Marriott, along with the American Hospitality & Lodging Association would like to require conference exhibitors and attendees to use and pay for hotel hosted WiFi in their conference and meeting rooms. Last August, the companies submitted a request to the FCC for permission to use devices that block personal WiFi devices such as a Verizon MiFi. Marriott stated the request was due to security concerns related to network hacking by personal WiFi devices (that may be open and appear to be a public WiFi access).
In October, 2014, the FCC ordered Marriott to pay a $600,000 fine after Marriott admitted to blocking guest’s personal WiFi devices during a conference. And, we are not talking about the a random Marriott with 60 rooms. Marriott blocked WiFi access at the Gaylord Oprey in Nashville, during a conference. With over 2800 guest rooms, 152 meeting rooms and a conference center, you can imagine how many people were affected. Coincidentally, guests had to pay $250-$1,000 for WiFi access after their personal connection was blocked.
Marriott issued a press release on December 30, 2014 to clarify the security concerns are specific to conference guests, not hotel guests and the WiFi jamming request would only apply to conference space. I would love to understand Marriott’s logic here because it seems to me their argument is faulty. Conference guests are more likely to be seasoned travelers, who are used to working on the go and highly aware of internet and network security. Whereas, the average hotel guest taking an annual vacation may be less aware of network threats and more likely to connect to the fake hotel hacker network. Do you think Marriott’s concerns have anything to do with the $15 per night charge for hotel room WiFi access vs $1000 per conference for conference exhibitor?
Obviously, this is just wrong. Privately blocking guest’s personal devices is not only illegal, but it makes the brand appear to be extremely greedy. This concept would be no different than blocking all cell signals in the hotel so you are forced to use the phone in your hotel room and at the same time charging $50 extra to use the phone in your room.
The larger issue is the impact this can have on small business marketing and travel over time. Business travel and conference participation are the key to growth and marketing for many businesses in many industries. Conferences are very expensive to participate in as an exhibitor. Before you even factor in travel costs, consider the expenses that are required just to put up a booth: booth space, carpet (which is typically required), padding under the carpet, extra furniture, a larger sign, shipment receiving, shipment holding, shipment handling and shipment delivery (also typically required), the booth structure itself (banners, tables, etc), electronics, and electricity. Now, Marriott expects small business owners to fork over an additional $1,000 for WiFi?
Will an extra $1,000 per conference break the bank? Probably not, but it does mean something else will be sacrificed to pay for the WiFi. And, can you imagine if you did have to pay for WiFi in your hotel room? Even with only two staff traveling 50% of the time, your company could be paying close to $5,000 a year in addition WiFi charges.
Unfortunately for Marriott and luckily for business travelers, jamming WiFi enabled devices from connecting to the internet is illegal. The FCC clearly outlines this here. So why does Marriott continue to push the issue? Clearly, Marriott is seeking the potential revenue they can make. If Marriott is able to somehow push the FCC to the dark side on this issue, it is easy to assume other hotel chains will join. If you think you your favorite hotel chain wouldn’t participate, I would like to point out that Hilton Worldwide submitted a comment in support of Marriott. It appears Marriott is just taking the negative hit for the hospitality industry.
Many small businesses provide and pay monthly for MiFi or similar devices for their traveling employees. With reasons ranging from increase network speed to increased productivity to security, it is not up to the hotel to decide whether or not an employee can use it. Furthermore, I find it hard to believe a shared hotel network is in any way safer than a personal device. It is a crime to expect small business owners to pay thousands more each year for internet services at conferences and in hotel rooms.
Will this influence your decision to stay at Marriott in the future?
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