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Snapshot Opinion on free Hotel Wi-fi Access by HOSPA Chief Executive Carl Weldon

A major dilemma for the hotel industry is whether the internet should be offered free to guests, or at a price.

With this in mind, I was particularly delighted this month to be asked to lead a discussion for ‘En Passant’ (EP) magazine’s ‘Emerging Business Leaders in Hospitality Network’ on the controversial question of ‘Should there be free Wi-fi in hotels and venues?’ Inevitably, the group of emerging leaders attending the event came with mixed views on this – ranging from free and scaleable charging, to full charging.

Personally, I believe that in line with current customer and travel media expectations, there should be free Wi-fi access in hotels and venues but the context for this is not necessarily easy or without cost. There is indeed, for instance, a valid argument for charging for the more demanding applications that incur significant cost to hoteliers – such as the growing consumer trend for streaming, as in the case of TV programmes, which results in an even bigger drain on bandwidth.

For me, the strongest argument for free Wi-fi access is the marketing aspect, as free Wi-fi is becoming one of the most recognised ‘USPs’ for a hotel. However, this comes with a major caveat – get it wrong and it’s like a bad cup of coffee, always remembered and a reason not to go back. So systems need to be capable, and constantly reviewed.

I steered the EP discussion into examining three core areas:

  • Guest issues 

  • Peer and PR issues

  • Cost and capacity issues

The outcomes of the meeting were as follows:

  • Guest issues

  • At a recent debate, De Vere Hotels & Village Urban Resorts Chief Executive and HOSPA President Robert Cook said that good Wi-fi was now one of four major services that customers look for (in addition to a comfortable bed, clean room and a good shower).

  • A recent survey showed that last minute queries via mobile devices were split as follows: 

  • Holidays - 26%

  • Air - 41%

  • Hotel - 33%

  • Connectivity is generally better at home than at the office and whatever the issues involved, guests expect Wi-fi to work (and in hotels to work better than their service at home)

  • The average number of Wi-fi enabled devices is increasing and one individual can now carry up to four items such as an iPod, iPhone, iPad and Slingbox. 

  • Peer and PR issues

  • Overall, BT Wi-fi reports a 50-50 split on its hotels and venues who charge or make Wi-fi free, with prices varying from £8 per hour to £20 per day

  • Premium hotels tend to charge compared to lower level hotels

  • Poor Wi-fi service can be a reason for a guest not to return to a hotel.

  • There are issues about conferencing and free Wi-fi and a debate is currently taking place about how to manage this service for major events (when there is mass access to a network

  • Social media websites provide an open forum for debating issues, and Wi-fi is one of the most common topics (when good or bad)

  • Where Wi-fi is chargeable, guests can become confused when there are too many different options

  • In the aviation sector, airlines such as Jet Blue are already providing free live TV (!) and Wi-fi on some of its flights, and are looking to make this standard by 2013 – the service is included in the price.

  • Cost and capacity issues

  • Are hotels prepared to invest in appropriate bandwidth requirements due to cost pressures?

  • Bandwidth constantly needs to be reviewed as technology, entertainment services and the cloud proliferate

  • Where companies charge for this service, the cost can vary considerably and it is in some cases a very valuable revenue stream. How could this be replaced?

  • Should Wi-fi be included in the room rate for a hotel? (The industry can cost in Breakfast, sometimes dinner and even beverage in all-inclusive Resorts so why not Wi-fi?)

Discussion conclusion:

The importance of changing customer expectations cannot be over stated and the challenge for all operators is to keep pace with the rapidly evolving technology. During the London 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games, for example, BT hit 1 million users of Wi-fi on its network for the first time ever, with a 19% increase on video.

I urged the EP group to consider providing free, good quality guest Wi-fi as standard; and that hotels and venues should make the appropriate investment to ensure this could happen.

We want to hear from you

Should Wi-Fi access be free or not, and why?


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