Vacationers stay connected

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Visitors now see Wi-Fi as a need, but is enough bandwidth even possible? 

Internet access is now seen as a need, whether at work or on vacation.

“It used to be you wanted a good, clean bathroom, a comfortable bed and a nice scene at the beach,” said Brian Welsh, a manager for Ocean City Hotels and Property Management, which operates the Impala, the Beach Club Suites and other properties near the boardwalk in Ocean City.

He and others in the business say visitors now expect wireless access at all times – and it is becoming difficult to keep up with the demand.

“We have people calling who won’t stay here if we don’t have Wi-Fi, and not just Wi-Fi but good Wi-Fi,” he said.

He remembered one guest who wanted a better connection than he has at home for the amount he was spending at the property.

“We added an additional line, and we still can’t keep up with it,” Welsh said.

The reality is, the connection can only be so good, and hotels are struggling to keep up. Others in the industry have said that even with the best gear available, the infrastructure can’t always keep up.

On rainy days, each room will often have several people streaming different movies. There isn’t enough available bandwidth.

Welsh said the hotel advertises that Wi-Fi is available, but lets guests know that it is limited. 

“Everybody’s got two or three devices. It’s overwhelming,” he said. Even with the additional line, the system can’t always keep up with the traffic. “It slows to a halt or locks up.”

Other hotel employees on the Jersey Cape tell tales of angry guests demanding a full refund because the Internet was offline for a few hours.

The story is the same throughout the shore.

“We have recently upgraded, and we’re reviewing how to upgrade it again,” said Curtis Bashaw, the co-managing partner at Cape Resorts Group, which owns Congress Hall in Cape May.

Several years ago, it was news when the 186-year-old hotel installed wireless Internet.

“It’s important to have the service available,” Bashaw said. But bad weather and the attendant spike in Internet use puts a strain on the hotel’s system.

“You’re striking a balance for people on vacation. You want to help them relax, but you wonder if you’re helping them relax if you’re providing them access to be constantly distracted,” he said. Often, for a family of four, all four will be looking at their own respective device, each connected to the Internet.

According to Bashaw, the hotel tries to offer activities “that make it easy for the family to put down the phone” and a chance to make connections and memories while on vacation. But there is also an assumption to always give the customer what he or she wants.

“We’ve debated how far to take it,” he said.

One proposal would improve the connection for guests at the beach. There is already some access on the beach in Cape May, depending on the wind.

“We muse about whether we need to enhance that or not. That’s part of the discussion for the winter.”

It’s about more than just a “Look-where-I-am” post to Instagram or Facebook. Beyond laptops, family members connect through pads, handheld games, music players and phones, playing music, playing games and watching movies. Adults check their email, and often keep in touch with work while on vacation.

A study released last year by the American Psychological Association indicated that 44 percent of employed adults check for work messages while on vacation. For some, the increased connectivity is not a choice between time at the pool or time online, it’s the opportunity to go away with the family at all. If something comes up during a vacation, it can often be handled remotely, Bashaw said.

“Five years ago, he’d have to leave and go to the office. Now he can do work from a rocking chair on the verandah,” he said.

There is a growing push against the idea that some employees should always be available, vacation or no.

German automotive company Daimler recently launched a new program allowing about 100,000 employees to automatically delete all of their incoming emails while on vacation.

“Our employees should relax on holiday and not read work-related emails,” said Wilfried Porth, board member for human resources, as quoted in Financial Times. “With ‘Mail on Holiday’ they start back after the holidays with a clean desk. There is no traffic jam in their inbox. That is an emotional relief.”

A generation ago, many shore visitors did without a phone for one week each summer. Few rental places had a television or cable, and a well-stocked unit had a deck of cards, some board games and a stack of mystery novels.

“I remember staying in a place on Wesley. There was no TV. You played games or sat on the porch,” Welsh said about a vacation in Ocean City.

“Twenty-five years ago, the bed and breakfasts in Cape May didn’t have TVs, and they were proud of it,” Bashaw said. 

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