|Photo credit: Rebecca Kollaras|
The image of a business traveler plugging away on a laptop in a hotel room is starting to become dated, a new survey says.
During the last nine months ending March 31, the number of travelers checking in with laptops fell, a first in history, according to the new data from iBahn.
"For the third consecutive quarter, we've seen the number of travelers carrying laptops decreasing while we've seen an acceleration in iPads and tablets," says Garrison. "The vast majority still carry laptops, but the numbers are slipping for the first time."
The company operates Wi-Fi in thousands of hotels for bands such as Hilton, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton and Holiday Inn.
Garrison cites iBahn's surveys of 230,000 customers each month, but the same trend can be seen when analyzing the types of devices logging on to the hotel Internet, as well as the national decline in laptop sales, he says.
Shifting device mix: A challenge for already stressed hotel Wi-Fi
The growing shift poses additional challenges for hotels, most of which have created high-speed Internet systems built for laptop use and already are grappling with snowballing demand for Wi-Fi. Another contributor: people are carrying multiple mobile devices with them and using them for more than just e-mail.
The increase in tablets will cause hotels to re-evaluate their Wi-Fi networks, says Seattle-based hotel technology consultant Jon Inge of Jon Igne & Assoc.
Other factors he cites:
- More data-intensive: Tablets consume more data than laptops because, like smartphones, they constantly are seeking updates in the background.
- Weaker antennae: Tablets' communications antennae are smaller than laptops, putting a greater burden on the individual wireless access points within a hotel. Consumers also will find more dead spots "because they don't pick up the signal quite as well as laptops do," Igne says.
- Next-generation models: Future generations of tablets will require more data to fill up the screen, because the resolution is higher and pixels are smaller. "Hotels are going to have more devices that have weaker reception that require more data," he says.
There's no question that the changing device mix among travelers is having an impact on hotel Wi-Fi, says Jerry Caliguire, general manager of the Renaissance Arlington Capital View Hotel in Arlington, Va.
Caliguire's hotel opened on the outskirts of Washington, D.C. in 2011 with a state-of-the-art Wi-Fi network, yet he's already making changes.
"In two years' time, guest bandwidth demand has grown so much that we are making plans to increase our capacity," he says.
IPads and other-brand tablets end to be used for data-intensive social networking and video streaming, which will require even more bandwidth, Garrison says. When iBahn asked travelers last year what device to use to stream videos, three people said laptop for everyone who said tablet, but the latest results, he says, show it's "dead even."
Most iPads rely on Wi-Fi
The evolving mix in devices is significant because most iPad owners seek external Wi-Fi to go online as opposed to using their own cellular account, according to news reports.
Last year, for example, tech research firm IDC reported that 70% of consumers who had purchased iPads chose the Wi-Fi-only version instead of the pricier, 3G model that requires a monthly Internet plan, according to an article by tech tracker Cnet.com. And of those who bought the pricier, carrier-enabled model, only "a fraction" activated the accounts, the story says.
The type of device or bandwidth used doesn't change iBahn's revenue stream, sine hotels pay a flat rate to iBahn regardless of how many people use the Wi-Fi system; hotels can charge what they want, he says. However, iBahn tracks consumer trends because it pays for incoming calls from guests frustrated with sluggish Wi-Fi.
Travelers ditch the laptop
Travelers of all kinds say they're leaving their laptops at home.
Hilton Worldwide CEO Chris Nassetta says that for a while, he'd carry both his laptop and iPad with him on business trips until he realized that the rarely touched the laptop and was carrying it for nothing.
"So one day, I just took it out of my briefcase" before leaving on a trip, he says. "My iPad took care of all my needs."
Atlanta-based hotel developer John Hardy, of the John Hardy Group, says "My iPad and my iPhone are my office."
Like Nassetta, he still uses his laptop only when in the office.
"When I travel, if I really need one, I can always find one," he says.
It's become more common in the last few years to find computers to borrow in visible lobby spaces, instead of old-fashioned business centers that were in the past located in basements or other out-of-the-way places.
They can be found in all Sheraton hotels, which in recent years rolled out the Link@Sheraton, a free Wi-Fi zone equipped with some computers, as well as hotels from the four-star Renaissance in downtown Barcelona to the less-expensive Fairfield Inn & Suites in Middleton, Wis., near Madison.
"If a traveler can't get their work done or surf the Internet easily, they become dissatisfied whether or not it's free," Garrison says.
Hoteliers prepare for change in other ways
"Today, it's more about charging stations that the traditional laptop user who comes in with his or her power cords," says Mark Sanders, general manager of the 1,781-room Sheraton Times Square in Manhattan.
The hotel recently completed an extensive renovation that added power outlets for laptops in its club lounge, and emphasized even more charging stations for guests' iPads and smartphones.
"It's not just the trendy kids," Sanders says. "It's business people in suits and ties. They've all migrated over to much more convenient items to carry."
Article credit: Barbara DeLollis, USAToday