Vancouver hostel makes room for a hotspot

The Wi-Fi hotspot has conquered hotels and cafes, and now with the installation of a high-speed wireless Internet network in a Vancouver hostel, executives hope a whole new revenue stream may open up for Internet access providers.

Travellers staying at Hostelling International Downtown Vancouver who have a wireless-enabled laptop or PDA will now be able to connect to FatPort’s wireless Internet service in the hostel’s common area.

HI Downtown Vancouver’s general manager Alan Hoffman said he isn’t aware of any other hostels offering wireless Internet to their guests, but it seemed like an idea that made sense.

“We had people asking for it,” said Hoffman. “We’re always trying to offer as many amenities for our guests as possible, and we did notice that a lot of people do have laptops when they’re travelling.”

A wireless hotspot may seem like a strange fit for a hostel, but Hoffman said people have a misconception about who a hostel’s guests typically are. While they do get a lot of backpacking youth, Hoffman said they also get a lot of older guests and business travellers. Many backpackers are carrying a laptop these days too, to stay in touch with friends back home.

“We’ve always had lots of business travellers, and lots of repeat business customers who could easily afford to stay at a hotel but just prefer not to because they don’t want to sit in a hotel room by themselves,” said Hoffman. “The environment here is communal, you can hang-out and meet other people, and it’s much more of a social setting.”

Hoffman said he didn’t talk to a lot of companies when he decided to offer the service, just Vancouver-based FatPort. He said he’d seen their signs in a lot of cafes around town, and he wanted a service that their guests could use at many other places during their stay.

The hostel still offers coin-operated kiosks for Internet access, but Hoffman said the wireless service has proved to be quite popular, and easy to use. Guests boot up their laptop and the connection comes up, they go to the sign-up page and can purchase time by credit card.

The service is currently just available in the dining room and lobby area, but Hoffman said the company is looking at installing a second router to cover the games room in the hostel’s other building. Expanding the service to cover the rooms is also a possibility down the road.

“It’s gone really well actually, I’ve been quite surprised at how many people are using it,” said Hoffman. “People are impressed with the strength and speed of the connection, they feel the price is reasonable and they’re quite happy with it.”

FatPort marketing manager Malcom MacDonald said the hostel market wasn’t something the firm had considered before HI Downtown Vancouver approached them.

“It really clicked for us, it made sense,” said MacDonald. “It was something we’d do very well.”

From an IT perspective MacDonald said there wasn’t anything different about this installation. Many hotel hotspots just cover common areas like the lobby, bar and restaurant, and are taking an incremental approach to expanding to cover rooms. The hostel’s concerns for the security of the network and their guests’ computers were also common.

The revenue model is similar to one of FatPort’s café installations. Because it’s a smaller deployment just covering the common areas, FatPort can provide inexpensive access at a reduced rate, and the revenue is shared between FatPort and HI Downtown Vancouver.

MacDonald said with the hotel market tapped-out, hostels offer a whole new growth area for WiFi providers like FatPort.

“Hostels haven’t been approached as much as hotels have because usually our competitors have ignored them, but judging by the success of this hostel it’s definitely a market that’s well worth looking into,” said MacDonald. “We’re looking into ways of pursuing this market.”

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras is a technology journalist with IT World Canada and a member of the IT Business team. He began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada and the channel for Computer Dealer News. His writing has also appeared in the Vancouver Sun & the Ottawa Citizen.

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