Why Hotels Should Offer Guests Free VPNs via their Loyalty Programs

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Why Hotels Should Offer Guests Free VPNs via their Loyalty Programs

By Greg Falco, PhD, security researcher at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Stanford and Harvard University - 03/14/2019

Most experienced business travelers know that their hotels are inconsistent when it comes to Wi-Fi security with a majority of their companies having to deal with cybersecurity issues. In fact, in a survey among chief technology officers, an overwhelming 81% said their company had experienced a Wi-Fi-related security breach in the last year. With the knowledge that Wi-Fi security is a huge mess, you might think business travelers would pay for their own VPN more often, but most of them don’t. With more than 483 million domestic business trips in the U.S. projected by 2020 - up from 459 million in 2015 - concerns around company cyber security will surely escalate. Smart CIOs know that the key to keeping data safe online is compliance. The trouble is, study after study shows that a majority of people are not compliant 100% of the time. That is why hotels should add free VPNs (virtual personal networks) to their guest amenity and loyalty programs. By offering a free VPN when checking into a hotel room, the lodging industry is forcing compliance and delivering an important message to their loyal customers that their data security is worth protecting.

Marriott Cyber Breach

The 2018 Marriott cyber breach, which compromised the security of an estimated 500 million guests, illuminated the fact that the hotel industry has made it somewhat easy for hackers for years. Yet, the last thing a hotel company would want is for one of their frequent guests to publicize on social media, sue the hotel company or opt to stay at another property because of lack of confidence around cyber security. 

Frequent business travelers today need to travel armed and prepared to protect corporate data from cyberattacks. Typically, corporations provide their roaming workforce with a corporate VPN (Virtual Private Network) which locks down the employee’s connection to company network servers when they are using public Wi-Fi, like such as in an airport or hotel room. But companies should also supply their traveling employees with a personal VPN. Both are critical for a “Defense in depth” strategy.

Competitive Advantage

Hotels are 100% reliant on same class of customers because they’re traveling to that one area for corporate work. Yet, one of the big challenges is that their services have become a commodity for a large class of business travelers especially with online booking and competitive pricing.  Studies show that 70% of business travelers used select online travel agencies and search engines to compare airfare pricing; 59% book hotels for their business travel on their own. One of the best ways to make your hotel their primary choice is by providing and promoting a differentiated amenity offering in the way of free VPNs. In this way, both business travelers and hotels benefit. When hotels position themselves as caring, thoughtful and protective of their business travel customers, they gain loyal customers in the longer term. It’s a way of communicating: “We care about you as a traveler and we’ll protect you especially when you can’t have access to a fully secure network.”

Although lodging companies may approach this differently, my recommendation is to offer free VPNs specifically to loyalty program or platinum members. Start by engaging with a trusted VPN provider through which  as many licenses as needed could be procured. The VPN is then deployed to members who are granted VPN access all the time.

Defense in Depth Strategy

All that said, offering free VPNs is not a full solution; VPNs are a small part of the total cyber security puzzle. Yet, hotels would be extremely well-served with a “Defense in depth” strategy that provides layers of protection. Minimizing risk for business travelers in particular by giving them a personal VPN for them is an additional layer of security for the entire organization. You can market it as a benefit for them, but really, it is for your company’s protection.

About the author

Dr. Falco is a security researcher at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Stanford and Harvard University; he received his PhD in Cybersecurity from MIT. He is the founder and CEO of NeuroMesh, an IoT security company that secures critical infrastructure. Dr. Falco also serves as the security expert at InvinciBull, a leading VPN provider that lets users easily access the data and content they’re looking for without the risk of hacking and tracking.