The man sat cross-legged on the floor outside his room on the fourth floor on the Embassy Suites Hotel, a notebook computer in his lap.
"Only way you can get Wi-Fi?" I asked. He nodded yes.
It was that way at the hotel in San Rafael, Calif., that hosted AccountMate's Synergy 2006 reseller conference. There is a litany of complaints that show why the accounting software vendor won't return to this venue. But besides the problem of indifferent service, it was hard to find more graphic evidence of how dependent business people are on Internet service than the sight of this guest sitting next to the railing that overlooked the interior courtyard.
Bad or no Internet service has become a major issue when businesses attend conferences because the attendees are cut off from contact with their enterprises, primarily by the inability to reliably communicate via email.
Go to any show where there are terminals for public Internet access and watch how quickly they fill up with people checking email and browsing favorite sites. Not having public terminals is only a step below not having water fountains.
It's worse when service is advertised as being easily available. In this case, the hotel offered Wi-Fi connections for $9.95 a day, which sounded okay, until guests realized that in many rooms, they could only get one reception bar.
There was a business center, two computers that are electronically serviced by something called SiteKiosk, which only handles Word, Excel, Adobe Acrobat, and perhaps one other application. It wouldn't save other file formats to any place other than the desktop. The system blocked the user's ability to access anything on the desktop and there was no way to transfer these files, which were erased when users logged out. There was slow email, an annoying stream of pop-ups, which presumably support the vendor, and no tech support for one of the machines which was obviously having problems since it was so much slower than the other. And oh yes, despite the fact that there were no posted hours (the advanced vendor system for travel supplies in the same center was always open), the server apparently shut down every day, sometime around 1 a.m.
Can you imagine an organization looking for meeting space booking a hotel that said it did not provide audio-visual support or janitorial service?
While this hotel deserves all the criticism it will get on a variety of fronts, the major lesson is that for businesses that cater to business events providing reliable and fast Internet access is not an option.
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