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Eye of Dubai
Tourism & Hospitality | Monday 12 January, 2015 3:21 pm |

Hotels in the Middle East Can Create a Competitive Advantage by Using Wi-Fi Networks as a Platform for Innovation

The hospitality sector in the Middle East is booming. Recent industry reports about the hospitality industry in the Middle East have indicated that Dubai plans to almost double the number of hotel rooms by 2020, Saudi Arabia’s hospitality sector is growing at an annual rate over 8.5 percent with 155 new hotels expected to open the Kingdom during 2014-2015 and the Middle East is outstripping Europe in building big hotels. Rapid advancement of mobile computing in the Middle East is giving hoteliers the opportunity to create additional value for their guests and lower operational costs by implementing mobile technology solutions. There is rapid increase in smartphone usage in the Middle East with recent IDC research pointing to the fact that the smartphone percentage share of the overall handset market in countries like UAE, Saudi and Kuwait exceeds 75%[1]. It is thus surprising that most hoteliers’ plans to implement mobile enablement solutions are rambling.

Changing Expectations

Graeme Kane, Sales Manager, Hospitality at Aruba Networks says that a revolution has taken place, from the days when we had one Ethernet port in the room with the hotels offering guests a wired connection, or a dedicated hotel business centre often found in the lobby. A couple years ago, the typical traveller would have carried only a laptop and a phone. With the mass adoption of smart phones and tablets in the last 3 years travellers now use their devices anytime and anywhere – for business, personal entertainment, social media engagement and other such purposes. And when they arrive at a hotel, they expect to connect to everything all the time. Guests now demand always-on Wi-Fi across the hotel complex, access to self-service apps and content streaming without delay.

This mobility revolution has created a need for hotels to engage guests through smartphone apps and untether their front-desk staff so they can assist guests anywhere on the property. Essentially, providing a memorable guest Wi-Fi experience is now a fundamental part of customer satisfaction.

There is clear evidence of the change in guests' mentality. A recently conducted survey by Aruba Networks found that with respect to hospitality, #GenMobile, a term coined for the growing segment of people for whom smartphones is now an integral part of their personal and professional lives, displayed some interesting characteristics. For example, 65% of travellers have three or more devices and 94% cite Wi-Fi as the most important amenity. The survey also found that 77% of #GenMobile travellers reference reviews before choosing a hotel and 36% will hesitate to rebook after a poor Wi-Fi experience

Business travellers now require the ability to establish VPN connections to their headquarters while leisure travellers feel the constant need to update their online photo albums. These requirements demand for broadband internet speeds to be delivered over Wi-Fi networks.

Evolving with the Needs of the Modern Traveller

To remain competitive, hotels need to leverage a smarter, adaptive network infrastructure that delivers stable, simple, smart, secure Wi-Fi access to thousands of devices at a time, supports mobile collaboration for staff, and enables personalized and location-based mobile engagement for guests. There are therefore a number of aspects that must be looked into and addressed in order to achieve this which include:

Wi-Fi standards and hardware placement: With the smartphone explosion and the growing demand for media-rich content, older 802.11n wireless enterprise networks will no longer be capable of meeting user expectations. To cater to these demands and future-proof their investments, hotels must adopt the latest 802.11ac standard which provides better signal and coverage at a lower cost than its predecessors.

Instead of limiting wired/wireless connections to individual rooms, hotels can dramatically scale their Wi-Fi coverage with indoor and outdoor 802.11ac Access Points (APs) that allow for high-bandwidth streaming from guests’ mobile devices throughout the property. These APs also extend support to older 802.11n devices. This opens up new possibilities such as allowing guests to streaming high-bandwidth movies and music applications at the outdoor pool areas and hotels running high-resolution IP cameras and digital signage over Wi-Fi as well.

Automatic assignment of devices to access points: Unpredictable peaks in traffic shouldn’t slow down the Wi-Fi network for guests and staff. The deployed solution should ensure that every device connects to the best-performing AP on the network - no matter how crowded it gets and no matter where a guest is within the venue i.e. indoors or outdoors. If a next-generation mobility firewall is deployed, the solution should easily integrate with this as it will allow for the solution to prioritize the most important work apps, as well as delay-sensitive voice and video surveillance traffic.

Ease of logging in: Before checking out the pool or entertainment, the first thing the modern traveller wants to access is the hotel's Wi-Fi network. It is therefore imperative to make it easy for them to self-register for secure Wi-Fi access without IT assistance or dealing with multiple login screens. The solution should integrate with the existing property management system and allow the hotel to create custom-branded registration portals and browser pages that display venue ads and special promotions.

Context-Based Engagement: Once the hotel has deployed a reliable high speed Wi-Fi network, it can then look at leveraging this as a tool to enhance the guests' experience. The increased amount of data that is readily available on the Wi-Fi network has opened the door to creating more context-aware communications. Advances in location related technologies now allow venues to customize the guest experience based on who and where they are. For example, turn-by-turn navigation within a mobile app.

Hotels continue to use traditional static promotional signage. But this doesn’t always reach guests and often doesn’t relate to them. Location-aware technology can also be used to push out relevant and timely offers to guests' mobile devices based on where they are on the venue’s property. Hotels, resorts and casinos can now reward loyal guests by sending them personalized push-notifications that contain exclusive offers on in-house services or events.

By delivering stable, simple, smart and secure Wi-Fi to guests and then leveraging this network as a platform for innovation, hotels in the Middle East can set themselves apart in this highly competitive market. Done right, guests might use the very network developed for their satisfaction to post glowing reviews about the hotel and the service they received!
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