As in-person events ramp up for the summer, the average number of attendees is nearly in line with 2019 numbers, according to Knowland. In its U.S. Meetings Recovery Forecast, the event intelligence group predicts 86.9% recovery of meetings and events by the end of 2023 with the last four months of the year seeing a staggering 99.8% rebound. 2024 will be a significant growth year reaching 109.8% of 2019 levels by the end of the year.
These predictions offer a very positive outlook for hotels with meeting spaces and conference centers, but only if they are ready to meet new technology requirements. The two-plus years of remote and hybrid work also made its way into events. While the face-to-face value will never go away, the combo approach of hybrid events will enable the maximum number of attendees to wade through the inconvenience of lingering travel restrictions—with many people opting for virtual attendance.
According to Cvent’s “2022 Q1 Planner Sourcing Report: Europe Edition,” it’s predicted that the majority of 2022 events will have in-person components, with hybrid events having the biggest slice of the event pie. And 68% of planners said they have more budget for in‐person and hybrid events than they did in 2019.
So what does this mean for the hosting venues? Business, group and event travel is where the money is for hospitality, and hotels must ensure their properties are upgraded and equipped to make these events successful. Let’s explore the five main areas to consider when upgrading infrastructure for existing properties and thoughtfully planning for new properties.
A Reliable Network
Everyone needs reliable, secure and fast access to the internet throughout the entire conference experience. These hosting venues will be required to have Wi-Fi 6 technology to support the new hybrid demands. It provides four times more capacity and 75 percent less latency than Wi-Fi 5 and allows for faster data transfer speeds and better performance in crowded areas where attendees use Wi-Fi connected devices. Wi-Fi 6 is also ideal for supporting wireless applications, such as 4K video streaming, virtual reality, augmented reality and video conferencing. Without it, operators simply cannot meet the technology demands of event planners and delegates.
Configuring a network for events can be complex for large spaces, high concentrations of people and when roaming around the different areas on the property or connected properties. Hotels need a similar—but better—experience to cell phone network coverage. Wi-Fi must keep guests continuously connected wherever they may end up during their stay—the conference center, hotel room, pool or restaurant.
When determining what type of network is right for a meeting facility, always defer to corporate standards for bandwidth management and adjust as needed. Encore, a company known for event technology and production services, has even developed a bandwidth calculator that can be used for determining the required bandwidth for events.
Supporting High-Bandwidth Activities
Live video streaming of events started to gain popularity even before the pandemic. Live high-res photo uploads to enable attendees to share these assets in real time was also important. Moving to a hybrid setup, these high-bandwidth activities will continue to put exponential strain on the network. To meet the experience needs of both onsite and offsite attendees, a hybrid AV setup, like those provided by AV services company Mills James, needs to be combined with a solid network infrastructure to simultaneously video stream sessions to remote attendees and also stream those events into different rooms at the venue.
Many hotels leverage bandwidth management technology, such as internet gateways, to prioritize Wi-Fi performance to different areas or groups, and keep the guest connected where it’s needed most. All the concurrent access could put a strain on an outdated infrastructure or one that’s not set up for this type of usage.
Hotels may host numerous smaller events onsite at the same time. By having a system in place that is designed for events, the hotel can set up separate SSIDs/virtual networks for each event to create more secure and reliable access. This also helps with prioritization of bandwidth where a conference group will get priority access over the one-time, non-loyalty member guests staying at the property. All those guests streaming Netflix in their rooms won’t be able steal the quick speeds from the conference attendees who have paid for a top-level experience.
But just because a meeting ends for the day, the demands on the infrastructure do not wane, especially for hotels. When attendees retire to their rooms in the evening or congregate at the lobby bar or restaurant, sufficient bandwidth outside the event space is still required.
As previously discussed, individual SSIDs are a great option as they offer a chance for personalization right as guests and attendees log into the network. The welcome page can be branded to the event, offer important reminders, and provide directions to download event-specific schedules or apps.
Taking it a step further, many hotels are working with regularly returning guests that use the conference spaces now that office space has been downsized. With an authentication technology, such as Passpoint, these guests are automatically connected to the hotel internet upon returning to the property, and this type of technology not only gives access, but it can trigger personalized messages, such as offering a discount or free drink at the hotel restaurant. This is a great tool for up-selling and offering personal greetings when staff members might be distanced or their time limited.
Beyond the attendee experience, it’s also about planning for all types of events. The technology chosen for the network infrastructure should work seamlessly wherever an event organizer would like to host a session or event. Whether in the traditional conference spaces, the onsite restaurant or even outside in gardens or the pool area, offering secure Wi-Fi coverage with sufficient bandwidth in these spaces can create a differentiated experience compared to other hotels in the area that also offer event space.
Preparing for Potential Downtime
One of the biggest concerns for event planners and the hotel is how to effectively plan for a worst-case scenario—the network going down. With so much strain on the network all at once, it can cause outages. How can a hotel prepare for disaster recovery? Or how can they avoid it altogether?
There is technology out there that can help solve this major problem. With high-availability of the back-end internet infrastructure, the network becomes fully redundant with load balancing, instant failure recovery and increased capacity. If one area does go down, the attendees won’t notice with instant recovery on the back end.
This is not just important for the onsite guests; it’s also critical for the remote attendees. No network at the venue means no video feeds, conference calls or connection to the event. This peace of mind pays dividends for venues wanting to create happy event planners who will want to host again in the future.
A Network that Keeps on Giving
As the industry eagerly anticipates the return of business travelers, now is the time to invest in infrastructure upgrades that will power tomorrow’s connected guest and meeting experiences. Skimping on the Wi-Fi network, especially when it comes to events, will cause more headaches and less repeat business over the long haul. Find a strong partner and service provider that can help navigate all the complexities to ensure the choices are future-proofed.
Richard Wagner is director of certification and compliance at Nomadix.
This article originally appeared on Hotel Management.