack of wireless access while staying at a hotel, both for personal communications (29 per cent of those aged under 24) and for keeping in touch with work (22 per cent of the same age group). This lack of mutual understanding could spell disaster for smaller venues. A third (33 per cent) of leisure travellers said they would not return to a hotel that offered inadequate wireless access, and this number rose to two-thirds (67 per cent) of business guests. Such a dramatic drop in return business could decimate room occupancy rates.
Then there’s the loss of revenue from on-site restaurants, bars and cafes as guests flock to more connected locations. And as if that isn’t enough, there’s the potential negative impact on brand reputation as increasingly vocal consumers turn to online review sites and social media networks to complain. So what can, or should, small and medium-sized hospitality and leisure venues do to address this mismatch?
First of all it is worth noting that despite the fact that our research covered businesses from owner-managed through to 250-employee venues, the trends remained remarkably consistent across the board, suggesting the obstacles – both practical and perceived – may also be similar. In practical terms, concerns around expense, time and lack of IT skills all feature, and all of these are incredibly easy to address.
There are easy-to-implement and cost-effective yet high-performing solutions on the market that do not required advanced IT skills, can be installed quickly using existing infrastructure and that deliver consistent wireless access across the venue.
For example, hotels can deploy in-room, wall-mounted wireless access points that provide fast and reliable download speeds. A central wireless controller can manage all these access points and provide a single view of how the network is performing so the venue can react quickly to any changes. All of this can be unpacked and installed in minutes.
The best solutions are those designed and built around the needs and limitations of smaller firms, and with security integrated as standard. It is also worth choosing a solution that can adapt to future needs. Demands for bandwidth will only increase over time and it is already estimated that hotels should be thinking of a minimum capability of 1MB per room.
There are those who could, and in fact often do, argue that all this connectivity isn’t good for peace of mind and relaxation and that people should be able to disconnect from work and fully experience the richness of their new surroundings. All of that is true. But the choice about whether or not to connect should be with the customer, not the venue. And often it’s the lack of something that makes us want it all the more. Perhaps it’s time smaller hospitality and leisure venues joined their larger counterparts in really listening what to their customers are saying about Wi-Fi, and then acting on what they hear.