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Why Should Your Business Offer a Captive Portal to Your Guests?

Written by Michelle Pierce Michelle Pierce | January 29, 2019

Over the past decade, the hospitality industry has become technology-driven. Deloitte’s 2019 Travel and Hospitality Industry Outlook reveals “just how much technology has shaped the travel and hospitality industry in such a relatively short time. In 2009, the first hotel and airline apps were just hitting the market. Instagram and iPads didn’t exist.”

The retail industry is also becoming much more technology-dependent. According to RSM’s 2019 outlook on the retail sector, buying behaviors are continuing to change as Gen Z, the first truly digital generation pushes retailers to adopt new digital platforms to connect with them. “Enhancing that physical shopping experience will be critically important,” according to RSM’s National Industry Audit Leader John Nicolopoulos. “Creative and interactive technologies will continue to play an important role in developing unique in-store experiences and knowledgeable staff who embrace and promote the brand will help build connectivity and promote brand loyalty.”

Regardless of whether you’re in a leadership position in the hospitality or retail industry, one thing is for sure: your guests expect your business to offer fast, reliable, and safe WiFi when they visit your locations. However, to truly unlock the business benefits of providing complimentary wireless Internet access, you’ll also certainly need to invest in software to create a captive portal.

In this article, you’ll learn why your company should provide a captive portal to your guests and eight issues to think about when you plan how to deploy this essential IT infrastructure.

Captive Portals Defined

A captive portal is a page on a website that’s displayed to newly-connected users before they are allowed access to your network’s resources. Think of a captive portal like a virtual combination of a host/concierge desk and a security guard checkpoint for your WiFi.

Captive portals are most often deployed for open wireless networks when authentication, payment, or acceptance of a license agreement or user policy is required.

So for a hotel or store that provides guest WiFi, your company almost certainly needs a captive portal of its own so that it can control and manage broadband Internet access resources on your network backbone.

1. Self-Registration

When providing WiFi at your location, your guests and customers expect that they can log in quickly and easily to your guest wireless network. Ten or fifteen years ago, when WiFi was still in its infancy and considered a novelty or differentiator, your guests and customers may have been willing to jump through some hoops to get online at your hotel or store.

In a digital-first and mobile-first world, those days are long gone. While your captive portal offers your company lots of benefits for controlling access to its managed WiFi, your captive portal must provide your guests with self-registration. Otherwise, you will need to hire and manage one or more full-time IT employees that manually register each guest and dole out WiFi access at each of your locations.

2. Sponsor-Based Registration

In a hotel or retail store, managers often think of sponsors as companies that pay or barter to have their products or services displayed prominently. And while this is one way of looking at sponsorship, when you’re rolling out guest WiFi and more specifically a captive portal, sponsors mean something entirely different.

In this scenario, sponsor-based registration allows your company to entrust certain employees to create user logins and manage guest access to your WiFi.

With the right approach to your managed WiFi, your sponsors will make sure that only guests that belong on your guest WiFi have access. In addition, your sponsors will make sure that your company’s employees are not using/abusing wireless internet access intended for your guests or customers.

So with this definition, a captive portal sponsor is more similar to a company sponsoring a summer intern or a host family sponsoring a foreign exchange student; responsible for both the security of the relationship and the overall guest experience.

3. Pre-Registration

In addition to guests to your hotel or store being able to self-register for your guest WiFi or have their registration overseen by a sponsor employee, your captive portal should also be able to support pre-registration.

Say for example a large conference company is renting out your hotel ballroom next week. Their AV vendor has some pretty demanding streaming video requirements baked into their agreement. As a result, you don’t leave anything to chance at the last minute with their WiFi configuration and access.

Instead, you use the pre-registration features in your captive portal to configure or provision the WiFi access several days before the event.

4. Notification

Your guests and customers are counting on your company to provide them with fast, reliable, and secure WiFi. But as any manager with any kind of experience will concede, you need to expect the unexpected.

That said, it’s always way better when your managers find out a problem before guests or customers bring it to their attention. The right kind of captive portal solution, as part of a whole holistic WiFi as a Service offering, should provide exactly that: notifications by email and text message that something abnormal or unexpected is going on with some aspect of your location’s wireless network.

5. Automates Guest Provisioning

As mentioned earlier within the context of self-registration, your guests and customers live in a world that’s now dominated by digital interactions. Search engines, social media, mobile devices, cloud computing, and the Internet of Things (IoT) impacts pretty much every hotel and retailer in some way, shape, or form.

In a world where one of your guests can unlock their phone and use a ride-sharing app to summon a driver to pick them up at your location within seconds, these guest and customers will demand immediate gratification from you and your staff.

So no matter how helpful a captive portal is to your company in getting control over your managed WiFi, your captive portal better be able to provide automated, instantaneous guest provisioning. If your guests have to wait even a few minutes for some old-school manual intervention or approval to get on your WiFi, your entitled guests will be frustrated, annoyed, and likely quite vocal about it -- to anyone willing to listen at your location and on social media.

If you aren’t prepared to respond that quickly, these guests just might use their Lyft or Uber app to walk out your door and be driven over to a competitor -- taking all of their customer loyalty and purchasing power with them. And rest assured, they’ll use their mobile data to complain quite loudly on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Yelp, Google, or TripAdvisor.

6. Allows Non-IT “Sponsors”

Because it’s extremely unusual for a hotel or retail location to be large enough to have 24/7 on-site IT staff, in nearly all cases general managers, store managers, assistant managers, managers on duty, and operations managers are expected to wear lots of “hats” -- including light responsibility for IT.

Long-gone are the days when any hotel or store can afford to employ computer-phobic staff. If your hotel or store has an active social media presence and runs promotions on its Facebook business page, your managers need to have a basic grasp of how Facebook works. If your location has IT equipment that often needs a reboot following severe thunderstorms, your managers need to be comfortable rebooting that IT equipment.

Against this same backdrop, your captive portal and the more comprehensive WiFi as a Service program that you subscribe to need to be simple enough so that non-IT staff can act as both administrators and “sponsors” of your guest WiFi. Again, a sponsor is responsible for controlling both access and guest experience for your location’s WiFi.

7. Ability to Set Day and Time Limits for Guest Access

While hotels are by definition 24/7 entities, most stores and restaurants open and close at set times depending on the day of the week. One of the easiest ways to make sure that no outsiders are using or abusing your wireless network resources when there are no employees literally minding the store: restrict guest WiFi access to the days of the week and times of the day when your store or restaurant is open -- and perhaps a short window before/after.

In some locations, where you want to discourage loitering and encourage turnover of tables in a restaurant, or WiFi bandwidth is unusually expensive or scarce, it can make sense to enforce WiFi time limits during certain times of the day or days of the week.

For example, during peak lunchtime hours, one very well-known fast-casual bakery restaurant sets and enforces a 30-minute WiFi access limit through its captive portal.

8. Flexibility

Finally, your captive portal, as an important part of your overall approach to managed WiFi, needs to be flexible.

When researching different WiFi as a Service options, be sure to ask about how frequently the captive portal’s underlying software platform is updated.

And to satisfy your own company’s various internal stakeholders from your IT, marketing, operations, HR, and legal teams, ask about how the captive portal can be customized.

For example, can you create a customizable splash page that invites and delights customers?

Are there built-in analytics and reporting so that you can learn from your guests’ and customers’ activity and decisions?

Will your captive portal allow you to communicate with your guests and customers by sending promotions and offers to keep bringing them back?

These are all critical flexibility considerations when evaluating the captive portal feature set included with a WiFi as a Service program.

The Bottom Line on Why Your Company Should Offer a Captive Portal to Your Guests

In a digital-first and mobile-centric world where your guests and customers are largely addicted to their mobile devices, social media, streaming video, and immediate gratification, every company is now in the technology business.

In addition to maintaining a competitive digital presence with your website and social media, your guests and customers expect your locations to have fast, reliable, and safe WiFi access.

In this article, you’ve learned about how a captive portal is a critical piece of the puzzle for staying in control of your guest WiFi experience and security. And you’ve also learned about eight evaluation criteria to consider when you’re looking for a managed WiFi solution that addresses your company’s and guests’ most critical IT infrastructure needs.

To find out how SecurEdge WiFi as a Service can simplify how your company addresses its WiFi hardware, software, and support, with an all-in-one monthly subscription, simply request a design.

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