The Hotel Internet Access Nightmare

Not enough hotels catering to business travelers treat Internet access as the critical service it is, columnist George Spafford writes.
Posted September 21, 2005
By

George Spafford

George Spafford


Three. That's the number of times in the past five months that I've been stuck in hotels with failed high-speed Internet connections.

While I received polite apologies and "I'm sorry sir, we'll credit your bill," those responses are unacceptable. Simply put, hotels catering to business travelers need to seriously rethink the criticality of their Internet service levels.

When I select a business hotel, high-speed Internet is a mandatory criteria. My work is such that I am home typically only on weekends, so I rely on time in the hotel to do email, research companies, trends, etc. I also use it to see my kids on MS Instant Messenger with a webcam and that priority trumps all in my book.

On any given day, my work begins with checking email around 5:30 a.m. and responding to emails from Europe and Asia. From there, I may need to do some web browsing to check stories, verify research, etc. I also download my website's logs for offline analysis and at some point grab breakfast and get ready -- not to mention drink enough coffee to float a battleship. I usually leave the hotel by 7:30 or 7:45 and am off to work. All in all, I work two to three hours before I ever leave the hotel.

At night, I usually get back to the hotel around 6 p.m. I immediately do emails and then research on the web. Even while I am writing or doing other offline tasks, I am constantly checking and responding to emails from all over the globe until about 11 p.m. Somewhere in there, I complete and email my daily newsletter as well. During this time, I pick up another four to five hours. That means that I rely on the Internet in the hotel to gain another six to eight hours each day.

More Than An Amenity

Know what happens when I can't access the Internet? My schedule is crushed and people get upset. When this occurs, I am patient for the first few minutes, get increasingly agitated and then flat-out ticked off when the outage goes past an hour. If I can’t get the work done in the hotel, the work snowballs and then instead of enjoying my weekend with my family, I have to work to get caught up. That does not help my emotional equilibrium.

When I talk to the hotels, it's almost like they equate the high-speed Internet to an amenity for the kids to play with versus a mission-critical service for business travelers. For the most part, I usually get good service.

That said, though, there are plenty of times I want to pull my hair out. In July, for example, I spent a week in a major brand hotel in Santa Fe and the Internet system would overload and crash in the evenings. The only time it would work was in the morning and only if I signed on before 7 a.m. I called the ISP and after waiting 10 minutes on hold found out that they were aware of the problem and had been for some time. The best part was that none of the other hotels in the area had any rooms, so I suffered and so did my clients.

Cut-Rate ISPs

Another one of my complaints is likely rooted either in poor capacity modeling or in the hotels buying their Internet service from the lowest-cost bidder who told them they'd get a T1 and everyone thought that would be great. What the hotel people may not have realized was that "Joe Bob's Internet Service" had their capacity oversold by some ridiculously high multiple. In other words, these are the hotels where their "high-speed" Internet service is slower than a 28.8 modem. I guess I need to start keeping track of my home ISP's dial-up access numbers just in case. If I'm lucky, maybe the hotel phone system will let me connect at a half-way decent speed with my 56K modem, but I 'm not going to hold my breath there either.

I have a message for the hotels – “I will pay.” I don't care if I pay $10/night just so long as I can count on the connectivity and have decent performance. Free is meaningless to me if I can't do my job. Charge money and make lots of money, but put in a good system designed by professionals! My time, and everyone else's, is worth too much and any significant constraint they put on my speed hampers my ability to work and thus service my clients.

In terms of performance, I'm not expecting unbelievable amounts of throughput. I'd be happy even with a guaranteed 64Kb/s and the ability to burst upwards. For that matter, I'd pay a premium based on whether I had a guaranteed service level - free for no guarantee, $9.95 for 64K minimum, $20 for 128K minimum, etc.

The next time I am told that the Internet is down, I am going to first do some calming exercises and then talk to the hotel manager. With polite business candor, I will ask him if he's ever considered the importance of the service to his business guests and if he has established a service level agreement with his Internet Service Provider. To compensate for my loss, it's up to the manager as to what they do to make amends and they had better do something or I will go off the deep end.

There are quite a few hotels I will never do business with again because of their laissez faire attitude toward their Internet connection despite claiming to be a business hotel. The whole service level issue is irritating enough that some enterprising person might just start a web service and track comments per property, allow users to search for comments and make money on ads.

The hotels need to get the message - reliable high-speed Internet connectivity for guests is a core requirement for the business traveler market. I believe the hotels can make money if they play their cards right. I sure know I lose money when they don't.






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