Why Delivering Flawless Guest-Facing Tech Requires Back Office Network Visibility
From interior design choices that look outside of the box to taking an environmental stand against plastic toiletries, a slew of established hospitality brands are taking strides to grow their appeal among Gen Z and Millennial guests who put their money behind “experiences” (read: Instagrammable moments) as opposed to material.
The truly revolutionary changes taking place in the hospitality sector go well beyond aesthetics, however. Everything from standard room size to staff interactions have been reimagined thanks to a slew of technologies that are allowing guests to experience more within just a few hundred square feet.
Take the recently-opened Moxy hotel in Boston’s Theater District. Part of the Marriott portfolio of brands, the Moxy is a new-construction project that’s adjacent to many of the city’s most popular entertainment venues, as well as the downtown campuses of several local colleges. The hotel aims to appeal to digital-first students in the area as well as “influencers” looking for a unique hotel experience in a highly-competitive regional market. The lobby itself is staged as a series of “instagrammable moments,” like an immobile pickup truck that has been outfitted as a photobooth, complete with digital accessories that guests can use to take the perfect selfie.
But once patrons have posted their snaps to social media and look around the lobby, they’ll notice that in place of a check-in counter, there’s a series of self-serve kiosks that double as the hotel’s lobby bar -- not the bank of hotel staff you’d usually find at check-in.
Features like this that let guests leverage their digital instincts to guide their stay are on display throughout the Moxy and similar “micro hotels.”
Upon entering a room at citizenM, another micro hotel that recently opened in Boston after making waves overseas, the smart television and iPad each greet guests by name, having synced up with the check-in kiosks at the front desk to ensure all of the smart technology has access to each guest profile. The iPad is the command center, remotely controlling the mood lighting in the room as well as all of the entertainment options.
This is all on top of delivering essentials like free guest Wi-Fi that call for active network management to ensure guests expectations are met. While all the Instagrammable bells and whistles of Moxy and citizen M are certainly alluring, a recent study from Forrester Research found that of all the amenities patrons seek from hotels, wireless connectivity is what guests desire most, with 94 percent of those surveyed agreeing that well-performing Wi-Fi was “essential to their stay.”
Syncing all of these technologies as well as the vast amount of data they create and collect requires an agile and scalable network infrastructure to make these unique accommodations livable. From coordinating with third-party reservation services, to having quick-access to user profiles and aligning a guest’s social media channels with the devices in their room, hotel IT need clear network visibility between a bevy of stakeholders to deliver the experiences travelers value most.
Hotel networks increasingly becoming less hardware-defined.
With connectivity playing such a critical role in driving business, hotel brands are exploring similar “digital transformation” initiatives that have already taken root in other sectors. For instance, global hotel brands now connect their various branch or franchise locations via a corporate Wide Area Network (WAN) that supports many (if not most) of the critical tools hoteliers need to both keep guests happy and the lights on.
But supporting this increasingly complex network of locations, users, and applications requires the IT teams supporting hotels to employ agile network architectures that abandon the networking conventions of generations past. This includes having brands retire their data-center-centric network architectures (which, historically, called for a tangle of MPLS connectivity that’s quite costly at scale) for cloud or direct internet access (DIA) configurations, or even a combination new and legacy architectures supported by SD-WAN.
The benefits here are clear to see. For starters, global brands will need to leverage an array of cloud vendors and ISPs to support and deliver traffic across the network; if IT can retire their physical legacy network infrastructure, they’ll no longer need to exhaust resources to support hardware, nor will they need a local IT presence at each branch location (which, in the case of the largest hotel chains, number in the thousands).
Some of the drawbacks, however, might include a lack of visibility into what’s going on locally at each remote location. While the old network architecture that was based around a data center and VPNs allowed IT to have insight into the entire delivery path of the apps they need most, IT teams lose that visibility when they rely on cloud and DIA exclusively. If one branch location is experiencing poor latency compared to other locations, IT will need a monitoring solution that delivers visibility along each network path to pinpoint the actual cause of the issue and to resolve it.
This is true for ensuring that Wi-Fi is getting delivered with minimal delay at each of the brand’s branch locations, too. Rather than supporting a local IT team at each hotel in a brand’s portfolio, a comprehensive network performance monitoring solution should be able to see past local firewalls and into the LAN, giving a centralized IT operation a “local perspective” to identify potential issues isolated to one location on the network.
It’s critical, however, that any performance monitoring solution a hospitality brand partners with is able to account for ALL of the apps leveraging network capacity. This includes the personal apps of guests using a specific location’s Wi-Fi, i.e. making sure visiting children have access to streaming services or messaging after a long journey that may have left them grumpy.
It’s especially important that any monitoring solution a hotel leverages breaks down the barriers to visibility across the network where issues hindering performance could be hiding. It’s the only way these companies will be able to keep up with ever-changing consumer tastes in a global market where connectivity is key, and consumer tastes have never been more discerning.