The general manager of the downtown hotel had overseen a refurbishment of the now 71-year-old facility in 2004 that included putting in wiring for Internet access. But network demand has exploded in the eight years hence, especially from larger groups staying at the hotel for meetings.
The Lord Elgin then worked with Bell to solve the problem. The telecom company installed fibre optic lines on Elgin Street this past summer. Then, the Lord Elgin connected to the network. In early May, the hotel was finally ready to turn the new service on.
It cost $100,000 to implement, but the upgrade marks a dramatic improvement, Mr. Smythe said.
"It's very scalable, and that's the thing that I don't think a lot of people in our business are looking at yet - to assure that they have scalable Internet supply into their property."
High-speed Internet access at hotels is coming more and more into demand as consumers stream television shows, movies and other content on to their laptops. It's been a hard road for hotels to keep up, which often leads to network slowdowns and frustration among guests.
Where full-service hotels previously competed for customers wanting more television channels or pay-per-view movies, today the battleground is on the networks.
Lord Elgin customers told management they'd be willing to pay for the Internet. Other hotels are offering it for free, though - including the Delta Ottawa City Centre.
The hotel is now offering basic Internet for free and has a premium "Internet XL" service available that is advertised as 20 times faster than household high-speed.
The return on providing the free service, the hotel's team said, is market share among corporate clients. Businesses will return if they know they can save on the Internet. For those customers that want even higher speed, the Internet XL service is there.
"The big play is moving to high speed with our government and corporate customers," said Ken Lambert, vice-president of sales and marketing at Delta Hotels.
"The first step is to remove the cost of Internet in all (brand) hotels and the second is to add Internet XL in the key strategic hotels."
Ottawa was considered one of those strategic locations due to the strong convention business in the area, he added. Internet XL is free for a limited time.
The Novotel Ottawa, which can also host meetings, offers free Internet as "an added bonus" to its guests.
"It's brought in business because you do go to other places and you could pay $25 a day or more," said Kimberly Wilson, Novotel's director of sales and marketing. "I think it is something that should be built in."
The Lord Elgin does offer free Internet in its meeting space, as well as a six-seat business centre, but maintains it will stick by the paid service for the time being.
However, senior management at the hotel is keeping a close eye on competitors such as the Delta and Novotel. As other hotels offer free Internet, there will come a time when the Lord Elgin expects to remove the cost to stay competitive.
"I suspect that the Lord Elgin and the other hotels in the downtown core, (which are) the full-service hotels that are now charging, in time we will see that evolve," Mr. Smythe said.
The region's largest hotels are divided on charging guests to access the Internet.
Thirteen of the area's 20 largest hotels offer the service at no cost, according to an OBJ survey conducted earlier this year. There was a relatively even mix of free and paid Internet access among both urban and suburban hotels, and across all price ranges.
• Cartier Place Suite Hotel
• Chimo Hotel
• Courtyard by Marriott Ottawa East
• Delta Ottawa City Centre
• Extended Stay Deluxe Ottawa - Downtown
• Four Points by Sheraton Hotel & Conference Centre Gatineau-Ottawa
• Holiday Inn Plaza la Chaudiere
• Holiday Inn & Suites Downtown Ottawa
• Les Suites Hotel Ottawa
• Novotel Ottawa
• Ottawa Marriott
• Sheraton Ottawa Hotel
• Fairmont Château Laurier
• Hilton Lac-Leamy
• Lord Elgin Hotel
• Minto Suite Hotel
• The National Hotel and Suites Ottawa
• The Westin Ottawa