Dirk Dumortier, Director, Healthcare & Hospitality Sales APAC, ALE
The Internet of Things, room automation, artificial intelligence and virtual assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa are making headway in the hotels and hospitality sector. But none of this is possible without the right foundation of secure connectivity. No matter how luxurious your hotel, how sumptuous the food or how relaxing the spa, if you don’t offer secure connectivity and mobile guest services, you are unlikely to fill your rooms. Dirk Dumortier, Director, Healthcare & Hospitality Sales APAC at Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise looks at the issues and the technologies that are now available to enable hoteliers to provide the services guests expect.
Hospitality is a connected industry. Even back in 2014, 40 percent of people traveling on business had three or more connected devices, as smart and wearable tech offer far greater functionality to people on the move. Inside the hotel, guests are turning to their own technology for information and entertainment rather than traditional hotel services.
It’s secure access first – and last
Hoteliers realize that to grow their business they need to invest in technology. According to the 2017 Lodging Technology Study, 57 percent of hotels are planning to increase investment, with 42 percent intending to maintain their technology spending. The top priority is to increase digital customer engagement in a secure environment, and for this, mobility and connectivity need to be at the center of their digital transformation strategy.
Wireless connectivity is now an essential amenity. Guests experience it at home, at work and increasingly on the move – so they have high expectations. In fact, WiFi is so central to the guest experience that only room cost ranks higher in importance to guests. But providing WiFi is more than just providing connectivity bars on a device – balancing easy access with security is key.
Challenge 1: From the lobby to the lounger – pervasive and high-quality WiFi
Providing consistent WiFi access can present a major headache in hospitality environments. Not just because of the number of users, devices and amounts of data on the network, but because often the buildings were not designed with networks in mind!
Managing the network infrastructure footprint, particularly in historic hotels, is one of the first considerations. Old buildings with thick walls or metal structures mean that it is just not possible to run all the cables you need to support room technology. Over in Europe, the 140-year-old Waldhaus Flims Alpine Grand Hotel & Spa recognized this problem, but through the use of hospitality access points (AP), the hotel rooms could each be connected via a single LAN cable. These specialized access points act as ‘mini-switches’ which ensure access to internet, telephony and video entertainment, only with a much smaller footprint. Where it is impossible to bring Ethernet to some areas of hotels, WiFi meshing can provide the solution.
Looking more locally, The Escarpment Group’s multiple properties, in the rugged geographic terrain of New South Wales’ Blue Mountains, were using disparate platforms, resulting in an excessive number of integration points, management challenges and a lack of consistency across locations. By consolidating the management system under one vendor, the management of WiFi platform became a simple task – allowing the IT team to spend more time on higher-value activities.
With IoT becoming the norm – room automation, IP security cameras, point of sale systems and virtual assistance devices – the growing pressure on networks to deliver uninterrupted quality of service to guests starts to become an issue.
Your WiFi should follow that guest!
It is not simply a case of adding a few more access points around the hotel – you need a solution in place to ensure simple and secure guest access and authentication. This simplified connectivity needs to ‘follow’ the guest around the premises, providing access to services where and when they need them. For instance, APs that can continuously monitor connection metrics from mobile devices can use this data to steer device connection to the most appropriate AP, which prevents the WiFi network from slowing down as people move throughout the hotel premises.
In fact, WiFi is so central to the guest experience that only room cost ranks higher in importance to guests
Challenge 2: Follow that device – mobile guest services from digital reception to check-out
A guest that uses the spa, the restaurant and the gym leads to a better bottom line. The key to unlocking this is the guest’s personal device – from providing direct bookings and services before guests arrive, to saving time by checking-out straight from their smartphone. This type of personalized experience ultimately means better guest engagement.
This requires frictionless digital interaction between guest and hotel departments – be that the front desk, restaurant or other facilities. With today’s open APIs (application programming interfaces), it is becoming easier than ever to integrate voice and message capabilities directly into guest loyalty or eConcierge apps.
Beyond this, location-based services are quickly establishing themselves as a way to offer guest services – providing directions to one of the resort’s featured restaurants or letting guests know what offers are available when they are walking past the spa are just a couple of examples. Successful digital engagement in the future will be personalized in these ways, and the data gained from mobile engagement will be invaluable to hoteliers in delivering personalized services and push notifications based on individual preferences.
Hotels are also using technology to ensure they are also getting the most out of each guest. Where phone systems in room are traditionally seen as cost-centers for a hotel, Accor Hotels is using a cloud-based system with a licensing model that allows them to only pay per occupied room per night, sharing the risk and reward with vendor and partners.
And mobility is not just for guests…
Behind the scenes, in hotels such as The Buddha Bar Hotel in Paris, enhanced mobility services are enabling staff to stay connected anywhere on-site, resulting in more attention made to guests’ demands. Add to this apps which enable employees to instantly report room availability via a code on their mobile device, or log and respond to maintenance issues on the move, and you can start to see how these capabilities can all add up to getting guests checked in faster and keeping them happy during their stay.
Challenge 3: Securing networks and containing threats with Containers and PANs
Hotels are a growing target for hackers and data thieves. The open, guest-facing nature of the hospitality industry means that hotels and venues need to be welcoming to guests and their devices. But with so many mobile, wearable and IoT devices entering the hotel space, balancing guest access while keeping data, hotel functions and back-end services secure is vital.
One of the core principles behind building a secure network for hotels is containerization technology. This is a method of creating virtual isolated environments on a single converged network. The idea is to group connected devices with a common function and the respective authorized users into a unique, virtual IoT ‘container’. For example, the ‘guest access container’ acts as its own network where guest users cannot see or interact with devices within the finance department’s container, or the IP cameras and alarm systems operated by the security team. Within each container, quality of service and security rules can be enforced and it is possible to reserve or limit bandwidth, prioritize traffic and block undesired applications.
As connectivity grows and with so many devices in guest rooms, you also need to consider what each guest can interact with – smart TVs, intelligent room assistants or climate control. With guests able to connect and mirror movies to the IPTV, how do you stop them connecting and streaming to the TV next door? The answer is the Personal Area Network (PAN). A PAN is almost like having a dedicated WiFi network for every room, where guests can interact with room technology as they’d expect at home – but crucially only in their room. Yes, hotels need to get connected, but they need to be smart about network security and the technology is now available to enable them to do just this.
Stay another day
To drive these benefits to their bottom line, hotels don’t just need to offer better mobility, they need to offer smarter mobility. The integration of a guest’s device through bespoke applications and services is only the beginning of the process – hoteliers need to add a personal touch to their technology offerings. That means enhancing guest experience with services that transform the Internet of Things into the Hospitality of Things and mobile engagement that offers timely and appropriate services to guests. But with digital criminals on the prowl and tech savvy guests highly aware of digital risks, securing hotel networks can no longer be an afterthought – secure connectivity needs to be at the center of design.