Some time ago, I wrote an article about the imperative and immediate need for hotels to offer free in-room WiFi to all their guests. The bottom line is that consumer behavior now has some very lofty standards when it comes to web surfing. Internet connectivity is a necessity for many, if not the majority, of travelers, and as a result, they want it readily accessible and fast.
So when a property charges for this service, it’s not a matter of cost, it’s a matter of undermining consumer expectations. People won’t understand hotel legacy contracts, nor will they bother to care. All they see is an additional bill for something that should be a part of the room fee, like heating and air conditioning. That’s how consumers view the internet these days – a utility – and you’d be wise to treat it as such.
A caveat to mention before we delve into the nitty-gritty is the distinction between regular internet access and WiFi. The former is wired, and the latter is wireless. I advocate that providing wired in-room internet is an insufficient tactic, whether it’s free or not (although free is always better).
For one, most smartphones and tablets run solely off wireless internet, and given their widespread adoption, it would be smart to cater to these devices. Secondly, there’s a comfort factor. Ethernet cables can only reach so far, but WiFi can be picked up from a desk, bed, washroom or perhaps while dining at your restaurant.
Needless to say, I received quite the backlash from my first article, beginning with the outright denial that there’s a problem. To clarify: free WiFi is not a make-or-break feature. True, some travelers look for places that specifically offer this service, but argument’s sake, let’s ignore this social media savvy and rapidly growing populace. For ‘regular’ guests, free WiFi will not be the single factor to dissuade them from returning, but it will exacerbate other grievances.
On the flip side, however, when you do offer this service, it will imbue your guests with the sense that you empathize with the modern traveler – one little feature to amplify their positive feelings about your hotel. Compared to refurnishing rooms or upgrading facilities, this is a very cheap endorsement to buy. And from a social media perspective, when the internet is served on a silver platter, it’s an open invitation for guests to sing your praises online.
Lack of Proof
The next set of disbelievers contended that I did not provide enough numerical evidence to justify web services as a primary issue for guests. Just offhand, I browsed the May 16, 2011 issue of Business Travel News for support. I implore you to do your own google search if you’re still skeptical.
In the magazine, they ranked hotel traveler services according to importance (I) and performance (P). True, the winner was clean, comfortable rooms (I = 5.6, P = 5.0), but the close runner-up was in-room high speed Internet access (I = 5.4, P = 4.8). As well, in-room wireless connectivity ranked sixth behind good value for price, adequate number of staff at the front desk and proper lighting at the desk and chair for working.
Next, I consulted the latest edition of Condé Nast Traveler’s ‘What Matters Now?’ which offered some interesting statistics about American affluent travel trends derived from over two thousand surveys completed in April 2011. When prompted about complimentary WiFi connections, 82% of respondents agreed that this is an expectation, not a bonus. This percentage is up from 69% in 2009 and is now the top affirmation in its set.
Learn from the Airlines
A lot can be learned from how people reacted to when the airlines started charging an additional fee for checked bags. Travelers adapted and began to ration their luggage. They’d pack a check bag only when necessary, and they’d push the limits for what was acceptable as a carry on, both in size and weight.
In the end, this still worked out great for the airlines. Less overall luggage meant they saved on fuel costs, and were able to earn a little extra in the process. When it comes to hotels, I have observed a similar rationing, but unlike the airlines, consumers have a lot more options to circumvent additional fees.
A fair number of guests will only pay for in-room internet access if it’s essential. If they only need the World Wide Web for a few simple tasks, they’ll likely work off their smartphone’s 3G or 4G data plan. Secondly, for groups, I’ve noted that one person might bite the bullet with the internet surcharge, and then everybody else in his or her party will go in rotation to use that one authorized computer. Thirdly, many guests will seek out places offsite with free WiFi, and while they’re at it, they’ll probably eat out, too. Many smartphones can easily be equipped with applications that aid in the search for free internet hubs (and restaurants for that matter).
This last one is pretty serious in my mind. Do yourself a favor and don’t let internet obstinacy become a detriment to your F&B sales. Your guests have options, and they will exercise them wherever possible.
Alas, even though you might wholly appreciate the need for free in-room WiFi, sometimes it just isn’t in the cards. As such, I’ve thought up three alternatives that will adequately appease your consumers. All of which I’ve based off hotels and reward programs that already employ such tactics with excellent results.
- Tiered Plan: Make your WiFi free only for suites or premium rooms. This way, the waived fee becomes an additive perk, helping to validate a more expensive purchase and giving travelers another incentive to upgrade.
- Package Deal: Offer your internet services as a part of a larger amenity bundle which might also include free breakfasts or discounts on spa treatments. Get creative with this one. Think of it as a lifestyle package, encompassing a variety of features that make your brand exceptional. Guests will spend more time and money at your hotel, making their experiences all the more enjoyable.
- Enhanced Web Portals: In addition to being an internet gateway, these innovative systems can integrate hotel amenities such as laundry, dry cleaning and room service. The portal companies will handle the upkeep costs to satisfy guests with free access in exchange for advertisements; an easy tradeoff. During initial negotiations, you could even ask one of these companies to help install thorough WiFi networks. They’ll likely be receptive to the idea because it’ll translate to more internet (and advertising) traffic.
(Article written by Larry Mogelonsky, published on ehotelier.com on August 5, 2011)