Whether you’re operating an Airbnb or running a boutique hotel, profitability is everything, and as every host knows, it can be improved or damaged by ratings and reviews. Of course, multiple factors affect the guest experience, and while some are impossible or hard to control — such as the weather or noisy neighbors — kicking WiFi up a notch to keep customers happy is a small investment with a potentially big return. Plus, it can help small hospitality businesses tap into emerging trends and opportunities.
WiFi is not merely about having a great connection; it’s also part of the overall guest experience. These days, people expect home-away-from-home comfort and amenities, and WiFi is one aspect of that. Good WiFi is as important to many people as a good bed. Hospitality providers do not want guests to waste valuable time trying to fix WiFi, and while it can be tempting to buy the cheapest WiFi option, if it is not fit-for-purpose, it can cost you your time and reputation. Sure, asking guests to use their mobiles is an alternative, but that may not be an option for everyone.
Plus, many people expect more than just basic WiFi access, especially longer-term guests: a business traveler needs to attend video meetings without breaking up or freezing; parents want to stream movies while keeping the kids entertained with video games; a fitness enthusiast has to attend her online class…and so much more.
Research shows demand for better WiFi
The demand for better WiFi is backed up by some hard evidence. According to Airbnb* in August 2020, the top amenities guests wanted were air conditioning, kitchens, parking, and — guess what — WiFi. Furthermore, a survey by Hotel Internet Services in 2019 found that 58 percent of hotel guests said WiFi service quality was ‘highly likely’ to impact their booking decision.
However, problematic WiFi is listed in the top six Airbnb guest complaints by iGMS**, while a survey by Hotel Internet Services*** found that 80 percent of hotel guests continued to encounter unsatisfactory WiFi experiences.
Everything changes – so must WiFi
So why does WiFi continue to be a challenge? One of the biggest reasons is change. A couple of years ago, many people were connecting one or two devices to WiFi. Now, that number can easily be three or more per person: a laptop, a tablet, and a phone, for example. Even Bluetooth-connected items such as smart watches can drive up WiFi usage. WiFi routers that were sufficient even just a couple of years ago are no longer sufficient. Even back in 2019, the Hotel Internet Services survey found that over 90 percent of hoteliers had frequently encountered guests wanting to connect more than one device.
On top of that, demand on bandwidth has accelerated: there’s a world of difference between browsing the internet or social media and streaming video content or interactive games. Using outdated WiFi routers is like having freeway traffic on a narrow country road. The result is slow WiFi that is patchy or even non-existent in some areas.
Another contributor to WiFi problems is WiFi management. WiFi that is hard to set up, maintain, and troubleshoot not only annoys guests; it also takes up valuable host time, which is bad news for a busy boutique hotel, even more so for the Airbnb owner located a hundred miles away. It can be frustrating to deal with a WiFi router that refuses to connect and not know what the problem is.
Best practices for Small Hospitality WiFi
The first step is to choose the right WiFi router. In a small, self-contained unit, (in other words, not being shared among hosts and guests alike) a basic router designed for a small business may be fine. However, not all routers are created equal. Look for routers designed for small businesses and features that make a difference, including tri-band wireless, which maximizes available bandwidth. Ease-of-use and near zero-touch deployment is essential; hosts should not be expected to become wireless technology experts.
Approved in 2019, WiFi 6 is the next WiFi standard and is quickly gaining momentum. In 2021, most new laptops and smartphones will be equipped with WiFi 6. Offering significant performance improvement, greater coverage, and better security, WiFi 6 represents a substantial benefit to users that will make hosts stand out among competing facilities that only have the most basic WiFi.
Larger sites and multiple units
For larger or shared sites (for instance, on the host’s premises or with other guests in the same facility), a WiFi router with more coverage will make a difference. This is where a WiFi mesh network comes in. Mesh networks make it simple to offer superior WiFi everywhere and anywhere: reception, restaurant, poolside, and in every guest room, even on top floors that ‘old school’ WiFi may not be able to reach. The latest mesh networks also support WiFi 6 and are easy to extend as needed – simply add another WiFi satellite.
This approach is also cost-effective. Where there are two or more units in proximity, hosts can opt to have just one broadband line rental, then split that into up to four secure and separate guest WiFi networks. Just one main WiFi router is needed, with satellites in each guest facility.
A recent revolution in business WiFi is remote network management, pioneered by NETGEAR with its NETGEAR Insight cloud management solution. Ideal for anyone managing multiple guest locations, NETGEAR Insight makes it a breeze to remotely monitor, reboot, or reconfigure WiFi networks, and the majority of any trouble-shooting tasks can be easily fixed from a laptop or via the Insight app. Also used by hosts themselves, NETGEAR Insight is often adopted by managed service providers to support multiple business customers.
WiFi Security matters
The Hotel Internet Services survey also found that data security is a concern for over 90 percent of guests. Again, it is important to recognize that not all WiFi is the same, and any security concerns can be addressed by making the most of the latest WiFi security features available.
For example, up to four private sub-networks (SSIDs) can be created within one Orbi Pro WiFi 6 system, each one completely private, so that no one’s data or devices are inadvertently exposed. There can be one SSID for the host, one for guests, one for staff, and one for other connected devices – for instance, wireless door entry or surveillance cameras. Look for other security features, including support for the latest WPA 3 wireless security standard, and more, such as NETGEAR Armor for additional multi-layered cybersecurity.
Open up other opportunities – What’s your WiFi speed?
Once you upgrade to better WiFi, why not let your potential guests know? Most accommodation listings just say that WiFi is available, but there may be a missed opportunity there. Consider running a speed test and posting the positive result on a property listing. According to 2020 research by Phocuswire****, the average length of Airbnb stays is getting longer, and during the pandemic, people may be staying in the accommodation more of the time, likely making WiFi even more important.
Airbnb owners and small hotels also have a chance to compete with bigger accommodation providers for the lucrative business traveler market. The use of Airbnb and similar facilities by both corporations and independent business travelers are on the rise, due to cost savings and the more intimate experience that is particularly popular with millennials. Excellent WiFi is, of course, a must for business travel.
While it is only one of many factors contributing to success, the right WiFi can strongly impact customer satisfaction, simplify management, and even open up new business opportunities. If profitability is your goal in the guest accommodation business, then WiFi is a smart investment that can more than pay for itself.