Pricey Internet Fees for Exhibitors Results in Pricier Fine for Marriott
How important is your vendor internet connection, and what are you willing to do to keep it functional?
In October, 2014, the FCC fined Marriott International $600,000 for intentionally blocking wi-fi in their conference room at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville. According to the FCC statements, employees would use a “jamming device” to block the Wi-Fi signals emanating from smart phones or mobile wi-fi devices. Because conference vendors are so dependent upon software to track leads from the conferences or trade shows, they would often go to conference organizers and pay their high prices to connect to the hotel’s wi-fi. In some cases, those fees were as high as $1,000 per show.
For many exhibitors, your internet connection is vital. Not only does it allow you to capture leads, but if you’ve got any kind of display or information that’s dependent upon cloud based technology, then you need to be able to connect. If you don’t, you might as well not be at the show. The management at the Gaylord Opryland knew exactly what they were doing when they decided to jam the internet signal.
Unfortunately, the far-reaching implications of this practice may be disastrous. As a business owner, you know that a primary component of your relationship with your customers is trust. No matter what business you’re in, your customers trust you to provide the service you’ve agreed to provide. Your part of the bargain is to do just that, even if it includes going over and above, so that you maintain the trust you worked so hard to build.
In jamming the internet connection for vendors, Gaylord Opryland has destroyed the trust that it had with trade show and conference organizers. These methods are underhanded, and unethical. Fortunately, the FCC ruled that it’s also illegal.
Marriott’s response was that they were blocking “rogue hotspots” for the protection of their guests and vendors, since rogue hotspots are well known for degrading service, cyber-attacks, and identity theft. While on the surface that response seems valid, it is actually rather self-serving. If rogue hotspots were as much of a problem as Marriott Corporation would like you to believe, then the majority of businesses where people use their phones or smart devices to connect to the internet, thereby creating a rogue hotspot, would all be jumping on the bandwagon. But Starbucks, your local library, and your favorite shopping mall aren’t blocking your connection to the internet.
Marriott can claim that it was acting in the best interests of their clients, and their claim would maybe hold some merit, if they weren’t charging vendors as much as $1,000 for access to the hotel’s wi-fi. While a nominal fee is to be expected, high fees such as the ones charged by the Gaylord Opryland Hotel go way beyond nominal.
It can be hard to know for sure if a site is purposely blocking your signal. In some buildings, phone signals just don’t work well. It’s not due to deliberate jamming of your device, it’s just a flaw in the building’s design or the location of phone towers. While we don’t think we’ll see this practice repeated too often, if you suspect that it’s happening, get with other exhibitors in the hall. See if they are experiencing the same problems you’re having. If more than a few vendors, with different service providers, are having issues, it’s a good idea to look into exactly what’s going on.
Make sure that you look over your contracts carefully this year. If conference centers and hotels are looking for ways to make sure you pay for their internet, they may insert a clause into the contract requiring you to use their service, rather than setting up your own hotspot. Don’t assume that next year’s contract is the same as this year’s contract.
Communication with your venue coordinator is important as well. If you plan to use your own internet connection, make sure they know-before you sign a contract. They will tell you if it’s an issue.
Have you ever suspected that your internet connection was blocked?