Let Freedom Ring: Free WiFi is a Basic Right not a Profit Center

I am well aware that the concept of free WiFi Internet in hotel rooms is an aspiration of every hotel manager.  However, based on my recent stay over at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Toronto, I don’t believe that such managers truly grasp how fundamental it is to provide this service.

As a P&G Alumni, I was delighted that the corporation’s global reunion for 2011 was being held in my hometown, using none other than the first-rate conference facilities at the Hilton. Even though I am a local, it’s still a grueling commute to get downtown early in the morning.  And the last thing I want to do after standing and socializing for 14 hours straight is drive back to my house in the suburbs, only to repeat the process the following day.

So I get a room.  When I arrive, everything is in order.  It’s clean, chicly decorated with a business desk, ergonomic chair, plasma TV, comfy bed and reading chair.  My plan was to unwind and answer emails until my eyes caved in.  Problem: there’s no WiFi.  So now I have the options of going down to the lobby and using their free wireless, or sitting upright at the desk and plugging in their Ethernet cable (which doesn’t reach the bed mind you).  Only the in-room Internet is nearly $15 per day, and seeing as how I only had about an hour’s worth of memos in me, that would make it the costliest hour of web surfing since the days of Internet Cafés circa 1998-2001.

It’s not the actual cost that annoys me.  A sum of $15 is paltry.  But the mere fact that they would force an additional payment is, frankly, insulting.  I’m in the business world, and in case you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, all of my brethren use a little thing called the World Wide Web.  Fairly often too.  In fact, most of us can’t live without it these days.  It’s an essential business service.  So, to me, a fee for in-room Internet is the equivalent of charging a bottle of water to a dehydrated Bedouin after emerging from a month-long trek in the desert.

Weary and unkempt, I changed back out of my PJs, threw on some street clothes and marched down to the lobby for some good ol’ free WiFi.  A note here is that the Hilton lobby’s WiFi was password protected, which I liked for two reasons.  First, a password implies a basic level of security, giving me partial relief that my computer won’t be hacked.  Second, to obtain the password, I had to visit the front desk, which I deemed the perfect opportunity to instruct the hotel staff about the towering significance of having free WiFi in every room.

“We’re looking into it,” the front desk manager retorted.  Well, sorry to burst your bubble, but looking into it isn’t going to cut it nowadays.  As a traveler primarily for business, I am adamant about having wireless service in my room for the simple reason that it makes me more effective at my job.  It lets me relax my feet and work right up until I nod off.  The room was superbly furbished, but the lack of free in-room WiFi is a deal breaker.  Would I recommend this property to my business colleagues? Until this qualm is rectified – doubtful.

Truth be told, I find this to be a rather bogus situation because free WiFi is a straightforward issue to fix.  I say straightforward and not easy because there is nothing easy about installing secured server access into 600 suites or more all at once.  But it is straightforward nonetheless.  It’s not like the hotel management has been tasked with executing a long-run rebranding strategy.  For IT upgrades like this, I’d wager there’s a well-defined procedure to follow.  And whatever costs are incurred will be effortlessly recovered through heightened customer loyalty.

You go to Starbucks and pay $5 for a designer coffee and you get free WiFi.  You go to a luxury hotel and pay $250+ for a designer room and you get a bill for 15 bucks.  What’s wrong with this picture?  Does this mean that Starbucks knows more about guest service than you do?

I am not naïve to enter this diatribe without knowing all too well about the legacy Internet contracts that have many hotels in a stranglehold.  Too often was the case where hotel management agreed to usage surcharges that would now be deemed archaic, goaded into binding long-term agreements by lucratively cheap installation fees.  But this is a cost that properties must eat, not forward to the consumer as a method to ensure short-term profitability.  By comparison, you have metered contracts with the local utilities.  Does this mean you charge guests for electricity and water separately?  It’s 2011; start thinking of the Internet the same way.

A recent United Nations report has deemed that disconnecting people from the Internet is a violation of human rights and a breach of international law.  Is it going too far to suggest that any property that fails to provide complimentary WiFi is in violation of guests’ rights?

In retrospect, I do not feel angry at the Hilton for their failure to provide this essential business service.  I feel sorry for them and because I am certain they are losing customers every day over this very curable grievance.  And if your hotel doesn’t have free WiFi in every room, then I feel sorry for you too.

(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, published on eHotelier on June 30, 2011)

Larry MogelonskyLet Freedom Ring: Free WiFi is a Basic Right not a Profit Center