Why Your Meeting’s WiFi Matters

More attendees are saying goodbye to laptops and hello to mobile devices. What does higher demand for WiFi at hotels and events mean for meeting planners?

At the office. On the subway. At Starbucks. In a meeting. You can pretty much be anywhere these days and notice that tablets and smartphones are starting to take the place of laptops. A recent Gartner report on the worldwide computer market predicted a 7.6 percent decline in desktop and laptop shipments in 2013. And a new survey of 230,000 customers by iBahn, which operates WiFi in thousands of hotels, backs this claim up: During the last nine months ending March 31, the number of travelers checking in to hotels with laptops declined—a first.

During the last nine months ending March 31, the number of travelers checking in to hotels with laptops declined—a first.

“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,” said iBahn CEO David W. Garrison in an article in USA Today. “The vast majority still carry laptops, but the numbers are slipping for the first time.”

While bringing smaller, more portable devices is beneficial for travelers and meeting attendees, especially since it keeps their bags a few pounds lighter, it can cause a bit of headache for the hospitality and meetings industries due to the increased demand these devices put on WiFi throughout hotels, convention centers, and other venues. That added demand comes from the fact that a lot of attendees travel with more than one mobile device (e.g., tablet plus smartphone) and that they are using both for more than email (e.g., video streaming, social media updating, uploading photos).

Another problem is that while these travelers want the WiFi, they don’t want to pay for it. A recent Amenities Survey showed that only 11 percent of guests are willing to pay for wireless when staying at a hotel, and 34 percent say free WiFi is their biggest priority when choosing a hotel, no matter their reason for travel.

And meeting attendees expect the same: free—and fast—wireless from the general session to the breakout rooms to the expo hall to the hallways. “We find that our event customers liken WiFi to being able to get a coffee or water at a conference. It is now an expectation,” said Brad Weaber, CMP, executive vice president, event services, at SmithBucklin, in an Associations Now article last year.

But this can prove to be a bit of a balancing act for meeting planners as they try to accommodate their convention-goers WiFi needs with their budgets. To help meeting planners figure this out, earlier this week the Convention Industry Council (CIC) and the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International (HSMAI) published a new white paper  called “Up to Speed: Event Bandwidth and High Speed Internet Access” [PDF].

The white paper, which also includes a bandwidth estimator tool, was developed by CIC’s APEX Event Bandwidth Workgroup and offers suggestions to meetings professionals as they manage their wireless needs. These include:

Know attendee demands. How tech savvy are your attendees, and how do they access and use the internet? Think about whether they will be live blogging and tweeting, whether they will be streaming video and downloading handouts, and whether they will be connected back to their offices through VPNs. Also, keep in mind how many devices attendees will be using onsite. Is it only a tablet, or a tablet plus a smartphone?

Know presenter requirements. Do your speakers plan to stream video during their sessions? Will they be doing a live demonstration, or will another speaker be presenting remotely?

Know what exhibitors are planning. If exhibitors are setting up their own private wireless networks in their booths, you should be prepared for possible problems. Too many wireless networks close together can cause interference that can make their networks and the ones you provide to your attendees unable to function.

Know the details on the meeting’s app. Does the app store schedules and other information in the app, or pull them from the internet each time they’re accessed? Does it use photo or video uploading? Is there gamification that requires check-ins, social media interaction, photo scavenger hunts, and so forth?

What is your association doing to ensure it is meeting your attendees’ WiFi needs?


Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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