Small hotel chain lures big business with free net access

Paten Hotels has rolled out free broadband internet access across its portfolio in the Midlands and South East and it believes that it won't be long before some of the bigger players start following suit so they don't lose out on vital corporate business.

The family-run hotel chain is small in stature, with just four buildings - the Bedford Swan, Langstone Hotel, the Marks Tey Hotel and Best Western Grosvenor Hotel - but it believes that it has attracted more customers, particularly business travellers and those making use of its conferencing facilities, simply by removing chargeable web connectivity.

When an existing contract with web provider The Cloud came to an end, Paten Hotels starting looking at alternatives that would give 24/7 access in addition to manageable fees that would enable it to offer the service to free to hotel customers. While the Cloud offered the right technical solution, the costs would have prohibited the free part of the equation, according to Robert Smith, sales and marketing director for the hotel group.

Patel Hotels ultimately decided to work with Hotel Broadband, a Bristol-based company, who opted to use Zyxel networking products to enable the chain to provide free wired and wireless connectivity across the hotels ranging at speeds of at least 2Mbps and up to 8Mbps (depending on the distance from the individual hotel to the exchange).

"People realise that they can get broadband for 15 a month at home so paying the same amount for a day's access in a hotel doesn't make sense to them," said Smith.

"Without a shadow of a doubt this has helped us compete with bigger hotel groups. We get a lot of repeat business particularly from the local corporate market, local business people. Our two main competitors in Portsmouth for example are the Portsmouth Marriott and Hilton which are two of the biggest groups. They're both tied into long-term contracts so have in a sense pretty much washed their hands of providing a service. It's a bit like bringing in outside caterers instead of using the hotel kitchen."

He added: "I stay at our hotels once or twice a week. One of them is a Best Western and Best Western has actually mandated that all of its hotels in the UK have to provide broadband access free of charge from 2008. If they're doing it, it won't be long before others do."

The hotel group also wanted to ensure that whatever solution it put in place would serve it well both now and in the future.

The Hotel Broadband offering makes the most sense because the costs are predictable and manageable, even when usage increases, which is essential for a company looking to grow its business, according to Smith, who added that the free access is an essential tool to stay afloat in an increasingly-competitive market.

"Procurement managers who book rooms for companies tend to negotiate on the room or B&B rates," he said. "If they're paying up to 100 for a room and then 15 on top for web access that's an additional 15 per cent cost. In the next few years they will start to really put a squeeze on that and the big groups who are tied into long term contracts are probably going to be forced to give it away to customers."

Maggie Holland

Maggie has been a journalist since 1999, starting her career as an editorial assistant on then-weekly magazine Computing, before working her way up to senior reporter level. In 2006, just weeks before ITPro was launched, Maggie joined Dennis Publishing as a reporter. Having worked her way up to editor of ITPro, she was appointed group editor of CloudPro and ITPro in April 2012. She became the editorial director and took responsibility for ChannelPro, in 2016.

Her areas of particular interest, aside from cloud, include management and C-level issues, the business value of technology, green and environmental issues and careers to name but a few.