Marriott will unshackle its guests’ mobile Wi-Fi hotspots

Marriott International has caved under the public outcry over its Wi-Fi blocking policies. On Wednesday the hotel chain said it would no longer try to shut down the personal Wi-Fi hotspots its guest create using smartphones and MiFi-like modems.

“Marriott International listens to its customers, and we will not block guests from using their personal Wi-Fi devices at any of our managed hotels,” Marriott’s statement read.

But it doesn’t look like the hotel chain has entirely abandoned its quest to control the so-called “rogue” access points on its properties. The company said it is still concerned about the security implications of such brought-in networks in its conference facilities and meeting rooms.

“We will continue to look to the FCC to clarify appropriate security measures network operators can take to protect customer data, and will continue to work with the industry and others to find appropriate market solutions that do not involve the blocking of Wi-Fi devices,” Marriott said.

After the Federal Communications Commission fined Marriott $600,000 for using radio jamming techniques to nullify personal hotspots at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Marriott joined a petition from the American Hotel and Lodging Association asking the FCC to change its rules on Wi-Fi blocking. A Marriott spokesman told Re/Code that the hotel is still backing that petition. So while this may be a victory for road warriors who carry their Wi-Fi in their pocket, it may just be a temporary one.

Hopefully the FCC will reject any such a request. The whole point of the unlicensed airwaves used by Wi-Fi is that no one owns them. Giving an industry or a property owner the right to dictate how its local airwaves are used would be a horrible precedent.

 

 

Booking.com focuses on last-minute lodging with new iPhone app

Here’s an app you might want to have handy the next time you go on a fly-by-night vacation: Booking.com launched an app on Thursday, Booking Now, which simplifies the process of finding a hotel at the last minute.

Booking Now isn’t replacing the existing Booking app for iPhones, but it could end up superseding it eventually. It’s an attractive modern mobile user interface over the existing Booking.com service with one catch. Because it’s a same-day booking app, you can only book a room for tonight or tomorrow. After your provide your email and a few accommodation preferences, like how much you’re willing to pay and whether you’d like Wi-Fi, you’re swiping left and right like Tinder to search your nearby lodging matches.

Booking.com is one of several travel companies, including OpenTable and Kayak, owned by U.S.-based Priceline. As one of the major legacy booking companies, its system tracks a lot of rooms — more than 580,000 properties, according to the company.

“You’ve got apps like Uber and Starbucks and OpenTable feeding this idea we can do anything on our phones,” Priceline.com CEO Darren Huston said. “We needed to make an app that’s not just a slimmed-down version of our core app, but meets the needs of the spontaneous consumer.”

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There isn’t anything that Booking Now does that the normal Booking.com app can’t — the main Booking.com app has offered a last-minute accommodation for years. Still — it’s a significantly better experience for short term booking on mobile to the current app, which presents you with several anxiety-inducing choices when you boot it up. Booking Now is better at finding a room on short notice — either where you are (by using your coordinates) or where you will be (the app is solid at handling general requests like “San Francisco” or “Amsterdam.”)

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Sometimes you miss a more fully-featured app. For instance, when looking for a hotel in New York, it suggested a room in Midtown, which was over 30 blocks away. There were closer hotels, which could be found by swiping left, but Booking Now didn’t offer them as the first choice because of price. You can’t see your options in the form of an organized table.

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Even though the app asks for your credit card number, it’s only used to confirm your reservation. When you get to the hotel, you pay for your lodging directly, instead of the credit card on your account automatically being charged. Users should also be aware that most hotels don’t accept cancellations within 24 hours of the reservation, and if you booked your room on the same day, that means you’re out of luck.

Last-minute booking apps on mobile have been hot lately. Mobile-first competitors like HotelTonight and Vayable offer quality, visually appealing same-day booking mobile apps, and they are using successes there as a foothold to expand further into other travel services. Sharing apps like Airbnb have their own last-minute booking services on mobile too It’s no wonder travel services giant Priceline is revamping its mobile apps in a big way. Booking Now is available on iOS now and Android phones soon.

EU market tests Booking.com antitrust commitments

The European Commission has asked for comments as it tries to settle a series of antitrust cases surrounding the hotel-booking website Booking.com. The Dutch company, owned by U.S.-based [company]Priceline[/company], is being investigated by competition authorities in France, Sweden and Italy over its price parity clauses. Currently, Booking.com forces hotels that it lists to offer the platform’s customers the same room prices (or better) as they offer anywhere else, online or offline. The company has proposed allowing the hotels to offer better prices through other online travel agents, though they still wouldn’t be able to offer better prices through other channels. The Commission, which is coordinating the national investigations, is “market testing” these commitments until the end of January.

ISS to seek $1.47B IPO, and the third wave of outsourcing

ISS is one of the world largest private employers, with over 530,000 employees worldwide, but is largely unknown except to its workers and client companies. It is an outsourcing company, offering businesses with non-core services like cleaning, catering, security and building management.
The company plans an initial public offering of $1.47 billion dollars on the NASDAQ exchange, and will use the funds to retire various lines of credit. The company posted revenue of 78.5 Danish kroner ($14.45 billion) in 2013.
My interest in this is less about ISS, and more principally around the fundamental concept of outsourcing work.
At one time a large company like AIG, NBC, or IBM would hire its own cleaning staff, cafeteria workers, and security guards. But starting in the last decades of the 20th century, company started to outsource such services to specialists: Wackenhut for security, for example. After all, AIG doesn’t have enough of a need for security services to become expert in the field, and Wackenhut can scale up to the point where those working at the company can have meaningful careers, not just dead-end jobs.
But this has led inexorably past the ranks of blue collar services, like security and cleaning, and the second phase of outsourcing came along and started to move from non-core to core work. A company like AIG might outsource claims processing to a firm specializing in that based in the Philippines, or IBM might outsource chip manufacturing to ARM.
And in parallel with that, as companies began to look more closely at their obligations to employees, we saw the fraying of the social contract. Many folks that formerly worked as full-time employees were let go, or converted to freelance consultants. Some of this is simply cost-saving — reduced benefits, etc. — and some was to allow companies to be more flexible. If it is expensive to pay accountants who live nearby your New York City headquarters, why not move the jobs to Minnesota, or Des Moines?
I suspect that we are headed for a third wave of outsourcing. The first was blue collar hourly employees being spun out to companies like ISS. The second was back office workers: the accountants, planners, and designers that supported company operations, but were the cost centers, not the profit centers.
In today’s entrepreneurial companies, only those capabilities that are strategic to the business really need to be staffed with full-time employees. In principle, everything else could be outsourced.
The rise of placeforms (marketplace + platform) like oDesk, Work Market, and Elance has shown how this can work with designers, developers and other creatives that most businesses need on a project basis. My sense is that this demonstrates a trend: businesses are discovering what their core is by a process of outsourced elimination.
So one hotel chain may discover that it’s real core strength is marketing and customer service, not building management, so they might totally outsource the management of the physical side of the hotels: engineering, renovation, groundskeeping, etc. The economic downturn has accelerated this trend, as detailed back in 2009 in this Economist piece, that took a close look at InterContinental Hotels Group, which has sold off most properties to franchisees. Or a consultancy might find their core skills do not include the research side, so they might spin out a network of small research boutiques, skilled in various sectors, who also get work from other sources as well.
The decrease in friction in work because of the low cost and power of modern work technologies is making this more possible, and the decline of long-term employment and the resultant disengagement of workers gives everyone added incentives for these sorts of cooperative ventures. Companies may spin out everything but the one thing that matters, the one thing that defines the company.
I wonder how much, if any, of ISS’ IPO will be directed toward the third wave? Well, if not that money, there’s plenty of cash out there looking to be invested.
 

Sprint luring hotels, supermarkets into the 4G modem business

Hotels, airlines and grocery stores already link everything imaginable to their loyalty card programs. Why not 4G, as well? Sprint wants to make it easy for the hospitality and retail industries to become mini-virtual operators renting and selling mobile data modems to their customers.

Hotel booking app Blink scores $2.5m in funding

Spain’s Blink Booking offers last-minute hotel reservations, so it’s only appropriate that one of the several high-profile names in its funding round is that of Lastminute.com co-founder Brent Hoberman

Ezeep offers new portal to printing in the cloud

We lift the lid on stealth startup Ezeep, which wants to reinvent printing for the mobile generation by using a cloud portal that gives businesses a simple and secure way to let guests carry out one of life’s mundane but necessary tasks

InterContinental uses hotels as incubators and relies on the cloud

InterContinental Hotels Group, the luxury hotel chain, has spent the last five and half years creating a technology platform for its business that helps it span multiple brands, cultures and continents, according to Tom Conophy, EVP and CIO of the hotel company.