Hotels used to be a place where people went to get away from it all. Whether it be a quiet refuge for business people after a day full of meetings, a romantic escape for couples, or a destination away from busy home lives for vacationing families and friends.

Today, hotels should be a place where people can connect to it all. With the last decade’s explosion of mobile computing and communications devices, this means we’re never far away from the latest call, email or text. People now carry their own entertainment — in the form of streaming movies, music and TV shows — right in their pockets. Mobile devices have changed not only how people interact with each other, but also how people expect businesses to engage with them.

To attract and retain today’s highly mobile “always on” traveler, hoteliers need a technology strategy to connect guests to high-speed Internet, no matter where they are on the property. High-capacity bandwidth is the cornerstone of this strategy. Connectivity is the wave of the future for hotels, and below are three trends that are helping travelers stay ahead of the curve.

Trend #1: In-Room Wi-Fi Keeps Guests Entertained

In-room entertainment used to be limited to a fancy TV with premium channels and maybe a gaming console. Today, advances in technology have changed the way in which today’s travelers consume content and what they consider “entertainment.” Now, hotel guests bring their own entertainment with them in the form of smartphones, tablets and laptops on which they stream movies, download music and play online games — giving them a “home away from home” experience.

According to TripAdvisor, free in-room Wi-Fi is the number one amenity travelers expect. In fact, many travelers seek out and stay at properties where the Wi-Fi is free, in an effort to avoid extra charges on their data plans. Some hotels may choose to provide their own streaming entertainment options, but many choose an easier way: helping hotel guests connect to their personal streaming entertainment through a strong, reliable Wi-Fi network.

Trend #2: Mobile Check-In/Checkout Gets Guests on Their Way

Nobody likes waiting at a hotel check-in desk, especially after a long day of travel, business meetings and other activities. Fortunately, hotels now have mobile technology alternatives to speed the process and give guests more control. New mobile check-in options include on-site check-in kiosks, roaming tablet-based check-in systems, and mobile check-in from a guest’s smartphone.

Just like using an ATM rather than going inside a bank to see a teller, check-in kiosks make the check-in process faster and more efficient. Because this type of kiosk technology has been used successfully by airlines for several years, most travelers are familiar and comfortable with the process. Some hotels have already achieved great success by implementing self-service kiosks and personalizing offers and promotions to guests, such as the ability to offer coupons, vouchers or special messages. Kiosks even let guests choose their own room and how many keys they need and then encode those keys for use.
 
Another mobile check-in option hotels are starting to adopt is using a wireless-enabled tablet to check guests in as they walk in the door. Tablets can be enabled with a credit card swiper and signature capture and can be used anywhere in the hotel for faster checkouts as well.
 
The ultimate in speed and efficiency may be mobile check-in from a guest’s smart phone. One large hotel chain recently introduced an application that lets guests check into — and get access to — their rooms through their smart phone, which acts as a mobile key. Another hotel chain is using smartphone technology to let guests bypass the front desk upon departure, with final bills automatically sent to the guest’s email address.

Trend #3: Lobbies Become Destinations with Common Area Wi-Fi
 
The days of a dark lobby with only a check-in desk and a couple of chairs are over. Properties from economy motels to luxury lodging are now implementing a “coffee-house” style concept of open spaces that combine the lobby, front desk, lounge, restaurant, gaming nooks and business center (complete with charging stations) in one contemporary space that encourages collaboration and social interaction.
 
Guests patronizing these open lobby spaces don’t want their signal to degrade as they try to connect to networks and access the cloud via Wi-Fi. But providing this guest access comes at a price: research firm Gartner estimates that 25 percent more network traffic is generated for each device a guest connects to the network. Increased network traffic can quickly overwhelm a hotel’s existing bandwidth, making a robust network infrastructure more important than ever.

Tricks of the Trade 
            
Clearly, scalable, high-performance data networks are a powerful foundation for hotels that offer Wi-Fi access to their guests. However, before embarking on any plan to leverage mobile technology, it’s important for hoteliers to plan their technology expansion strategy carefully. Start with an evaluation of the hotel’s current infrastructure and its capabilities, then define the gap between those current capabilities and where the hotel needs to go in the future.
 
Network performance can be a stumbling block when it comes to incorporating mobile technologies into a hotel’s technology infrastructure. Capacity has often been an issue for hospitality IT departments but is more so now with the additional demands from more mobile being used by guests and hotel employees.
 
For example, a check-in kiosk or application requires quick and reliable access to guest data (including room preferences, affinity club data and private payment data) that can be turned into actionable information at the point of service. The system must communicate effectively with the hotel’s reservation system, and with remote data centers. And when taking into account the number of transactions that are processed on any given day through a multitude of mobile devices and kiosks, bandwidth requirements can increase exponentially. A good rule of thumb is to provide 1 Mbps of bandwidth per guest room in order to offer fast, reliable Internet to the property.

Conclusion

Mobile technologies help hotels enhance customer service and better utilize hotel resources, in addition to enhancing the in-room entertainment experience, letting guests access the Internet, and helping to streamline the check-in/checkout process.
 
Hotel guests may not return to a hotel where there is slow or unreliable Wi-Fi. Just think of how many people post on travel sites with negative reviews about “lousy Wi-Fi.” Then, consider the possible loss of repeat and future business from these travelers.
 
For these reasons and more, it is imperative for hotels to choose high-performance, scalable network services that serve as a backbone for a robust, reliable Wi-Fi network. When evaluating network service providers, be sure to look for one that understands the hospitality industry and can offer a variety of solutions that can be customized to your hotel’s specific needs.