IHG Connect to expand to 1,500 hotels in 2016

InterContinental Hotels Group has a new upgrade for its on-property internet solution, IHG Connect. The program, which launched last year, is on track to be live in 1,500 hotels in the Americas region by the end of 2016. Additional plans are in place to roll out the platform to all of IHG's over 5,000 hotels worldwide, and the company wants to strengthen its offering beforehand.

"In 1965 [IHG] had the first central reservation system. Now we are working on the industry’s first cloud-based reservation system," said Jeff Eckard, VP of technology, the Americas at IHG. "Technology is changing at an amazing rate. Guests will carry on average 4.3 connected devices per person by 2020. We see this coming and we want to be the leader in this space and get ahead of the tsunami of use demand."

One of the key components of the IHG Connect platform is the ability to automatically recognize IHG loyalty members, where members of the program only need to sign in once to access hotel Wi-Fi at all IHG Connect-enabled properties. IHG Connect also offers unlimited device connectivity, dedicated Wi-Fi access, the ability to manage bandwidth spikes for surge periods and 24/7 cloud-based monitoring and technical support.

According to Eckard, 71 percent of customers are frustrated with the quality of public Wi-Fi networks, something IHG wanted to address as the program expands itself. Now, IHG is building price protection into clauses signed with internet service providers to help operators save on costs down the line.

"As the price of technology goes down, we can pass those savings on to hotels," Eckard said. "They can choose to take that to the bank or re-invest, either way they are getting a lower price in the middle of their contract."

These contracts also include dedicated fiber optic bandwidth pipes, what Eckard describes as a four-fold increase in speed over the previous minimum standards set forth by IHG. Eckard said the program is laid out to handle bandwidth growth at least through 2020, but also said the infrastructure is being laid to allow for future expansion as demands for even faster speeds rear their head.

"We see this as a long-term play," he said. "At some point it will have to be re-engineered, but it's a great runway for us to build on for now.

Currently, the 1,500 properties kitted out with IHG Connect offer free internet access, but as the program rolls out across IHG's portfolio there is a plan to offer free internet for loyalty members, on top of a tiered system for other guests.