Sep 22

Hotel WiFi – for richer, for poorer, for free?

by Paul in Technology

I still find it curious that in 2010 so many hotels treat WiFi as an ancillary charge, rather than a complimentary service. It’s obviously a personal point of view (and feel free to disagree in the comments), but the majority of my hotel and hostel bookings are made on the basis of free WiFi – meaning the cost, or lack thereof, is something of a dealbreaker.

The way we consume media has changed dramatically in the past few years. How many of us watch films from laptops? Plenty of us email photos and keep in touch by email while we’re away, and as tablets like the iPad become more common, it won’t be unusual for guests to require a data connection to stream and download rich media.

After location and price, WiFi availability is the most important consideration to me – I can make so much time to travel by virtue of my work, the only caveat being that I have WiFI, for those spare hours before I go to bed, for when I wake up too early through jetlag, for when I need peace and quiet to meet a deadline. But I won’t and usually can’t afford to pay £10 (or more) per day to go online; I’ll simply find somewhere else to stay.

Hotels are beginning to recognise the importance of WiFi to their guests, if an article by USA Today is anything to go by. Unfortunately, they seem to be going about matters in entirely the wrong way:

Given the growing backlash against paying $10 to $17 a day for guest-room Wi-Fi at upscale hotels, it’s worth noting that a number of full-service hotels are starting to offer guests two rates for their daily Internet access. The cheaper rate lets you check your email, while the pricier one lets you do things like watch movies.

I discovered two different Wi-Fi rates on Sunday, when I settled into my room at the new InterContinental New York Times Square.

When I logged on the InterContinental’s system, I was asked to choose between a $10-a-day option for low bandwidth (good for checking emails and reading online articles) and a $15-a-day option (good for VPN access, sharing PowerPoint presentations and watching movies).

There are two issues here; one is that when using the web, a clean line can’t be drawn between between low and high bandwidth usage; what if the online article I’m reading has an embedded news report? If I can send emails, can I upload batches of high-resolution photos to send? The Internet doesn’t run at two speeds – it’s not a system of gears you can switch between, it’s all meshed together.

The second issue is that a hotel charging $350 a night shouldn’t really be charging $15 a day for Internet access. Obviously the management’s feeling is that people who can afford $350 can also afford the additional charges. I’d say they’re missing the point.

And then there’s this quote from the end of the article:

Since the InterCon Times Square opened barely two months ago, it was too early for seasoned general manager Drew Schlesinger to talk in detail about his guests’ Wi-Fi purchase patterns. But he did say that people do like having a choice.

Is is it really a choice? The real choice seems to be that guests either have no WiFi or they pay for it.

A better choice would be to remove other complimentary services that are becoming obsolete in a wired world. I can’t remember the last time I turned on the television in a hotel, bothered to look in a minibar or sat in the single armchair for the sake of sitting in it  – can we get rid of all the dressed-up expense so I can have free WiFi please?

The hotel that offers me free WiFi not only wins my business in the here and now, but will usually win it again in the future. Those hotels enjoying short-term profit are sacrificing long-term loyalty.

Is complimentary WiFi a sticking point for you when booking your hotel? Do you expect a free service, or are you happy to pay extra?

Image by Ann Althouse on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

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7 Responses to “Hotel WiFi – for richer, for poorer, for free?”

  1. From Graeme:

    I agree entirely. I was on my honeymoon recently where we stayed in a 4-star hotel on the banks of lake Garda. They were charging €2 an hour for wifi, which i wanted so I could use my iPad to keep in touch, and look at places we wanted to go, and attractions we wanted to visit.

    Hardly anywhere in Italy seemed to have free wifi. If cafes and resturaunts did have it, you usually had to pay to use it.

    Not sure if this varies by country as we had a night in Lausanne (Switzerland) on the way back. Not only did our 3-star hotel next to the station have free wifi, but so did almost everywhere else. Lots of public spaces also had free wifi which was provided by the city.

    Charging $300+ a night and then trying to charge for wifi on top is like trying to charge a surcharge if you use the water in the bathroom or for electricity if you want to have the lights on!

    Posted on September 22, 2010 at 11:02 pm #
  2. From Mark:

    I think that until the majority of people start using WiFi access as a selection criteria then hotels will continue to charge. The problem is that today there are too many people that don’t really care, so hotels try to make extra revenue from it knowing that it won’t damage business too badly.

    But what is worse IMHO is the number of conference venues that don’t offer free WiFi. One would assume that WiFi was an essential requirement for conferences, yet I can only assume that the majority of conference organisers don’t use WiFi access as a selection criteria.

    Maybe we tend to forget that there is a great mass of people who can remain unconnected for days at a time without feeling ill at ease..?

    Posted on September 23, 2010 at 5:50 am #
  3. From Chris:

    Ok, so how about as an alternative, rather than pay £x per day, a sliding scale? Your first few megabytes for free each day, for example – enough to check emails – then levels set at x Mb, y Mb etc, with anything over a certain limit to be charged at a final rate?

    I do agree a single flat fee is silly, and they wouldn’t miss a low amount of their bandwidth, but if you use it heavily then you would pay – but not as much as £10 a day….

    Posted on September 23, 2010 at 9:53 am #
  4. From Jaya:

    Free WiFi required unless there’s no other choice. Hands down. I would easily switch from “schwank” to “dive” if it meant free WiFi (and have done so many times). I actually extend this to restaurants, as I do a lot of computing from my iPod and will begin to orbit restaurants that not only offer good eats, but free WiFi.

    I remember when hostels in the Yucatan switched to free WiFi in 2004 and we extended our stay by days because of the surprise. Then, three-years later, we couldn’t believe every place in Ireland was still charging. Now we check ahead of time and look into sites that track where free WiFi is in a city so we don’t hit up the places that charge. It just goes into trip planning now.

    Posted on September 23, 2010 at 9:58 am #
  5. From Jon:

    Yes, must say the presence of free wifi has been a major factor for me to when choosing hotels. Even for business purposes, as I am also aware of the budget business travel comes from. I rather wish company business travel also took a realistic view of the costs, since it drives up the prices for everyone. Business expenses seem to have become as ridiculous as banker’s bonuses.

    Anyway hotels out there, you don’t usually get my business if you charge rip off prices and then add extras.

    Posted on September 23, 2010 at 11:01 am #
  6. From M4RKM:

    We all know why hotels charge for WiFi, and that’s because they don’t get any income now from phones in rooms.

    I personally try and stay at a hotel with free wifi

    What annoys me as well, is that if I have to PAY for wifi, that is only one device that gets hooked up onto the internet, not all of my internet connected devices that I end up taking on holiday with me.


    Posted on September 23, 2010 at 12:09 pm #
  7. From F.Hofman:

    Explication from a hotelier to hotel guests ;
    Believe it or not, Hotels have to pay the provider for internet access and install the equipment for proper and fullsize use of internet throughout the hotel.
    The number of guests that will complain because of “slow or bad” internet access, when it is a free but simple connection, is numerous.
    It is probably the few that misuse the download size that could cause the other guests to experience bad service.
    Therefore in my hotel I have choosen for charged Wifi by a third party. It will guarantee all my guests proper use of full internet services, regardless of download size from other guests.
    I am open for serious suggestions on this subject, feel free to react.

    Posted on February 5, 2011 at 11:44 pm #

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