Has The Time Come For Free Internet at 5-Star Hotels ?

Posted on : 27-May-2012

For the past couple of months a debate is raging on one of the professional networking sites on the question “Is it time for free internet at 5-star hotels?” The topic seems to have caught the attention of many professionals as one can see at least ten to fifteen new posts daily. The very fact that the subject is still alive and kicking reflects the passion with which people are reacting on the subject.

If one was to analyze these comments, it would seem that over 70% of the hoteliers feel very strongly that the guest deserves free access to internet in a 5 star hotels and charging them would look like charging them for water or electricity, said one hotelier, “Definitely! Can you just imagine what would happen to a hotel's reservations if it charged extra for showers or TVs? Research reveal that complimentary internet connection is the single most important amenity demanded by both business and leisure travelers!!” another hotelier thinks that “Internet should not be charged because some people prefer free internet to complimentary breakfast, all the corporate ask for free internet. Provision of free internet is also in the contract of airline crew  with the accommodation”, well he has a point, if it is free for the airline crew, why not for the normal guest. A hotelier observes “One of the biggest comment I hear is a guests going to a five star resort and then they feel that they are "nickled and dimed to death. People know when they "get a good deal" and then if they are charged for every little thing they feel that they are being taken for fools. For a few dollars we are creating a bigger problem”

Yet there is another set of hoteliers who feel that the hotel should provide restricted free access of internet to the guests and charge them if the usage exceeded a defined band width. This would enable the guest to communicate via mails but would not allow free downloads for watching movies or like programs and avoid misuse of this facility. As one says” I'm not talking about nickel and diming here. I'm simply exploring the option of having a premium product available for those willing to pay for it. I don't by any means suggest using a 512 kbps as the bases – a 1mbps connection is perfectly reliable for browsing and sending/receiving emails. Having say a 10mbps + available for those who have a need for excess downloading/conference calls would be a great way to make up for the added cost”.  Another hotelier felt “I believe nowadays a tiered approach limiting the "free" access by available bandwidth, connection duration per day, transferrable data volume or port types whilst offering a paid upgrade for better quality service is a fair proposition”.

Then there are a few hoteliers who felt very strongly that nothing is “free” in this world and everything has a cost tag attached to it that must be recovered to achieve hotels financial objectives. The likes of these feel “What do we consider 'free' and what qualifies something as 'Internet'. The internet is NOT free - it has a high cost to maintain and deliver globally, and while it might be cheaper in some places, it's more expensive in others, and I have not yet seen what I consider to be truly free internet anywhere. Hotels have to pay for it, as do offices, homes, hospitals and factories - it might be a humble ADSL, multiple fiber links, satellite or radio - but there is a cost”. While what he said made a lot of economic sense but weather it make business sense in this competitive world is something to ponder upon.

Interestingly, the debate was also joined by people who use hotels, like one guest says, I am "just a customer" booking nice hotels. For me free Wi-Fi is ab-so-lute-ly a pre for choosing a hotel. Yes, the boss is paying, but please let internet be part of an all-inclusive plan”. Customers, especially business customers, expect internet access anywhere anytime these days. So give them free access to it. Not only in the lobby and please do not lock it with a 32-digit password which should be entered every time you enter the internet. Your customers will love you for that. And people like me will put you on top of the preferred supplier list”. Another traveler felt very strongly and said, “It is so frustrating to be asked to pay for internet access in a premium hotel when the local cafe or bar next door offers free internet. Time the 5 star hotels joined the modern world, internet is a must for any world traveler on business or for pleasure.” He even went on to suggest “If some operators fear revenue loss then front load in the bed rates at least then you don’t have to insult clients to pay excessive Wi-Fi fees”.

While the debate is still live, with divergent yet very interesting views making strong claims and counter claims “the direction towards free connectivity has been firmly set so the question is not “if” but rather “when” this will be accepted by hoteliers in different regions and hotel classes", says a comment.

 I have always believed that the issue of charging a guest for a particular service or facility or to offer it free is decided by the nature of market you are in, In a seller’s market, you can get away with even charging for heating or cooling, but if you are in the buyers market, customer is the king, you better woo him with all the goodies that you can. It is a matter of time when the guest will enjoy free internet in a 5 star hotel as he enjoys TV, music, heating & cooling.

This article is a compilation from an ongoing debate on the net and is being posted for the benefit of industry colleagues as a piece of information. The compiler does not claim any copy right credit on the quotes taken from the debate.


Ram Gupta is a management professional with specialization in hospitality, real estate, product and e-marketing. He has over four decades of experience in Asia, Far East, Middle East and Europe. He has been associated with over two dozen hotel projects and a number of upscale spas. His web site can be viewed at http://www.bcgglobal.com and can be contacted at ramgupta@bcgglobal.com

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