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The Wi-Fi Movement

How to get the best bang from your conference and travel contracts

By Sherryll Sobie

For Marilyn Whitfield, negotiating Wi-Fi for her organization’s conference contracts over the last five years has been a guessing game: will she be charged or not? If not, will access include meeting spaces or lobbies, or is it both? The Toronto-based executive coordinator for the president and 14 VPs of member-based insurance organization, Foresters, has had enough. “These days I’m not so inclined to book properties that don’t include Wi-Fi. I just don’t want the hassle.”

Laura Male, office administrator at Baylis Medical in Mississauga, Ont., echoes Whitfield’s sentiments. “From my experience, the more expensive the hotel, the more expensive the Wi-Fi. If Best Western can give me free Wi-Fi for $89 per night, then (four- and five-star properties) should include it with a suite for $300 per night,” she says.

Fairmont recognizes that Wi-Fi is a sticky point with meeting planners. “I’ve heard planners say, ‘It (Wi-Fi) is already in the room,’ but from our side, labour costs are involved,” says Fairmont Waterfront director of sales and marketing Kevin Schmidt, based in Vancouver, BC. For example, if a delegate is having connection problems, Fairmont has trained staff to deal with it. “It’s usually an issue with the guest’s laptop, like a FireWall that is not allowing the connection,” he says.

And this, Schmidt argues, explains the discrepancy of Wi-Fi charges. “Glitches happen,” he continues. “These other properties don’t offer support, they don’t have an on-site team and they don’t have the experience that you’ll find in a four- and five-star property. It comes down to perceived value versus real value.”

In an effort to show meeting planners they are listening, Fairmont offers two loyalty programs: President’s and Platinum Clubs. The former gives complimentary Wi-Fi in guest rooms, while the latter also includes service in one boardroom and one lounge—that, plus an end-of-the-day attitude that “everything is negotiable.”

To get the best bang from your conference and travel contracts, Schmidt recommends that meeting planners go into negotiations with all their needs and priorities aligned. Ultimately, you will be in a better position to wheel and deal, and it’s easier for the property to bundle a package rather than taking a piecemeal approach. Also, it’s prudent to remember that every hotel, regardless of status, handles negotiations differently.

Last summer Marilyn Whitfield had a positive experience. She planned a three-day meeting at Prince of Whales, a four-star Vintage hotel in Niagara-on-the-Lake where the Wi-Fi was complimentary. “I was pleasantly surprised,” Whitfield admits. “It was covered in the contract as a no-charge item, and that was it. It was so simple.” 

Having planned meetings in international settings, Whitfield knows that complimentary Wi-Fi in the U.S. is the norm rather than the exception, as it seems to be here. “We’re behind here in Canada,” she says, adding that she is hopeful all levels of properties will one day see Wi-Fi as an easy, feel-good give-away.

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