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Saudi hotels to use smartphone apps as platform for innovation

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JEDDAH — The hospitality sector in Saudi Arabia is booming. Recent industry reports indicated that Saudi Arabia’s hospitality sector is growing at an annual rate over 8.5 percent, with 155 new hotels expected to open the Kingdom during 2014-2015 and the Middle East is outstripping Europe in building big hotels.

Rapid advancement of mobile computing in Saudi is giving hoteliers the opportunity to create additional value for their guests and lower operational costs by implementing mobile technology solutions.

Graeme Kane, Sales Manager, Hospitality at Aruba Networks, said a revolution has taken place from the days when we had one Ethernet port in the room with the hotels offering guests a wired connection, or a dedicated hotel business center often found in the lobby. A couple years ago, the typical traveller would have carried only a laptop and a phone. With the mass adoption of smart phones and tablets in the last 3 years travellers now use their devices anytime and anywhere – for business, personal entertainment, social media engagement and other such purposes. And when they arrive at a hotel, they expect to connect to everything all the time. Guests now demand always-on Wi-Fi across the hotel complex, access to self-service apps and content streaming without delay.

This mobility revolution has created a need for hotels to engage guests through smartphone apps and untether their front-desk staff so they can assist guests anywhere on the property. Essentially, providing a memorable guest Wi-Fi experience is now a fundamental part of customer satisfaction.

There is clear evidence of the change in guests' mentality. A recently conducted survey by Aruba Networks found that with respect to hospitality, GenMobile, a term coined for the growing segment of people for whom smartphones is now an integral part of their personal and professional lives, displayed some interesting characteristics. For example, 65 percent of travellers have three or more devices and 94 percent cite Wi-Fi as the most important amenity. The survey also found that 77 percent of GenMobile travellers reference reviews before choosing a hotel and 36 percent will hesitate to rebook after a poor Wi-Fi experience.

Business travellers now require the ability to establish VPN connections to their headquarters while leisure travellers feel the constant need to update their online photo albums. These requirements demand for broadband internet speeds to be delivered over Wi-Fi networks.

Evolving with the Needs of the Modern Traveller

To remain competitive, hotels need to leverage a smarter, adaptive network infrastructure that delivers stable, simple, smart, secure Wi-Fi access to thousands of devices at a time, supports mobile collaboration for staff, and enables personalized and location-based mobile engagement for guests. There are therefore a number of aspects that must be looked into and addressed in order to achieve this which include:

Wi-Fi standards and hardware placement: With the smartphone explosion and the growing demand for media-rich content, older 802.11n wireless enterprise networks will no longer be capable of meeting user expectations. To cater to these demands and future-proof their investments, hotels must adopt the latest 802.11ac standard which provides better signal and coverage at a lower cost than its predecessors.

Instead of limiting wired/wireless connections to individual rooms, hotels can dramatically scale their Wi-Fi coverage with indoor and outdoor 802.11ac Access Points (APs) that allow for high-bandwidth streaming from guests’ mobile devices throughout the property. These APs also extend support to older 802.11n devices. This opens up new possibilities such as allowing guests to streaming high-bandwidth movies and music applications at the outdoor pool areas and hotels running high-resolution IP cameras and digital signage over Wi-Fi as well.

Automatic assignment of devices to access points: Unpredictable peaks in traffic shouldn’t slow down the Wi-Fi network for guests and staff. The deployed solution should ensure that every device connects to the best-performing AP on the network - no matter how crowded it gets and no matter where a guest is within the venue i.e. indoors or outdoors. If a next-generation mobility firewall is deployed, the solution should easily integrate with this as it will allow for the solution to prioritize the most important work apps, as well as delay-sensitive voice and video surveillance traffic.

Ease of logging in: Before checking out the pool or entertainment, the first thing the modern traveller wants to access is the hotel's Wi-Fi network. It is therefore imperative to make it easy for them to self-register for secure Wi-Fi access without IT assistance or dealing with multiple login screens. The solution should integrate with the existing property management system and allow the hotel to create custom-branded registration portals and browser pages that display venue ads and special promotions.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on Jan. 14, 2015.