Keeping the hotel up when the internet goes down

As hotels rely increasingly on internet-based services for reservations, checking in, entertainment and more, what happens when the internet connection goes down? Andrew Hennigan finds out

Once an optional extra most people wouldn’t miss, the internet connection in hotels and other hospitality businesses has gradually become an essential utility, hardly less indispensable than the electricity or water supply.

Reservation systems and email have been joined by new internet-based entertainment options (The Future of hotel television looks bright, EyeforTravel, March 25, 2015) and internet-of-things gadgets like internet-enabled door locks (Innovative gadgets drive exciting possibilities, EyeforTravel, March 20, 2014). Most hotels today have some sort of plan for dealing with the emergencies when Internet access fails, but every new wave of technology is another wake-up call for owners to check their contingency plans to ensure they are prepared.

Some large hotel chains are reluctant to talk about their plans, citing the confidentiality of their business continuity planning, though others are happy to share at least the general outline of their approach.  

Here are a few examples:

1. Separate and duplicate connections

This is the approach of Scandic Hotels to ensure that hotel management systems are safeguarded. “Scandic Hotels own ‘production’ network is separated from the public internet,” says IT Operations Manager for Infrastructure and Communications, Philip Rauf. What this means is that the connections in the production network are all redundant, with each hotel connected by a primary optic fibre connection and a second copper wire based connection for physical diversity. Guest internet access is provided through a completely separate infrastructure.

2. Ensure staff have mobile phones with a data connection

Most small and medium-sized hotels don’t have the resources for private data networks and duplicated physical connections. They tend to rely more on wireless connections as their backup. Some use wireless hotspots – inexpensive devices that connect to 3G/4G phone networks on one side and provide Wifi connections for computers, tablets and phones on the other.

Others use even less expensive 3G/4G USB sticks plugged into a computer to allow connection through the mobile phone data network. Some even fall back on their smartphones and tablets for emergency access to reservation data, email and other vital services on external servers. A smartphone with a mobile data connection can also become a personal hotspot, sharing its internet connection with a nearby computer with no more than a few swipes on the screen.

Even in smaller hotels most owners are well aware of the risks of being dependent on internet connections. “We personally rely on the internet to do everything to run our hotel,” says Steven Brenner, owner at the Beehive Hotel and Cafe, a small budget hotel in central Rome.

If the connection goes down we all have mobile phones with a data connection so we can deal with things temporarily that way, avoiding the need to go through the usual connection.

3. Know where your guests can access free Wifi close by

Like many hotels the Beehive doesn’t have a technical backup for guest internet access. “We’d issue a discount in the amount it costs to use the internet somewhere else,” Brenner says, though that is probably nothing, given the number of cafés with free Wifi. It’s a good idea to have a list of places or alternatives for guests should the wireless connection go down.

4. If in doubt rely on a paper

But not everyone is convinced that the Internet connection is indispensible, or counts on multiple redundant connections. London’s Eccleston Square Hotel, a luxury boutique hotel in Belgravia once described by Condé Nast Traveler as Europe’s most high-tech hotel, equips guest rooms with iPads, flat screen TVs concealed in the bathroom mirror and a smartglass shower walls that turn opaque at the touch of a button. 

Behind the scenes, though, they are still able to keep the hotel running with a paper backup.  “We print the down time report every three-four hours, which gives us an up to date picture of who is in the hotel, ”says director James Byrne. “We would then update this manually using pen and paper while the internet connection is out. We also have a hard copy of all future reservations. “  

To complement the paper backup the Eccleston Square Hotel also has an alternate internet connection to access Opera reservation data and email from offsite servers.

Whatever the plan, whether it’s duplicated connections, mobile connected devices or a paper backup every hotel needs to one. Already in 2015 it is unthinkable to keep the business going without at least email access, but as software-as-a-service and cloud-based management packages gradually replace software installed directly on hotel computers, a lost connection can bring everything to a halt.

Tell us in the comments box below if you are doing something differently

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