Study: Internet Access is Key to Capturing the Business Traveler

ALEXANDRIA, VA—File this under “no surprise here”—internet access is paramount for business travelers. It’s akin to electricity: You can’t run a business without it. Period.

The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) released a hotel technology study of 831 North America-based business travelers’ most commonly used technologies in hotels across the U.S. and Canada. The findings showed the most relied-upon or requested amenities for road warriors were a strong and reliable connection to WiFi; useful features on mobile apps; as well as nonstandard technology such as USB outlets, streaming services and in-room chargers.

“Every year around this time—fall is our planning session—we come together with different partners in the GBTA Foundation and we have a list of topics we’ve heard all year long from members who might be of interest. Hotel technology is very current and constantly changing, so it’s time to explore it more,” said Monica Sanchez, foundation director of research, GBTA. “As for our focus on North America, we wanted to start somewhere. Sometimes it’s Latin America and sometimes it’s more global. For this one, it’s about the U.S. and Canada. The completion of the study took about three months of preparation: collecting data, analyzing the results and then providing a summary.”

In 2016, hotels plan to spend an average of 6% of their revenue on IT, compared to 4.9% in 2014 and 5.7% in 2015, according to data obtained by GBTA. And, while it’s clear the hotel industry has been increasingly focused on enhancing technology for all travelers, there’s still a long way to go as needs continue to shift and evolve based on the demands of savvy, hyperconnected travelers. 

In a conversation with Hotel Business, Sanchez detailed key takeaways from the study and explained what hoteliers should keep in mind:

For the study, researchers sought to determine how business travelers obtain in-room internet access, how much time they’re using it and, most importantly, are they satisfied with the internet available at hotels. A majority (61%) of business travelers used free WiFi or high-speed internet available to all guests on their last stay. In addition, 16% said they obtained free in-room WiFi or internet because they booked direct, were a member of a hotel’s rewards program or had special/VIP status. 

“Most hotels offer basic WiFi and, yet, it’s not moving as fast with technology. How frustrating it is to dial in with basic, free WiFi and then it takes forever to upload that presentation,” said Sanchez. “It’s still surprising that the satisfaction level is still high among travelers.”

In addition, there’s the use of mobile apps and the differences in that functionality—some apps work and provide enhanced features, while others aren’t optimized well or only provide a bare-bones interface. Sanchez was surprised to find that business travelers are willing to give these apps a try, but will continue to book through other means.

“In terms of booking, they’re not necessarily going through an app for the transaction. Many of the business travelers work for companies with managed travel [departments]and they’re encouraged to go through the corporate booking tools and it may not have an app with that functionality,” she said. “Apps are still lagging behind, but there’s room to grow and make sure those apps are capturing business travelers’ attention. Something hoteliers should keep in mind: If they’re going to have an app, make sure it’s hitting the mark with their guests or people aren’t going to go to it. There’s limited space on people’s phones.”

In addition, business travelers have more on their wish list in terms of staying connected. Among the most commonly wished-for amenities are more regular power and USB outlets (35%), offering streaming services—Netflix and HBO Go, for example—on guest televisions (34%), and in-room chargers for laptops and/or phones (32%).

Sanchez noted that she’s seeing some hotels come up in nonstandard technology offerings, but there’s certainly a lot more to be adopted. “It’s a major undertaking for hotel chains to move in that direction. We’re also seeing wearable devices and keyless entry concepts at hotels. USB ports and more outlets are something not every hotel has adopted, which is surprising in this day and age where we all carry more than one mobile device. We can’t seem to find enough outlets to charge the devices.”

For hoteliers taking notice and prioritizing action items, Sanchez recommends focusing on the internet access at the properties. It all stems from there. “Start with WiFi. Everyone expects it to work fast and be stable, and that’s not happening in a lot of hotels—even in major hotels. What are the expectations of travelers? A strong, stable internet connection.”

—Corris Little