Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio July 2003 Current Issue
July 2003 Tech filesPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:


BY Bob Walters

Learning to shop for Internet access can save dollars at your next meeting

Comparison shopping for high-speed Internet access can be eye-opening. With access a required and expected feature of most meetings, and with even the smallest hotel providing the hookup, you’d think there would be some standard pricing, and that the process would be more competitive and affordable. After all, when you can have high-speed access in your hotel room for as little as $10 a day, shouldn’t access on the meeting floor be similarly priced?

Think again.

I’ve heard many planners complain about the lack of standard Internet pricing and the huge difference between in-room access and meeting-floor access even though the services probably use the same T1 or DSL lines.

Even more confusing is the pricing for various levels of access and charges for additional connections. In some instances, the difference between T1 and the slower ISDN is as much as $1,500 per day. And prices only get more confusing when you add exhibitor access, static or dedicated IP addresses and per-connection charges. Add a premium for wireless service, and you have a planner’s nightmare.

Let’s say a computer workshop session requires 20 connected PCs. While one property I contacted offered a $995-per-day package for one IP address and up to 20 users, a comparable property had a T1 access package priced at $750 per meeting room and $125 per device, which would cost about $3,250 for the same 20 PCs. And that’s for a wired connection; a similar wireless setup at one hotel would have cost $3,500, plus rental fees for the wireless cards.

So, what’s a planner to do? Very carefully determine your needs and negotiate, but do it as part of your initial property evaluation, not once you’ve selected the hotel. Ask for competitive quotes, and bargain between properties.

Carefully determine the access you really will require. If you only need to be able to browse the Internet or provide attendees with e-mail access for a limited number of workstations, maybe an ISDN or analog connection will suffice. These tend to cost less than $500 a day. If you are managing registration online, have heavy data processing to do or if critical presentations must be run over the Internet, you need to consider the additional expense of a T1 line.

The following questions should help define the costs:

  • Is the charge for access to the line only, with additional charges for each connection?
  • How many unique IP addresses are included in the package price, and how much do additional addresses cost?
  • Is a wireless network available?
  • What type of hot spot is provided, and what cards or connection devices are recommended for PCs?
  • What is the range of the wireless network, and where are its dead spots?
  • Who sets up and maintains the VPN (virtual private network) on site?
    Before getting too upset with the hotels, understand there is a cost involved in providing these services; many properties have rewired their meeting space to provide access. Furthermore, some hotels are just passing along the costs they are being charged by their Internet providers.

    But it’s certainly worth questioning when competing hotels are charging widely differing fees. Planners are used to negotiating for comp rooms or meeting space based on the room block. Maybe it’s time to include pricing for Internet access in the selection process.

    Properties that understand your needs and offer affordable and standardized pricing will be the ones that win your meetings business.

    Bob Walters, based in Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas, is the founder of Phoenix Solutions and developer of MeetingTrak software.

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