Complex Made Simple

Middle East holidaymakers swayed by online access

Good mobile data coverage and WiFi are becoming a must for holidaymakers in the region, with many selecting resorts based on the quality and availability of internet connectivity, according to a new survey on holidaymakers by technology firm Brocade.

Lines are now blurring between work, rest and play as EMEA holidaymakers increasingly opt to take mobile devices wherever they go.

While 86% of those polled anticipate wireless connections in hotel rooms, more than one third (37%) say that mobile data coverage is a ‘determining factor’ when selecting a destination.

Half of all holidaymakers taking part in the survey admit working during annual leave – whether checking emails from an airport departure lounge or taking work calls from the hotel.

A near unanimous 95% of those surveyed say they take mobile devices away on holiday, and over half (56%) admit to accessing work emails and documents – up 6% from last year’s figures.

Smartphones emerged as the most popular device for holidaymakers, with 91% of respondents taking one with them on holiday. This was followed closely by laptops and netbooks (49%), and tablet computers (42%).

“There is significant blurring between personal time and work time in modern society, with the consumerisation of IT and BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) working policies leading many people to rely on smartphones and tablet devices around the clock, wherever they may be and whatever they may be doing,” said Sufian Dweik, Regional Manager, MENA at Brocade.

“Our research clearly illustrates that this is causing fundamental changes in working patterns and demands on networking architectures. It used to be that when people went on vacation, that’s what they did. Now it seems that we can never switch off from work, even when we’re at the beach. With this, the demand on service providers and mobile operators to provide ubiquitous, reliable coverage has never been higher.”

A lack of available Wi-Fi was the second most popular concern according to those surveyed, behind high roaming costs.

Hotels, resorts respond to customer connectivity demands

Dweik suggests these findings could show the leisure industry the way to securing a competitive edge in challenging economic times: “With incoming 4G networks promising to multiply speeds and available bandwidth, mobile data coverage will exert an even greater influence on people’s holiday choices.

“People want to reduce the overall impact of work on their holidays – both for themselves and for those they travel with – and they are looking for ways to get the same amount of work done in just a fraction of the time. To do this, the underlying network infrastructure needs to be able to cope.”

However, the findings may indicate that there is still a gulf between the expectations of modern travellers and the reality. “Many destinations remain unable to satisfy holidaymakers’ demands when it comes to connectivity,” explained Dweik.

“Hotel owners should look at the incredible demand for free Wi-Fi networking and provide residents with reliable connectivity – whether in their rooms, at the bar or by the pool. Widely available, high-quality Internet access could very soon make the difference between a hugely successful season and a disastrous one. Without it, hotels risk damaging both their revenues and their reputations.”

Brocade’s findings are a reminder that smartphone and tablet penetration continues to soar in the region – over 60% of mobile phone users in Saudi Arabia and the UAE now have top-end devices.

The challenges of supporting the necessary huge volumes of mobile data will continue to tax the communications industry and as new smartphones hit the market, 4G/LTE connectivity is still lagging in the Middle East, giving resorts all the more reason to push for slicker internet speeds.

Olympic fever plays a part in holiday decision-making

Approximately a third (32%) of respondents stated that they intended to stream coverage of the Olympics through their devices whilst on vacation, again placing immense pressure on local networks to provide sufficient bandwidth and service reliability to users.

Mobile devices will place an increasing strain not just on Wi-Fi and mobile networks, but also on corporate and data centre networks that form the foundation of any service. These underlying networks need to be extremely robust, and designed specifically for the challenges of mobile data.

Starwood works to meet growing WiFi demands

Starwood Hotels says it fully understands the importance of WiFi accessibility and is working hard to improve this service for its guests. However, it also acknowledges that there are challenges in implementing the service across its extensive, worldwide network of hotel and resorts

“With over 1,100 properties in over 100 countries, many with different ownership structures, it is very difficult to introduce one solution for the provision of WiFi that is competitive in each local market and effective within the bandwidth available,” said a Starwood spokesperson.

“Our first focus was to create transparency and standardised pricing while we look at further solutions relating to internet access. In cases where hotels do still charge for in-room WiFi, we are providing creative solutions to offer guests free internet access in public spaces. Sheraton, for example, has recently rolled out the [email protected], a unique communications hub in the lobbies of Sheraton hotels worldwide.”