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]

Find hotel deals with new booking site Guestmob

The Internet has brought us many ways to research and book hotels at prices much lower than the hotels’ published rate. Aggregate sites like Kayak and Orbitz give you the best available rate (BAR) without pre-payment on a specific hotel, while “opaque” sites like Priceline and Hotwire allow you to bid for a room below BAR but the actual property remains hidden until after you book and the purchase is non-refundable. Now a new booking site offers you hotel deals well below BAR while ensuring consumers flexibility and a standard of quality.

Guestmob differs from other hotel booking sites by combining high-tech algorithmic pricing and expertly curated properties hand-picked for their high user ratings. The site works by grouping hotels into collections of four to eight properties in a given category and neighborhood. You enter your travel dates and can immediately see a room rate of up to 50% below BAR for each hotel collection. The Thursday before you check in, the exact hotel is revealed but you are guaranteed one of the specific hotels in the collection. Best of all, unlike other opaque booking sites, you can cancel your reservation up to three days before check-in.Previously, some savvy travelers have tried to “game the system” with sites like Bidding for Travel, a forum that tries to guess winning bids and participating hotels on opaque sites by sharing successful bookings. Guestmob removes the need for this research by specifying hotels in each collection and immediately offering a deeply discounted price. While room upgrades, frequent guest points and other requests are still at the discretion of the hotel upon check-in, it’s still a great option for travelers with flexibility.

A Guestmob search for a hotel in Chicago on a weekend in mid-May yielded a price of $164 for a 3.5 star hotel on Magnificent Mile (such as a Courtyard or Embassy Suites), or $203 to bump up to a 4 star in the same area such as a W or Westin Hotel. The same properties ranged from $221 to $279 on other sites. Most Guestmob hotels are part of well-known chains such as Marriott or Starwood, or smaller chains like Kimpton and JDV.

Guestmob soft-launched last year in San Francisco and has now expanded to include New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Orlando, San Diego, San Jose, Seattle, Boston, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, Portland and Phoenix. The site is well connected to social media so you can get help, learn news or give feedback on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. You can also chat with them right on the site if you have questions.

Marriott relaunches their LGBT tailored hospitality portal

Marriott announced today the relaunch and new look for their popular site LGBT travel portal.
The multi-language website is tailored for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) customers worldwide.
First developed in 2010, the “redesigned website is our way to express Marriott’s loyalty and commitment to all our guests,” said Randy Griffin, Vice President, Global Sales, Marriott International, Inc. “In 2012, our aspiration will be to ensure [the website] is the trusted and welcoming source for leisure, business and group travel for the LGBT community as we do for all our customers.”

The new site will feature hotel openings, special events, destinations, deals and promotions as well as a special focus on wedding and honeymoon packages.

While the company currently earns high marks each year in the HRC Corporate Equality Index year and belongs to the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, it’s the Kimpton name that ranks as the top hotel chain in the gay travel business (at least in 2010).

Of course, Marriott is smart to be on the gay-focused bandwagon. The LGBT Community Survey in 2011 shows that mainstream internet and gay-focused internet sites are the best way to target the community, and that 39% of gay men and 32% of lesbians plan to take a major trip in the next year.

Do you think this new website will help bump Marriott’s ratings?

Marriott and Schrager remain positive about Edition brand

Marriott’s purchase of New York City‘s iconic Clock Tower building and the announcement of five new Edition hotels has reaffirmed the company’s commitment to the brand, part of a long term partnership with hotelier Ian Schrager.
Marriott yesterday announced new locations in Bangkok and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates and a hotel in Los Angeles and Gurgaon, India, HOTELS Magazine reported. At present, the hotel has a hotel in Istanbul with planned openings listed on the main Edition website in London, Miami and Mexico City.

Marriott has committed $800 million to develop the brand, which has made news of late due to the ongoing legal battle between the owner of the former Edition Honolulu, now called The Modern Honolulu.

“I’m working with what I consider to be the best operators in the business. As far as I’m concerned, all the other hotel companies are run by financial guys and marketing guys and Marriott is the only true operator and they execute superbly,” Schrager, the hotelier who is also behind PUBLIC hotels, told CNBC on Thursday.

“2011 ended well. I think as we head into 2012, we see more optimism in the newspapers, which can’t help but help the demand side of the equation so we feel really quite good about 2012.”

Johnny Jet feature premiers on the Travel Channel, January 1st

The last time I saw John DiScala – better known as Johnny Jet — was at the JW Marriott tour in Chicago. Exhausted from a day long flight from Helsinki I wandered into a journalist’s dinner at the freshly opened hotel and saw my old friend sitting among a group of eager young writers and polished senior management. As usual, he was lighting up the room and vivaciously engaging with the crowd. Sulking into my seat at the edge of the table I remember thinking to myself that this guy never stops.

The next evening as we quietly listened to the dulcet tones of Emmy Rossum at the opening reception I asked him about his travel schedule. “Something big” was all that he would reveal, something about a travel show that he had in the works and that had a big client behind it.

It turns out that that client was the Travel Channel, and the project was a special covering the hottest destinations for 2012. Airing on the 1st of January at 9PM Eastern, the special features Johnny hop scotching around the planet profiling some of the best upcoming destinations from Necker Island with Richard Branson to the adventure capital of the world in New Zealand.

Reached by phone late this week, Mr DiScala had only excitement to express about the show, suggesting that “some destinations for this feature you would definitely expect – but some might surprise you.” Either way, we’ll be tuning in at Gadling Labs for the premier. You can watch the special at 9PMEastern on the Travel Channel or scattered across the schedule thereafter.