Hotel News We Noted: April 5, 2013

Hola and buenos tardes from sunny and warm Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, “Hotel News We Noted” readers. This week, as always, we round up the best, the worst and the most interesting news in the hotel industry, tracking resort openings, pampering packages and other reportings from our travels.

Stay tuned next week for a special edition, including a full recap of our Cabo exploration. We welcome your feedback and comments, so feel free to shoot us an email or leave a note below with ideas and thoughts.

Hotel Wi-Fi: IHG Announces Free Global Wi-Fi for Travelers … An Innovative or a “Finally, What Took You So Long” Moment?
Late last month, InterContinental Hotels Group announced that they were offering free Wi-Fi to all loyalty members worldwide, regardless of whether or not a guest was staying at the hotel. The announcement bandied about terms like “first in the hotel industry.” We wanted to do some digging before reporting this to you. The statement was bold, and in some respects, it’s true. When we asked, IHG told us the following:

While some of our competitors do offer free Internet in some of their hotels or in some regions, IHG is the first and only global hotel group to offer free Internet to all of our loyalty program members in all hotels, regardless of whether they are staying with us, conducting a business meeting with colleagues, or simply stopping in for coffee. In other words, our IHG Rewards Club, as the program will be named come July, members do not have to be staying in the hotel to take advantage of free Internet access.

Another key factor that separates IHG from our competitors is our sheer global scale – more than 4,600 hotels in nearly 100 countries and territories – and likewise for our loyalty program, which has more than 71 million members (the largest of all hotel loyalty memberships).

They are right: IHG is the first global hotel company we can find to offer free Wi-Fi to loyalty members, although there is a caveat: Wi-Fi is free to Elite status members from July 2013 on, and for all members beginning in 2014.

That said, they aren’t first to market. Luxury brand Capella offers gratis Wi-Fi to all travelers, as do most Four Seasons. Kimpton, which currently has only U.S.-based hotels, offers free Wi-Fi to loyalty members (without requiring a stay) and has since 2009. While we’re glad to see IHG touting their new benefit, perhaps they shouldn’t be so excited to push that they are offering a service that several of their competitors have been offering for years.
Hotel Openings: The Sirtaj Beverly Hills
Beverly Hills’ newest boutique hotel destination is now open. Marketed as a “chic, sexy retreat with a scent of spice and a nod to the east,” the SIRTAJ is named for the Indian word meaning “highest crown.” The 32-room hotel features contemporary decor and luxurious touches like 42-inch smart TVs and Lavazza espresso makers in each room. The indoor-outdoor restaurant dishes up organic cocktails and craft beers, and nice touches like complimentary breakfast either in-room or in the hotel restaurant are welcome perks.

Haute Hotel Package: Pie Camp at Paws Up
We’ve loved this ultra-luxe Montana resort ever since we visited a few years back to explore the glamping trend, and now Paws Up is at it again with a new “Upper Crust” weekend for baking enthusiasts. By day, visitors will enjoy baking, wilderness and food photography lessons from Kate McDermott, of the famed Art of the Pie in Seattle, and New York Times photographer Andrew Scrivani. At night, they’ll retreat to the resort’s private vacation homes and enjoy food prepared by Robin Leventhal (of “Top Chef” fame) and wine pairings. The event doesn’t take place until October, but spots fill fast. Three all-inclusive nights are $5,361 for two or $3,102 for one.

Luxe Hotel Amenity: Ritz-Carlton Turns to Asprey
The Ritz-Carlton has made the shift from Bvlgari in-room amenities to Asprey’s Purple Water fragrance. The ultra-luxe Brit-based brand boasts a purple jacquard print tube and will now be found in all guest rooms and suites. It’s a notable change for the brand, and, to the best of our knowledge, Ritz is the only hotel partnering with Asprey for in-room amenities.

Green Hotel: Fiji’s Turtle Island Goes Almost 100 Percent Solar
Fiji has always been an escape for travelers seeking extraordinary natural experiences, but now the island nation is better than ever. A multi-million dollar renovation has rendered Turtle Island the greenest place in Fiji, with nearly 1,000 solar panels providing, on average, an island powered by 85 percent solar power. The new solar installation on Turtle Island produces 1 mega watt of power a day, enough to cover 100 percent of the power needs of the island on a sunny day. Even on rainy or cloudy days, the backup generator reduces the total solar power to about 85 percent, maintaining outstanding energy efficiency. As if we needed yet another excuse to visit the all-inclusive luxury retreat.

[Image Credit: The Sirtaj]

The War On Hotel Wi-Fi Escalates

It’s a bloodbath on the front lines of the hotel Wi-Fi war, and our friends at Hotel Chatter are leading the charge.

At issue is the cost of wireless Internet at some hotels, often rising as high as $25 per person per day while the cost is only $350 to the hotel per month. Some think that the hotel industry is gouging customers – many of who already pay hundreds of dollars a night for their rooms. Others, well, think it’s profitable.

Interviewed by Ayesha Durgahee on CNN’s Business Traveler, our friend and managing editor of Hotel Chatter Julianna Shallcross takes the consumers’ side suggesting that, “It just seems like pure profiteering on the hotel’s part.” Between her criticism and the works of CNN and Hotel Chatter, maybe the hotels will start listening.

Marriott Responds To Internet Privacy Issue

Last week we reported that a Marriott Courtyard in New York might be engaging in some less than above-board Internet marketing practices. At the time, Marriott assured Gadling that they were looking into the issue, stating, “This is not a Marriott-endorsed protocol and we are working to investigate the issue.”

It looks like they’ve done some more digging, as an emailed statement to the New York Times indicated that, “unbeknownst to the hotel, the Internet service provider (ISP) was utilizing functionality that allowed advertising to be pushed to the end user. The ISP has assured the hotel that this functionality has now been disabled.”

We spoke also with Justin Watt, the guest who noticed the issue, who says that he received the same email press statement shared with the public.

“I feel like their response could have been more transparent and information dense,” he wrote in an email to Gadling today, and indicates that he updated his original blog post to state the following:

What bugs me about their response is that the device required to do this type of on-the-fly JavaScript injection of HTML is both rare and expensive. It requires specialized hardware (like the RG Nets’ RXG-A8) starting at a cost of $10,000. In other words, this hardware was procured precisely for the purpose of perpetrating this kind of attack… the optimal solution to this snafu wasn’t simply that “we’ve disabled the functionality”-it has to be “we’ve removed/replaced the offensive hardware”. Nothing less is sufficient. Otherwise, what’s to stop someone from accidentally (or otherwise) re-enabling it later?

Marriott has assured users that “at no time was data security ever at risk,” but the question is, should they be more transparent in sharing their fixes to the issue?

Times Square’s Courtyard Marriott Accused of Bugging Your Internet

Justin Watt, a web developer, is accusing the Courtyard Marriott in New York’s Times Square of bugging his Internet, injecting ads into each page he viewed while logged into the hotel’s Wi-Fi network.

After some digging (and complex code you can read more about on his website), Watt found that Marriott’s Internet provider injected CSS and JavaScript code into each page to run a “Revenue eXtraction Gateway” for the purpose of putting targeted ads on each page.

Chris Rill, a software engineer and entrepreneur familiar with web application development told Gadling:

“This is much different from a typical ad pixel because the Internet provider (the hotel in this case) is injecting the ad, not the content provider (website).

This is a key issue in the net neutrality debate. The “network” is looking for a way to increase revenue and this is an example of how the network can modify the content to monetize the user.”

In modifying the code, YouTube was also disabled in the browser – another fact that didn’t make Mr. Watt particularly happy.

A Boston-based digital media expert, familiar with the industry but not with this particular case said,

“I think it’s safe to say that this is not a Marriott-wide, or even Courtyard-wide effort. This is a single hotel (or particular HSA provider) doing their own thing.”

“It’s unclear to me if something that crosses the line is actually happening,” He adds. “From where I sit, [Watt] is using a free service, and in this day and age when we are using a service for free we should expect to have advertisements shown to us. Heck, even when services are not free, we should expect to have ads shown to us.”

Watt is angry – as are most of the commenters on his blog post and other places it has been shared. Many feel as if they are being spied on by the hotel.

While users are understandably outraged by what they see as spying, displaying contextual ads following a user’s visit is fairly common practice. At question here, as Mr. Rill points out, is whether the network or the hotel is actually profiting off of the user by placing targeted ads.

Still, if you wish to guard your privacy, Watt suggests that you BYO connectivity or connect through a VPN so that a public network can’t detect your traffic.

UPDATE: 5:30 PM, April 6, 2012:
A Marriott spokesperson says “This is not a Marriott-endorsed protocol and we are working to investigate the issue.”

[Flickr via StreetFlyJZ]

InterContinental Hotels tests tiered WiFi options

It’s not free, but it’s something…

The InterContinental Hotels & Resorts chain are experimenting with a system of tiered WiFi in a few of its hotels.

Guests at InterContinental Times Square in New York City, InterContinental Chicago and InterContinental Mark Hopkins in San Francisco are being offered the choice of WiFi options: low-bandwidth WiFi for $10 or high-bandwidth service for $15.

InterContinental is not the first hotel company to test the tiered option – other hotel groups including some Hilton brands and Golden Tulip Hospitality Group have offered varying levels of WiFi access for a price, allowing guests to choose how much they want to spend. Still, we’re standing firm on the notion that hotel WiFi should be free.

Readers: What are your thoughts? Does a tiered WiFi plan seem logical?