Principal Consultant, Collaboration / Multimedia / Video / AV
Director of Emerging Technology
Interactive Multimedia & Collaborative Communications Alliance
Hotels, The Internet and French Fries
Picture this: you go to your local restaurant and order a burger with fries. When you get your food you see the burger but only one French fry. When you complain about being short-changed on the fries the restaurant manager says that when too many people order them they can’t give everyone the full promised amount.
Naturally we would find this ridiculous. So why do we accept this logic from hotel internet services when we travel on business?
I was at the Gaylord Palms resort last week for this year’s Enterprise Connect conference. (If anyone has any desire to read about the technical bits of the conference feel free to click here.) EC is one of about a dozen technical conference / exhibitions I go to every year which represent lots of walking around, meetings, seminars, etc. Those commitments in combination with my regular meetings (that don’t go away) make my remote collaboration tools more essential than ever. A typical day might be waking-up at 5am, reading and responding to email, taking a quick shower, having a videoconference from my room, going to the expo floor, calling into another conference, going to meetings, speaking on a panel, heading back to my room to catch-up, going to a client dinner, sending out a PowerPoint presentation, getting a little sleep, then starting all over the next day. In order to have any chance of accomplishing these tasks my tools and the internet need to be ready to go at any time. That’s why I get angry when the property I’m staying at gives me the electronic equivalent of one French fry.
The Gaylord Palms is a beautiful hotel complex now in the Marriott chain – sporting an indoor garden atrium complete with waterfalls and daffodils – and with rates that seemingly charge individually for every peek at a flower (which is especially ridiculous in Orlando, where you can’t spit without hitting a good hotel at a reasonable price.) On top of that, like many properties today, they charge a daily “resort fee” to cover access to pools and spas I won’t use, provide a newspaper that I won’t read, give me two bottles of water (which I could buy at any CVS for $3.99 for a case of 24) and – give me “free internet.” Without getting into the arguments about resort fees in general I would expect that for a total of nearly $300 a night I would be able to read that email at 5am, have that videoconference at 7am and send that PowerPoint at 1am. Not last week however. The in-room internet would work very well in fifteen minute spurts then completely disconnect for five to ten minutes. Remember, I’m no technology novice – I know full well when a Wi-Fi signal disappears and when an RJ-45 cable loses its connection to the router that should be providing a DHCP address and pointing to a DNS server. Yes, BOTH the in-room wired and wireless dropped out on a regular basis. How ridiculous is that for the home of the annual Enterprise Connect conference?
If you’re a business traveler, you know how schedule-killing and exasperating it is when sending a two minute email takes twenty minutes….over and over…for four days. When I mentioned this upon check-out, the desk clerk acknowledged the problem. “Whenever we’re sold-out that always happens to the internet” is what she said.
I wish I could say that this is the first time this has happened and only this property is at fault, but I can’t. Being a Hilton HHonors Diamond member for many years I’ve had my share of Hilton family hotel stays. Hilton graciously waived the internet charges for its Gold and Diamond VIPs a few years ago, which regrettably made a number of the property managers feel that if it was free we have no reason to complain. Amazingly, I’ve only experienced problems at the higher-end properties. Every Hampton Inn and Homewood Suites stay has had perfect internet – and it’s usually free to all guests at those properties. The two worst experiences that come to mind from last year were at the DoubleTree in Downers Grove, Chicago, and the Edgewater Beach hotel in Naples, Florida. In Chicago I was in the middle of an assignment to survey and report on 12 facilities in about 20 days. It was fly to a location, take pictures, do interviews, then head back to the hotel to file the report (and catch-up on all the other work I was missing.) I remember it took 30 minutes to upload a 20 page PowerPoint – which is ridiculous. In Naples, ridiculous doesn’t even begin to describe the property. The impossible to connect Wi-Fi made what should have been easy catch-up sessions in the middle of a family vacation as torturous as a Romulan Agonizer. (Add that to the mildew scented room, the mismatched window treatments and the flop-house bedding and I’m still trying to find out who in Hilton corporate was bribed into putting a Waldorf name on that property. Upon checking out of there I actually told the desk clerk (in my best Lloyd Bentsen voice) “I’ve been to the Waldorf=Astoria, I’ve stayed at the Waldorf=Astoria, and this is no Waldorf grade property.”)
My point in sharing all of this is to help business travelers understand that properly functioning internet is now a utility, no less important for a hotel room than electricity or hot water. After my Downers Grove stay I complained and received a partial credit for the multiple day stay (even though they claimed the internet was provided by an outside company.) At the dive in Naples fraudulently masquerading as a Waldorf I asked for and received ALL the HHonors points back for the vacation stay. Both of these needed to be handled after the fact – as I had very little time while at the property to deal with the issue. I’m not going to call a hotel engineer at 5am when I can’t get my email – in the hopes that they even have a CCNA or CNE on staff instead of just outsourcing the support to somewhere off-shore, and then having to wait for one to come to my room .
So the lesson here is not to tolerate flaky internet at hotels – not if you have to pay a resort fee to get it, not even if it’s “free.” Don’t let properties tell you that they’re too full for the connection to be stable. Don’t let them con you into paying more for their “better” or “faster” internet if they can’t get basic service working reliably. Treat it like the water and the electricity. If a property can’t provide the basic utility services a business traveler needs (and yes, stable internet is a basic service now) then don’t stay there. If you have no other choice then get a refund when you leave and don’t go back there again. If the property claims that they can’t fix the problem because “it comes from a different provider” then explain that the water and the electricity does too. If they can’t manage their utilities then they shouldn’t be in the hospitality business.
In addition to knowing how to handle the failure, it is important to have back-up. I carry a 4G Mi-Fi hotspot to at least get me some service if the hotel can’t deliver as promised. Business travelers have to compare the costs of carrying one of those to the cost of tethering their mobile phone for notebook access. I prefer to use a separate device on a different carrier because it doubles my odds of getting a decent cellular signal. I also try to know where the closest Starbucks is as they usually have very reliable, free Wi-Fi for customers.
As for the Gaylord Palms…now a Marriott property…home of Enterprise Connect – the world’s preeminent networking conference…where they can’t provide a stable in-room internet connection if they’re close to sold-out…well, I don’t know. It’s hard to see anything past the irony. Maybe I’ll just send them a link to this blog and ask them what they think they should do. Perhaps they need to hire a network consultant to right-size their infrastructure. I think I know a firm that does that…
This article was written by David Danto and contains solely his own, personal opinions. David has over 30 years of experience providing problem solving leadership and innovation in media and unified communications technologies for various firms in the corporate, broadcasting and academic worlds including AT&T, Bloomberg LP, FNN, Morgan Stanley, NYU, Lehman Brothers and JP Morgan Chase. He now works with Dimension Data as their Principal Consultant for the collaboration, multimedia, video and AV disciplines. He is also the IMCCA’s Director of Emerging Technology. David can be reached at David.Danto@Dimensiondata.com or DDanto@imcca.org and his full bio and other blogs and articles can be seen at Danto.info. Please reach-out to David if you would like to discuss how he can help your organization solve problems or develop a future-proof collaboration strategy.