By Richard Wagner
With conference and events season back in full swing, hoteliers with event space may be wondering how to make the most of this prime asset to fill their venues and rooms with guests. With millions of dollars per event on the line, hosting conferences can be extremely profitable, as long as the property is geared up and well-prepared.
According to the 2023 Conference Industry Report, 75% of event planners see increasing attendance and attendee satisfaction as top priorities this year and beyond. That means properties have a huge opportunity to position themselves as the go-to venue by delivering a flawless event experience.
Internet accessibility, bandwidth and reliability all play a vital role in event success for both organizers and attendees. It’s no exaggeration to say that WiFi is just as important as hot water, and with product demos, streaming presentations and the myriad devices in virtually everyone’s business toolkit, network demands have never been higher.
Even more critical, properties only get one shot to deliver on guest expectations. Connectivity failures that disappoint event attendees and planners can completely sink a venue’s chances of booking future events.
To make sure your property is prepared, here are eight tech strategies for mastering events to meet or exceed guest and planners’ expectations.
Many facilities are still reliant on Wi-Fi 5, but Wi-Fi 6 is quickly becoming the gold standard. Investing in this enhanced technology delivers not only faster throughput, but also greater bandwidth capacity. Leaping ahead to 6E can provide additional capabilities, including additional channels to expand bandwidth and reduce interference, but may not make financial sense due to budget limitations.
When planning for upgrades, consider the entire property, not just the ballrooms and convention halls. Event planners are looking to offer unique experiences, such as outdoor spaces and private rooms, and equipping those areas to ensure adequate coverage can give properties a competitive differentiator.
This should go without saying, but providing a secure networking environment is as essential as providing the service itself. This not only gives users confidence and peace of mind, but having a security infrastructure may mean the difference between landing an event contract or losing it. Depending on the type of event—for example, an IT, medical or government conference—insufficient security protocols may be a deal-breaker as some business sectors or entities must meet specific operational requirements and compliance mandates.
Providing secure authentication solutions is a bare minimum, and in some cases, properties may need to create a VPN directly to the customers’ data centers. Some government agencies may even bring their own VPN termination equipment and dedicated Internet circuits to ensure a secure connection.
Provisioning bandwidth allows you to ensure each event, organization, meeting room or other cohort has access to the service they need when they need it. There are several options for provisioning, depending on the application or scenario. One option is to create a custom SSID for an event that is configured to provide the event with either a guaranteed or higher bandwidth for event attendees that is separate from non-event guests.
Some venues offer guaranteed bandwidth for a premium price. Another option is to implement a bandwidth cap with specific access codes. For example, a speaker who needs to offer a demo may get a special access code that’s tied to 50 MB of dedicated bandwidth, while the audience gets another code that gives them a shared 50 MB.
ISP burst capacity
No matter what kind of internal upgrades you do, the performance is still limited by the speed and capacity coming into the property. If the ISP circuit is insufficient, even the fastest WiFi routers won’t make a difference if the switches can’t pass that speed through.
Many ISPs offer bursting services that allow properties to tap into additional temporary capacity. For example, you might have an existing 1 GB circuit, but have the option to burst to 2 GB to accommodate an influx of traffic. Once the event ends, the circuit drops back to its original capacity and cost.
Single equipment supplier
These days, simply getting the needed wireless access points, controllers and LAN switches can be a challenge because of supply chain issues, and it may be tempting to parcel things together in a piecemeal approach. However, this can be a huge mistake that makes procurement and configuration far too complicated.
Instead, choose a vendor that has a full portfolio of all the necessary equipment to streamline setup and provisioning. This can make it much easier and more efficient to procure the equipment and help net better pricing. While some of the big suppliers may currently struggle with inventory and availability, there are mid-market vendors with ample stock, offering the same reliability, performance and service.
Creating a personalized experience for users using Passpoint or other authentication technology can be a unique differentiator to offer as a value-added service for events and their guests. These services allow the network to recognize event guests, and properties can customize their experience with a specific landing page to offer special services, vouchers or discounts—for example, free spa services for all keynote event speakers.
You’ll also want to make sure there’s a seamless handoff for eventgoers who are also overnight guests. They should be able to move freely from the conference space to the lobby and guestroom without having to re-authenticate.
Ability to broadcast
While in-person events may be back, budget and travel constraints, as well as staff shortages, are driving an uptick in hybrid and virtual events for 2023. Making events more inclusive should be a top priority, and events can increase admissions and revenue by offering virtual attendance options. This can also apply in situations where event organizers may want to broadcast presentations or keynote speakers into alternative event spaces or even guestrooms on the same property or another property within the same city.
Properties can beef up technology that enables event planners to offer broader accessibility through broadcasting or livestreaming. That means having robust equipment and bandwidth available in the appropriate capacity and areas of the facility to support this demand.
Even if you feel certain your network is up to the task for an upcoming event, you don’t truly know unless you test it in a live scenario. Proactively performing networking analysis to gauge performance, capacity and ease of use is a smart strategy for properties that want to differentiate on their event-hosting capabilities.
Very few properties invest in this kind of service, and promoting your network capacity as tested and verified can be a strong competitive differentiator. Hiring an outside consultant to come in and do the testing is relatively straightforward and well worth the ROI if it means pulling off a big event without a hitch.
Investing in Wi-Fi upgrades and additional bandwidth capacity can be expensive, so it’s best to take a phased approach. By enhancing separate areas on a revolving schedule, it helps to spread the capex out over several years. For example, a property may start with their conference space and common areas one year, upgrade every other guest room the next year, and finish up the remaining areas the following year.
Some providers also provide OPEX billing to help alleviate upfront equipment costs.
However you plan to tackle it, delivering on customer expectations for connectivity is essential for catering to the events industry, for which adequate bandwidth is critical as electricity. In a highly competitive market, ensuring a smooth, seamless experience is the only way to build and maintain a good reputation and remain top-of-mind when event planners start evaluating venues.
Richard Wagner is director, certification and compliance, Nomadix, a provider of patented internet gateways, wired and wireless infrastructure networks, in-room TV casting, Passpoint, in-room voice assistants and cloud-based PBX phone service for hotels
This is a contributed piece to Hotel Business, authored by an industry professional. The thoughts expressed are the perspective of the bylined individual.