Guests want more from free hotel Wi-Fi
Guests want more from free hotel Wi-Fi
26 FEBRUARY 2016 7:13 AM

Many hotel brands offer free in-room Wi-Fi on a conditional basis, but guests want more.

I can’t remember my password. I can’t remember what special character I used. I can’t remember which random letter I capitalized in the word I swore I would remember because it was the name of my first guinea pig when I was 10 years old. 

I’m sitting in a hotel room trying to connect to your free in-room Wi-Fi. I’m frustrated.
What’s my account number? How am I supposed to have that memorized, that series of nine numbers for my loyalty program account? Let me dig through my email to find it. Good thing I have a reliable data plan on my cellphone so I can find my account number and attempt to log into free Wi-Fi in a hotel room so that I can seamlessly look at more email.
“I don’t understand. I thought you said this hotel had free Wi-Fi,” my husband says to me.
“It does. I just have to figure out my loyalty program information so I can log in,” I say as I flip through my email. 
What brand am I staying at again? Oh great, what was my password for that brand’s loyalty program?
“Why can’t we just connect?” he asks.
“Because, honey, hotels offer free Wi-Fi as a perk to book directly and join their loyalty program,” I respond, showing my vast knowledge of the industry.
“That’s dumb,” he says.
Is it?
As a reporter in the hotel industry, I certainly understand why brands work this way. It helps to combat online travel agencies by offering incentive to book direct. Charging for Wi-Fi, tiered or otherwise, can drive revenue at a hotel. High-speed Internet is costly to hotels. (According to a recent survey, installation of high-speed, secure Internet access in large hotels can cost upward of $120,000.)  It isn’t free for the hotelier. I get it. And as someone working in this industry, I wholeheartedly agree.
But as a consumer, I don’t. My husband doesn’t understand as he peers at me over his laptop waiting for the Holy Grail login information. (I found it, by the way. One of my 20 go-to passwords finally worked.)
He's going to ask for a glass of milk 
My experienced dilemma reminds me of the famous children’s story “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” by Laura Numeroff.
“If you give a mouse a cookie, he's going to ask for a glass of milk. When you give him the milk, he’ll probably ask you for a straw …”
Guests want free Wi-Fi, there’s no doubt about that. So brands responded with giving guests what they want by requiring direct booking or membership in loyalty programs. Now guests, such as my husband, are annoyed with that.
I asked my husband why he thinks Wi-Fi should be free regardless of booking method or loyalty program membership. 
“If you’re drinking coffee at a Starbucks, you get the Wi-Fi for free. You don’t have to sign up for a loyalty program,” he said. “Free Wi-Fi is in a lot of restaurants and cafes, but hotels make you pay for it. Outside of a hotel, can you think of other service business that charges you? At every other business, it’s a courtesy service, so why do hotels feel they should charge you for it?”
I think his questions sum it up, hoteliers. Guests don’t care that you have to spend loads of money on technology to implement fast Wi-Fi. They don’t care that giving it away for free eats away at your profits. They can get it everywhere else for free, and that’s all they see.
Hoteliers, you’ve given the mouse a cookie. You’ve provided the free Wi-Fi on conditions. Now, it seems, the mouse wants some milk.
Or just maybe some education on what you offer.
As a consumer, I can live with signing up for your loyalty programs or booking direct. (Although at that point I’m not really all that loyal because I will have signed up for 10 loyalty programs just to get free Wi-Fi, but that’s another blog for another time.)
I work in this industry. I know the perks of taking the actions you want me to complete to save you money on OTA commissions. But I think of my millennial friends, many of whom I unscientifically surveyed, and many of them have no idea about best available rates on hotel websites. They just know an OTA is a great place to find a list of area hotels all in one place. They are trained to think OTAs are the cheapest. They don’t know that they can find a hotel on an OTA and then go book direct at your website for the same rate and better perks.
If I didn’t work in the industry, I wouldn’t know either. 
Don’t worry, I informed my friends. But I’m only one person. I can’t get the word out alone. So, hoteliers, how are you going to get the word out? You have to reach non-loyalty members somehow. You have to reach people like my husband and convince him you’re providing a worthwhile service.
It’s time the industry starts thinking of creative ways to do just that.
Of course, then he’ll probably ask you for a straw.
Email Alicia Hoisington or find her on Twitter.
The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Hotel News Now or its parent company, STR and its affiliated companies. Bloggers published on this site are given the freedom to express views that may be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.


  • Mark February 26, 2016 5:33 AM

    I couldn't agree more. I have worked in the hotel industry for 34 years. We installed new internet equipment and upgraded to fiber over a year ago to the tune of about $30k plus the increased monthly cost for the broadband. I think ALL guests should get free internet and give the loyalty members free or discounted higher tier broadband or something else. The answer to the Starbucks question is that the people buying their coffee at Starbucks did not buy it from a 3rd party causing extra GDS cost or deep discounts to the store. Unfortunately, hotels no longer have that luxury.

  • Pierre February 29, 2016 6:17 PM

    There is no doubt in my mind that here too, hoteliers are simply going to miss the boat. data connections over your smartphone are not only always the same for you, but are also MUCH more secure. Only in exceptional cases will I connect to a hotel Wifi, for example when traveling abroad. But even then, it is only the very quick connection to view what I need to see and then disconnect again. For anything else, such as email, Skype, etc. even when traveling international, I will use tethering with my cell phone.

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