By Jason Jefferys

Around 64% of hotels now offer free wireless internet wi-fi to guests, which has become one of the, if not the, most sought after amenity for hotel guests worldwide, whether travelling for business or leisure. While this is great for travellers, it is a challenge for hoteliers.

Alongside diminishing video-on-demand revenues and non-existing telephone income, hotel wi-fi revenues are shrinking steeply, whereas the cost to provide internet has gone up, as a result of demand for more bandwidth and mounting infrastructure costs. The rise in cost and fall in revenues in offering complimentary internet has become a much debated issue in the hospitality industry, which leads to the question: is there life after free wi-fi?

The answer is: yes there is.

There are 6.8 billion people on the planet. Four billion of them use a mobile phone compared to the 3.5 billion who use a toothbrush. Out of those four billion, 95% bring their mobile phone with them when they stay at a hotel, giving hotels the opportunity to interact with guests through their mobile devices. Besides their mobile phone, 78% of guests bring laptops on an average trip and 55% carry tablets on their travels.

Research shows that one of the first things guests do when arriving at a hotel is to log on to the property’s wireless internet, often with multiple devices. Combined with the knowledge that guests prefer digital hotel information to printed materials, there is really no reason why we shouldn’t engage with guests through mobile from the very moment they arrive, if not earlier.

There is no other industry where customer interaction is more important than in the hospitality sector. It is paramount, especially in luxury. The use of mobile technology should therefore be to enhance the guest experience and provide real and tangible benefits to their stay. We add to that the opportunity to recapture lost wi-fi revenue through free wireless internet, meaning there is life after free wi-fi!

The wi-fi landing page of a hotel, restaurant or leisure facility is the single guaranteed opportunity to reach every in-house guest directly and multiple times a day, whether they check in during the night, are part of a group, or kids staying with their parents.

In many cases hotels have their corporate or property website as the wi-fi landing page, or worse, it’s the login page of the internet service provider, which doesn’t add much value to in-house guests, especially since most of them will have already checked-in to your property by the time they log in. We see the wi-fi landing page as the hotel’s premier ancillary revenue window and service enhancer.

Hotels can use this as a window of opportunity to boost their revenues and to get a good return on their investment for offering free internet. They can do this by turning their wi-fi landing page into a powerful sales and marketing platform that features not only the hotel’s special offers and promotions, but gives guests the opportunity to book hotel activities, transportation, spa treatments, etc. as well as order room service and other amenities right from their mobile and through the hotel’s wi-fi network. You can only imagine how much easier it would be to distribute news and promotions such as a last minute offer on the room service menu.

In addition, hotels can look to partner with local brands, shops and companies and offer advertising on their landing page, hence adding another revenue stream while giving guests access to exclusive offers; a true win-win scenario. Taking it one step further, hotels can save on hefty OTA commissions by encouraging guests to book direct for their next stay, which for most hoteliers is music to their ears.

It’s not just us technology providers to the industry that see life after wi-fi. Hoteliers are very aware of the opportunities and are actively looking for ways to leverage hotel wi-fi services. One of them is Floor Bleeker, chief information officer for Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts. He said: “As part of Mövenpick’s Natural Enjoyment brand promise we always look for opportunities to make a stay at our hotels even more enjoyable and intuitive. The wi-fi landing page is the ideal platform to interact with every one of our guests and provide them with value added services and offers.”

To make it as easy as possible for staff and guests, the solution is to offer one digital window to the in-house guest covering the wi-fi landing page on the guest’s tablet, smartphone or laptop as well as the hotel TV, and even the digital signage around the property. The key is a responsive design that looks good on any type of device the guests may bring or the hotel may offer.

This single window would provide the guest with the same content, same services and messages whichever device they use to access it. The hotel staff only needs to update one content source to ensure a seamless and immediate update of all digital touch points in the hotel. In Mövenpick’s case this is the iRiS Web Valet solution.

The hospitality industry is fast recognising the need for mobile technology in their properties. We have seen it reducing costs, increasing revenue and enhancing the guest experience. Your guests are already using the technology and so should you.

Jason Jefferys is CEO of iRiS Software Systems, an award-winning, London-based interactive guest services application creator, providing apps designed for hotels, cruise lines and restaurants. iRiS applications are designed to improve the guest experience, increase revenues and reduce costs, improve communications between guests and staff and provide a smart marketing tool. Both tablet and mobile phone applications are available

iRiS works with major hotel brands including Kempinski, Mandarin Oriental, Orient Express, Starwood, Hilton, Accor, Swire, as well as with a number of independents.