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Getting connected

Carl Weldon meets Colin Roy - CMO, glh

I was recently invited to an event at the top of BT Tower by HOSPA founder sponsors BT wifi, to see Thistle Hotels launch their new high-speed wifi, which will be free for all guests. 

I was able to chat with Colin Roy, chief marketing officer, glh, and discuss some of the challenges around providing wifi and the other technology which guests increasingly demand. Colin, like many of us, believes that “the industry is slow to adopt technology” and address guests’ “un-met needs” or indeed understand the root cause of them.

He said that he believed that the industry attempts to meet these needs - but then starts to ‘qualify’ the solution based on a guest status (“sorry but only if you are a gold member”) with disingenuous wording in the marketing text so the average guests gets wifi - but not fast and not free. 

For hotel guests, the problem is exacerbated by the fragmented sector. Hotels are just hotels to them, but with different ownership and capital structures - even within the same brands - achieving consistency is close to impossible. Owners are often guilty of looking for the best fit financially, rather that what’s best for guests. 

Add to this a lack of education on the topic within staff, complex systems and Virgin using Usain Bolt to tell home users how easy and fast it can be and you end up with a disconnect between what people experience at home and what they experience in their hotels while travelling. 

Colin said: “We now treat wifi like a utility such as water or electricity”. glh’s aim is only to spend what adds ‘economic benefit’ to the business - improved occupancy and rate - but driven through increased loyalty as a result of addressing the guests’ needs. 

So Thistle and BT addressed this issue and created one-click wifi access.

But you can promise what you like. The problem is in the delivery. The big, old buildings in which you find hotels - particularly London hotels - are not designed for wifi signal to reach every room. So where do the transponders go? Thistle’s research found that guests want the best signal in their rooms - on the bed, on the sofa and, apparently, in the loo. 

Too many transponders can cause a degradation of signal, so volume alone is not the answer. Each hotel has surveyed each room - and each hotel now has a piece of hardware that can be taken to a room and scans the room when a guest reports a problem - and if degradation of signal is detected this is immediately reported to BT wifi. 

With 14 hotels in London, with over 5,000 rooms, the company’s estate in the capital have been split into its new brand - Clermont and Amba (the Guoman brand having been retired). glh’s brands have targeted solutions, based on research undertaken by the company. AsColin points out “the business market has different needs to the coach tour market”. And within those markets there are geographical variants and the occasional angry customer driven to despair and “Just give me proper easy access!”. Who hasn’t experienced that in a hotel? 

We touch upon the other technology elephant in the room - TVs and content. Many guests now bring their own devices and want to access it, or even view it on the room TV, which can depend on the hotel’s wifi. But some guests still want or prefer the normal TV service, with different content according to the different brands.Colin talks about improving still and upgrading to 1GB pipes (up from 100 MB) and allowing for 72K high definition videos. He believes that spending glh’s own money (as opposed to owners or franchisees) helps it set standards and wants to challenge the rest of the industry to follow his lead. 

We discuss how the new glh CIO, Chris Hewertson is settling in after a year. He is clearly very busy and very happy that he has investment to spend on the projects. Chris doesn’t come from a hospitality background, having previously worked at Colt Telecom and OneTel. What made Colin choose him? “We knew what we intended to do with this project - and so we realised we needed a telecoms expert to deliver it - so we went looking for that and we certainly got one!”


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