By Robert McGarvey
I come not to praise the hotel business center but to bury it.
I don’t even come to eulogize it.
Whenever I see one – and I still see way too many – I wince. Does this hotel think it is 1990?
But business centers aren’t just anachronistic, they are hazardous.
Understand this: business centers, many of them, are radically dangerous to your data security. They can be every bit as bad as public WiFi.
They also radiate the cluelessness of whoever thinks they are necessary to keep. That’s especially so when the business center is tucked away in a forgotten space – I have seen them in the basement – and often the computing equipment honestly is so old it is valueless.
When Travo, an event based planning tool, surveyed some 32,000 hotels, it found that 71% claimed business centers as an amenity.
But is anybody using them?
First, tho, here is why a hotel business center is bad for your data security. When it is tucked in a forgotten part of the hotel, a crook can easily gain access and install keylogging software or other malware. Exactly that is known to have happened and on a scale large enough to trigger a warning from the federal government.
Could it happen again? You bet. Many hotels are known to have slim to no security precautions in their business centers so you must use them at your own risk.
“Business centers ask customers to assume the best – that they can use these resources with confidence. But that objective undermines a proper security education position where you try to tell users to be skeptical,” said Scott Petry, co-founder and CEO of Authentic8, developer of a secure browser.
Petry’s strong advice: just don’t use a hotel business center.
It’s not just a matter of keylogging. There’s also the possibility that a criminal can go in as you leave, sit at the machine, and – with a little bit of computing skill – retrieve much of what you worked on. Trace images stay on computers and can be retrieved and criminals know the how to.
Petry acknowledged that at many hotels – especially ones with newer computers – they have installed software that automatically resets the device and wipes out trace info at the end of a session.
But how will you know that software is installed and operating? You won’t.
Said Petry: “When I’m done and ready to walk away, how long before the machine re-images? Should I wait for it or should I try to restart the device. When the machine is re-imaged, is that document that I needed to download in order to print really deleted? Or just moved from the trash when the session ends?”
There is no end to the security worries raised by hotel business centers. They may even be more dangerous than public WiFi.
The good news: really, we do not need a business center. I always travel with a computing device – an iPad at the least – and a cellphone or two. Pretty much everybody else I know does likewise.
What about printing? Uh…I don’t do much of that anymore. Email a file instead.
Some hotels get this – they are pulling out business centers, said hotel technology consultant Adam Gillespie, because they want to monetize the space.
Gillespie added that a trend at some hotels is closing the business center, then installing a sleek kiosk – or two – usually a flat screen monitor and keyboard – off the lobby, where traffic is high.
A plus is that configuration – in a high traffic, public space – is inherently more secure than a computer in a forgotten basement room is. Those kiosks, said Gillespie, usually also are good at reimaging when a user finishes and that is comforting news.
Some users sing praises of new set-ups. Business travel expert Carol Margolis, who blogs at SmartWomenTravelers, said in an email: “As a very frequent traveler, I love hotels that have the shared workspace vs a business center. When a hotel has a working space, whether it be off of the lobby or restaurant, I always bring my laptop and get work done. It feels so much less lonely than sitting at a often not-very-comfortable desk in my room. As a solo female, this feels safe to me as well as there are often many of us solo-travelers working in this type of space.”
She continued: “Hotel business centers, usually a small room with two computers and printers are great for printing documents but that is about all — at least to me. They’re even lonelier than my hotel room!”
The list of obsolete hotel design/technology thinking keeps growing. Yank the in-room phone, sure. Ditto the TV. And definitely shutter the oldfashioned business center.
Said travel researcher Craig “Buzz” Conroy, “Traditional hotel business centers are not a growth industry and much as the traditional payphone was a mainstay of every hotel lobby from the 5 star to the no tell hotel they are approaching extinction.”