Hotels should never charge extra for WiFi

First published on 21st November, 2010

I'm writing this story on a laptop that isn't connected to the internet. It's not connected to the internet even though the hotel has WiFi access. It's not connected via the WiFi access because although I am staying in what I believe is the most expensive room on the property (US$120++), the access isn't free. I'm not happy and when a guest isn't happy, the hotel loses.

Here are some reasons why hotels should not charge extra for internet:

It wastes everybody's time

At this hotel, rates start at 50,000 rupiah (around US$5) for an hour's access. I have to walk up to reception (there are no phones in the rooms — now that I am okay with), request the access, wait for five minutes while the staff tap on a keyboard interminably, then find an unprofessional scrap of paper to write down my username and password on. I have to head back to my room, fire up the laptop, connect to the router log in using the newly-supplied username and password (presuming I haven't lost the piece of paper) and get to work.

When I want another hour, I have to repeat the process and take up the time of staff again who should be doing something better with their time. As I should be.

Many guests need internet access for their work

When I travel, I don't want internet access, I need it. I have an online business to run, and I need to have access to it on daily — that is, every single day, whether I am working or on a holiday. Internet access, for me, has become a make or break deal when selecting a place to stay.

When travelling alone I'm not fussed about TV, air-con, a bar fridge or even hot water, but I do need WiFi. Did you get that? Put a big sticker on the front door reading "Free WiFi" and believe me as long as you're not charging the earth and there aren't any dead dogs in the stairwell, you've got my custom.

Many guests use it for fun

More and more people use social media when they are holidaying. If I can't get hotel internet access, I can't check in to Foursquare, I can't tweet how much I love my room, and I can't post the pix I've taken on my iPhone (if I had one) straight to Facebook so all my friends can be envious and check out the hotel's website immediately.

Of course, the downside is going to be that guests might complain; but you've got a social media person to monitor that, right? If you're on the ball it's a way for switched on hotels to nip any problems in the bud — and probably get a public thank you as well.

It should be a normal cost of doing business

I expect to be charged a breakdown of services when I am flying on a low cost carrier. But when I am paying for a decent hotel room, I expect electricity, I expect hot running water, and these days I expect to be able to use my laptop — all with no additional charge.

Don't bleat to me about the costs of setting it up. I don't care. What did it cost you to install hot water? If you can't afford to provide this service for free, then just don't provide it at all and make a fuss about how you want your guests to be relaxed (and, also, never to come back).

When I use your internet access I will spend more time at your hotel

When I have internet access in my guesthouse room, I'll more likely avail myself of your room service and I'll most certainly drink the bar fridge dry.

When I don't have internet access in my room, I'll go eat and drink in a cafe somewhere else that offers it for free. Generally speaking, it seems that the owner of the crappy beachside shack I work at many days has better business sense than the owner of the property I'm currently staying in.

A final word: Offer it for free or not at all

If you can't "afford" to offer internet access for free then don't offer it. Really, just don't bother. In charging for it, all you're doing is grabbing a few short-term dollars that will cost you future long-term business.

About the author:
Stuart McDonald co-founded with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.

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