On the one hand, even the most standardized of hotel brands are moving to more communal space in their lobbies -- where travelers can sit by themselves or in small groups and access their computers and devices. Almost inevitably, these lobbies provide complimentary WiFi Internet access. But -- in a situation that astounds many people in the hotel business -- many upscale chains continue to charge, and charge significantly, for Internet access in the rooms.
One hotel general manager visiting from Canada and staying in a legendary New York hotel was astounded to find that he had to pay separately for his laptop and his iPad Internet access. Every survey shows that Internet access ranks with cleanliness as among the most important attributes of a hotel.
And the same surveys show that the most annoying aspect of any hotel bill is charges for Internet access. A review of a major new luxury hotel in downtown Chicago in The New York Times recently said that while WiFi was free in the lobby, there was a charge of $14.95 a day in the room.
It's true that some luxury hotels have made it a differentiating marketing point that they do not "nickel and dime" guests by charging for Internet. And while, a traveler might not switch hotels simply because of Internet charges, the experience of paying them will not engender loyalty to that brand.
Hotel companies have several arguments for continuing to charge for Internet access.
1) With the loss of lucrative telephone revenues, they have to compensate by charging for other amenities and services. Yes, that has been a painful loss for hotels but is no excuse for antagonizing guests.
2) Some managers say that guests really like to pay only for what they use -- so why build Internet access into the room rate for those who are not going to use it. That's pure spin -- at this point, it's hard to imagine many travelers who do not want Internet access -- especially at an upscale hotel. 3) Finally, brand executives maintain that hotel owners regularly overrule them by insisting on this revenue stream. It's true that owners are the ones who ultimately call the shots on many operational decisions, but it seems most could be easily convinced of the efficacy of complimentary WiFi.
Think about how people travel these days. They check into their room, get online on their laptops or iPads, move down to the lobby for coffee or a drink -- maintaining their connection -- then back to their rooms to watch movies or play games.
It seems counter-productive to interrupt this flow with a hefty charge that most agree will be going away in the not too distant future. Meanwhile, those who go first in eliminating the charges will gain some marketing points -- and perhaps the loyalty of travelers when their competitors finally -- and inevitably -- cave on the connection issue.