WiFi Data: Bandwidth's Bang for the Buck

Wireless access has become a necessary commodity in the hospitality industry. Once seen as a way for brands to differentiate themselves from competitors, now WiFi has become table stakes and operators are addressing ever-increasing bandwidth needs while trying to find ways to realize ROI.

The bandwidth battle has been raging in hotels for years and adding bandwidth remains a top objective for 45% of operators, according to HT’s 2016 Lodging Technology Study. The report also reveals that networking/bandwidth connectivity will garner 17% of operators’ technology budgets for 2016.

On the restaurant side, once seen as more important for coffee houses, wireless access is now expected in all dining establishments. Consumer research and insights from Technomic’s Consumer Trend Reports (www.technomic.com) revealed that the number of consumers who reported that they expect free WiFi at fast-casual restaurants rose 24% in a two year period. For patrons of quick-service restaurants, the number of people expecting free WiFi increased 29%. A University of South Florida study on the impact of WiFi, revealed that 70% of patrons prefer bars and restaurants with WiFi hotspots. The study also noted a correlation between having a WiFi hotspot and a diner’s probability of becoming a regular customer.

With a public that is increasingly connected, operators are on a hunt for opportunities to drive revenue through WiFi. Data analytics tools may provide the solution, with a mix of customer-facing benefits and the deep insight brands need to maximize the return on their wireless investment.

Brand goals, budgets don’t match on wireless
While many hotel and restaurant operators point to WiFi as an important tool in an increasingly wireless landscape, Lee Holman, an IHL Group (www.ihlservices.com) analyst focused on the hospitality sector, says spending patterns don’t support the notion that customer-facing WiFi is a priority for many brands. The most recent Store Systems Study, released in January 2016, revealed that hospitality providers are still more focused on WiFi solutions that target their associates (69% of respondents) rather than guests and clients (only 51%). Forty-three percent of hospitality respondents cited business intelligence and analytics as a top priority for 2016, but those who turn their initiatives into reality may be an even smaller number. Spending projections for predictive analytics is only expected to increase about 3.8% for hospitality providers this year.

“The percentages are showing they’re not yet there in terms of actually having it installed,” Holman says. “Using analytics to enhance what they have already installed, that percentage is going to be even lower.” Holman suggests that the drive to wring actionable data out of a WiFi analytics platform may depend on the type of amenities a brand offers. A high-end resort where guests can reserve massage times on their mobile devices, or a restaurant that offers time- or location-specific promotions to customers, might be more inclined to invest in analytics technology.

Wi-Fi analytics reveals guest behavior, preferences
The Grand America Hotel (www.grandamerica.com) and Little America Hotels and Resorts (www.littleamerica.com), based in Salt Lake City, have deployed Wi-Fi analytics across several meeting spaces to help draw in new clients while offering existing event sponsors deep insight into their attendees’ behavior, including how many devices connected during the meeting, when the peak time occurred and what kind of bandwidth consumption the event had. Matt Ballif, the brand’s director of event technology, says wireless services are a tremendous draw among prospective clients in a highly competitive marketplace.
Ballif’s multi-property wireless deployment plan utilizes products from Aruba Networks (www.arubanetworks.com). Aruba’s controllers provide the connections for guests and meeting participants and the AirWave product enables Ballif to monitor and manage WiFi network usage and performance.

When a burdensome connection process and slow WiFi yielded endless complaints and negative reviews for Lone Star Texas Grill (www.lonestartexasgrill.com), president & CEO, Nils Kravis saw an opportunity to expand upon the company WiFi’s capabilities. Lone Star installed the Volare Guest WiFi platform from Cloud4Wi (www.cloud4wi.com) on its existing Cisco Meraki WiFi infrastructure.
Volare allows new users to register on the platform with the option to connect using their email and phone number, or Facebook account. The platform can recognize returning guests and automatically connect them for future visits. With each login, Volare collects and aggregates customer data — contributing qualified emails to the database while displaying insightful metrics on a single dashboard.

Metrics include customer analytics — who customers are and their demographics — as well as hotspot analytics, which collectively show across all locations the total traffic, impressions, loyal customers and how often they return. “Volore integrates this data coming in from the WiFi network,” explains Kravis. “The analytics enables aggregation of information from multiple locations, which gives us a more meaningful and accurate representation of the company’s performance.”

Ballif is also considering WiFi analytics for Sun Valley Resort in Idaho, specifically Aruba’s Beacons product, which provides location-aware data. When a guest downloads the WiFi application to their device, they can be provided with services based on their location or proximity to specific amenities. “They could then immediately buy a service, get a spa reservation, book a time for skeet shooting or golf, right from the application,” Ballif says. “It’s an opportunity to increase revenue for on-property activities that are most likely to resonate with guests.”

Tokyo Smoke (www.tokyosmoke.com) founder and CEO, Alan Gerter, who describes himself as “data obsessed,” says wireless is an important component in the brand’s marketing strategy. “We want to use Wi-Fi as an opportunity to interact with our customers and to improve their experience.” Working with an analytics solution provided by Turnstyle (www.getturnstyle.com), Gerter is able to understand how frequently customers visit the stores and encourage their patronage.

Gerter has found a way to combine customer convenience and WiFi analytics data to take Tokyo Smoke’s loyalty program to the next level. Rather than expecting people to print out little coupons and carry those with them, Gerter does the digital version, leveraging consumers’ always-present mobile devices. “It’s one of the ways we reward our repeat customers through WiFi, by touching their digital self as well as their physical self,” Gerter says.

Another revenue-generating approach Tokyo Smoke utilizes is letting WiFi-connected customers know about the brand’s subscription coffee service. “You pay a certain amount per week and you can drink as much coffee and tea as you want,” Gerter explains. With WiFi analytics, he can observe how often customers come in and if the subscription route might be a better deal. “We can push them this promotion if we feel it’s relevant to them. It gives us a chance to really enable the best experience possible for our customers.”

Revenue strategies continue to grow
Douglas Rice, managing director at Hospitality Technology Strategic Advisors, sees a range of opportunities on the horizon to derive revenue through the use of WiFi analytics, particularly as the integrations between wireless platforms and the core customer relationship and property management systems become more robust. Location-based services, for example, could be finely tuned as brands become more familiar with their customers’ behavioral patterns. “There’s no point in pushing a special offer for a restaurant with open tables to somebody who ordered room service in a guest room a half hour ago,” he explains.

Using guests’ WiFi access point connection histories to determine traffic patterns between one area and another could also point hospitality operators toward opportunities for improvement. One Cloud4Wi feature that really intrigued the Lone Star group was its ability to count the number of people walking by the restaurant, without requiring them to connect. “Knowing this information empowers us to explore new ways to draw in those just passing by outside,” Kravis notes. “Having actual conversion numbers helps Lone Star figure out what our best practices are, so we can better plan for the future.”

Rice concurs, seeing further applications for analyzing traffic patterns. “Understanding how people move often provides ideas about where you should locate a new concession, or how to optimally place promotional advertisements,” Rice says. This type of micro-marketing allows brands to base marketing campaigns, both subtle and overt, on the specifics of each guest’s behavior.
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