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ATA conference update October 29, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in ATA, Random musings.

The biggest complaint I hear about the ATA conference every year is the fact that guests have to pay for Internet access on top of paying a large hotel bill when every Motel Six or Quality Inn offers free Internet access with rooms starting at $39.95. Last year in Orlando one of the agencies sponsored Internet access, so we got spoiled very quickly. I’ve been going through Internet withdrawal while here, because it costs $16.95 a day to connect to the Internet at the Marriott Marquis on Times Square. I knew it would be expensive, but I had no idea it would be THAT expensive. I felt cheap, but I lowered myself to go to my favorite agency owner’s room to send the agency a file on Wednesday. Luckily he had a sense of humor about it.

I bit the bullet tonight and purchased access, because I came home after the GLD dinner because I wasn’t feeling well and wanted to post on the blog and catch up on Twitter. I may even go to T-Mobile tomorrow and upgrade my phone. I’ve been meaning to do it for several months now, but I digress…

Anyway, back to my point… I was told that the hotel offered the conference attendees access for $2,000.00 a day. That may just be a rumor, but it certainly sounds credible. If that is the case, if half of the attendees would pay an extra fee for Internet access that would cover the costs of Internet access during the conference. Sure, we have the Cyber Cafe in the Exhibit Hall, but it is only open until 6 p.m. and there are long lines. Susanne III suggested an opt-in for Internet access. If ATA were to offer an opt-in check box on the Registration Form (perhaps in the area where one can order the conference DVD) for $10 for Internet access for the four days of the conference I think that would more than cover access for those who want it – and those who do not need it would not pay for it through the registration fees. I know I for one wouldn’t mind paying extra for it, because it is less than $67.80 plus tax (4 days at $16.95).

As freelancers we are dependent on the Internet to ensure our clients do not feel ignored. That means we need to check our e-mail at least once a day even if we are at the conference. I understand I could cover this by purchasing a Crackberry or a T-Mobile Dash, but I know I for one go through Internet withdrawal without access.

So what say you, ATA decision-makers? Would this be a viable solution?



1. Catherine Christaki - October 30, 2009

Yes, that’s a great idea! I’ve been staying in the hotel since Monday and paid the $16.95 every day so far. I have to work 2-3 hours every night after the conference day ends, reply to emails and do small, urgent jobs for good clients, and Internet is essential.

By the way, I saw you for the first time this afternoon at the Web 2.0 speech, didn’t have the guts to come introduce myself and say how much I love your blog, maybe in a future conference 🙂 Keep up the excellent work!

jillsommer - October 30, 2009

Catherine, I wish you had come over and said hi. I love hearing when someone enjoys my blog. It validifies why I write it in the first place. I hope you run into me on Saturday and say hello.

jillsommer - November 2, 2009

I’m really glad I ran into you at the dance and that you said hi after all, Catherine! I look forward to seeing you again in the future.

2. Corinne McKay - November 1, 2009

It’s an odd thing about New York; here in Colorado *so* many places have free Wi-Fi. Pretty much any cafe-type place, plus lots of others; even the while-you-wait oil change place I go to has it. Not only was the Internet at the conference hotel pricey (I compromised by paying $9.99 for the Wi-Fi in the 8th floor lobby area and it worked OK), but when we thought we’d circumvent it by just going out to a cafe, all of the places near the hotel had weird policies too (for example that you had to spend $10 or it was only on at certain hours).

3. jillsommer - November 2, 2009

We got Internet for 24 hours and somehow the hotel charged us for two days of access. I need to call them when I get home and straighten it out! I won’t be splitting a room and checking out at different times ever again.

4. ebodeux - November 2, 2009

Judy told me later that parks in New York have wifi…but not sure how practical that would be . Jill, I just have an implementation question. I liked your idea about having people who want it pay an additional fee for conference registration, but was wondering how they’d implement that. If they used a password, people would surely share it with friends. In any case, however they solve it, I think you have brought up a burning issue – as the years go on, we will be even MORE dependent on Internet, and it seems like there will have to be a solution found at the big picture level (not just telling people to pay a pricey hotel’s pricey fee..).

That also makes me think, for next year when the conference in in Denver, Corinne and I and the CTA should for sure make a list of wifi hotspots near the hotel for people who would like it.

jillsommer - November 2, 2009

That’s a good point. I’ll have my people start working on that… 🙂

5. ebodeux - November 2, 2009

Also, would like to add that Jill’s experience being charged for a service she did not use (for that long) is so typical of bigger hotels. Once I had a very stressful argument with a “fancy” hotel that tried to charge me for eating food in the little fridge – where they charge you just for opening. I did not use this service and it was very annoying to waste time on it. Not me even if someone else is paying – what they charge is obscene!

6. Caitilin - November 3, 2009

@Eve-we compiled a list of nearby wifi spots for the Seattle conference, and attendees really appreciated it–go for it! Loads of sites that list wifi by zip code.

@Jill-FWIW, when the ATA Board tours prospective conference hotels during our board meetings, I always ask the question about free internet/wifi, mentioning all the arguments you note above. Basically, they say that they have to invest so much in infrastructure (can you imagine how many repeaters you would need for a hotel the size of the Marriott Marquis?) and maintain an IT department that they lose money. And they fall back on “everyone else charges.” Imagine the coup it would be to be the first to make it free!

While I was living overseas, mobile modems (“dongles”) were commonplace and cheap–you could even get prepaid plans. Aircards seem to be creeping in, but I suspect that with hotels continuing to charge these outrageous fees (and why always noon to noon?!) it will be a major driver for the adoption of these nifty devices. (I brought mine back to the US, and am kicking myself for not flashing it to unlock it before the conference…)

7. jillsommer - November 4, 2009

Thanks for offering an insider perspective, Caitilin. I wonder if they won’t find a way to block the mobile modems, since they seem to be able to block any and all free WiFi surrounding the hotels. As an update, when I called the Marriott was very gracious and agreed to credit us for the extra day they charged us.

8. Michael - November 4, 2009

Let me use the Hilton last year in Orlando as a good example that free WiFi is possible – in exchange for cold, hard cash, I presume. And the hardware excuse seems a bit flimsy in an Ethernet wired hotel. I have a G3 card for my laptop, but it is painfully slow and really not a good alternative. What was it that made it possible in Orlando? Let’s do it again.

9. Dorothee - November 4, 2009

Dear Jill,

thanks for bringing this up. As the organizer of the Denver conference, I will address this issue. $16.95 per day for Internet access really seemed over the top. Eve, your suggestion of working with CTA to produce a list of local WiFi hot spots is excellent, but I will also find out what can be done directly within the hotel to make sure everyone can stay connected. The ATA leadership team will visit the conference hotel in early 2010 and this will be part of our discussion with the hotel management.

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