Hotels: Don’t Charge Us For Internet Use

I stayed at the Hilton hotel in San Diego this weekend, and overall a great experience. However there was a 10 dollar charge for internet for 24 hours usage at the property, and since I wasn’t on business, I wouldn’t be able to expense it.     

Charging guests for internet access is like charging for water or the lights, and hotels that charge are missing a few business opportunities.   Like what? Here’s a few suggestions, and then I’ll open it up to commenters to share their ideas:

  1. Providing free WiFi (like coffee shops have figured out) means I’m more likely to stay on property and spend more time and money on your hotel. It means I’m more likely to have business meetings in your restaurant or lounge and invite others to come and do business.  We have expense reports and are likely to buy food and drink.  We’ll access our web enabled devices at the pool, in the lounge, keeping our kids busy, and keeping us connected.
  2. Savvy hotels will create or foster location based social networks, that will encourage guests to rate and rank which restaurants, attractions, and self-support each other.  As we rate and rank nearby attractions in the context of being a guest at your hotel, that centralizes our experiences with your brand –we’ll tell our network about the great we had our experience in and around as guests at your property.
  3. Develop a virtual concierge that will be a helpful guide to your guests, consider using twitter like the four seasons does, they even do this for their Palo Alto hotel, near my house.  You can provide us a better experience if we’re connected to each other –and to you.
  4. Maybe we’ll spend more times learning from your leadership teams, like Bill Marriot’s blog.  Hotels put a lot of marketing and service products in our hotel rooms like menus, spa treatments and concierge treatments, allow us to see these things online, not just in paper, giving us more opportunity to buy more.  

I’m not picking on Hilton alone,  as I’m told it varies on property per property basis, and there are many other hotels that charge for internet, but as a general rule of thumb, provide a better experience to guests so you can connect with other –and you.   When I travel on personal trips, I’m going to consider free internet access as a major factor to my decision on where to stay.

Update: Here’s a handy guide of which hotels charge who have internet access and how much they charge.  About 22 of the 44 hotel chains charge for internet, and some don’t even offer it (motel 6).  Many of you expressed agreement with my post (and a ton more in Twitter) so I hope this helps in your decision making.

  • Todd

    Nothing new to add to this, as I agree with the posters who have said that it is ironic that the high end hotels charge for this while lower end hotels offer it for free. If I can walk into a coffee shop and get free wi-fi (to your first point), why shouldn’t I have free access somewhere I am already paying to stay at? Some hotels do get this though; I recently stayed at a Kimpton Hotel in Washington DC with free wi-fi for guests. They also seem to “get it” with tech in general though as they are leveraging Facebook, Twitter, and other Web 2.0 outlets.

  • I remember that it was not so long ago that hotels used to make a lot of extra revenue from telephone call charges. So it’s no surprise that they want to generate extra profit from internet connections. As you correctly say hotels are missing a trick by charging; we always look for free internet as a beneficial feature when selecting hotels.

  • Totally agree – especially when you take the actual cost for the hotel when the internet access is all ready there. On top of that the access you eventually get is oftentimes rather poor, unstable and slow. May be we all should join forces and create a facebook group “the international movement for free wifi in hotels”.

    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=110576331578 🙂

    Anyway – As you say Jeremiah it is kind of OK when you are on a business trip, but on the other hand not. I truly believe that it would be better for hotels to offer this for free. It’s convenient and practical because I can do my work but also keep in touch with family and friends. The hotel could as mentioned here already expand their service to me as a guest and make my stay even more valuable. Just imagine all the self-service offers they could make available through a “guest community”. Building a closer relationship with the guest more than possible. Let me make that profile and let me store it for my next stay. Let me access that profile even when I am not a guest but preparing for my next stay etc. etc. etc.

    Come on guys see the benefits and the bigger picture – not only the 10$ you can make out of me the next 24 h.

  • I am not defending it, so much as explaining it from a hotel point of view.

    It’s still a revenue stream that hotels are trapped into, just like when we killed our revenue from the phone. It was a cash cow, and we shot ourselves in the foot. see here: http://www.hrabaconsulting.com/blog/2009/06/01/the-story-of-the-in-room-phone-the-future-of-on-property-telephony/

    Same with internet… but what happens is that the cost (due to infrastucture, capital costs, etc) has to be subsidized in some manner. I say “has to” because hotels are never at the front of the tech boom and hotel management companies are still incapable of looking at providing the internet as a cost of business. I understand why, as our profits in this economy have vanished, and we need to capitalize on any revenue stream that exists. I am not saying this proudly, of course.

    One of your commenters got it right: business travel is a write off, therefore internet at hotels is still a cost of doing business for the *consumer*, not the property itself (which is why internet can still be $450 for 10 hours at some places: http://twitpic.com/6dmx5). No one bats an eye paying for internet, unless you are an independent consultant like me, or a web guy like you, etc. We think it should flow free from the sewers and gutters, while hotels are simply not technologically focused. They are guest service focused couple with staying in business. They are certainly not pioneers. See here: (see here: http://www.hrabaconsulting.com/blog/2009/02/22/hotels-as-pioneers-not-technology-and-status-quo-for-social-media/)…

    In the end, what is happening is that *it seems* you aren’t paying for it anymore at most properties, but don’t be fooled. That cost is firmly embedded into the rate and subsidized, or added to the dreaded conundrum of “resort fees”.

    So… do you want to pay for internet that you actually use, or get charged a resort fee and pay for things that you may not use?

    Business and leisure travelers *hate* resort fees for precisely that reason, and always reconcile the fact of the matter… people rather pay for services rendered, than pay for ones you likely won’t use.

    That being said, it is changing, and hotels are getting hip. In fact where they used to be about a decade behind the times, some boutique segments are really being leaders in business commerce, from wifi enabled lobbies for the public, to green movements, and even social giving and charity campaigns.

    Hotels are an imperfect business, but they get it right after some time. It isn’t just guest service… it is also keeping the doors open.

    I am not justifying or defending it, just giving some background. Cheers, and GREAT POST. See you on the twitter thingy! http://www.twitter.com/hhotelconsult

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  • nice way to attract customers

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  • This is a real eye opener. I used to always feel like a miser when I was disappointed and cringed at the internet rates that hotels charge. I run my own business and even if it is charged to the company eventually I am paying for it… Catching up on work during trips can get really difficult. I sure hope more hotels take up the lead and are listening

  • I agree. In this day & age, allowing me to connect to the internet in the convenience of my room is very important. When traveling for leisure, free internet access is often a deciding factor when selecting a hotel as my husband & I both carry laptops & iPhones. If your hotel is going to charge for internet, you won’t even be considered in my options.
    My biggest pet peeve, however, is when I travel for business and I’m staying at a 5-star hotel for a conference on an internet-based topic, and I’m still charged for daily internet use. I realize it’s a business expense, and doesn’t really come out of my pocket, but it seems tacky to me. I know part of this is to blame on the conference planner, but hotels make a good chunk of money hosting conferences. If the internet is why I’m attending, shouldn’t that be included in part of my hotel room package? Is that too much to ask?

  • Wonderful thoughts, Jeremiah. I knew charging for internet was just stupid, at least by the big hotel chains… But I didn’t think of all these points… It seems clear that the benefits of providing the service for free makes more business sense for the the hotels as well. I’ll put these suggestions to every hotel I visit.

    🙂

  • It may still be reasonable to charge if internet connectivity costs in high, especially in some parts of Asia. In the case of a well developed country where bandwidth is relatively affordable, or I may even say, negligible compared to the hotel’s bottomline, it doesn’t make sense to make guest pay. I like the idea of “create or foster location based social networks”. Thanks Jeremiah.

  • George

    There is one interesting twist on WiFi access in Las Vegas. Some of the hotels have wired-only pay access or their WiFi rate is very high. Third-party WiFi providers provide access to rooms through by having base stations outside the properties. Their services undercut the hotel prices — free enterprise at its best!

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  • If we all detail what we want for free hotels would go bankrupt providing it. However, we don’t go to a hotel unless is advertises free Wifi

  • Here, here. I agree entirely. I travel frequently on business, and usually stay at 3.5 and 4 star hotels that cater to business travellers. I am shocked when they: a) have Internet only at their business center, or b) charge $9.95 – $19.95 a day for WIFI.

    If I was at a cheap hotel or motor inn, then I could overlook the inconvenience. However, when staying at expensive 4 star business hotels, surely they can provide free WIFI.

    Like minibar service, sometimes the IT services for WIFI are outsourced, and the outsourcer manages the online payments rather than the hotel.

  • Hey- I agree with the concepts and priciples of JO’s OP, but I would offer that many of the late adopters may be stuck in agreements they made with their WiFi Service providers.

    We did a fact finding call to on of the larger Franchise Coffee Chains in Canada asking why they chose to be the last ones to offer free Wi Fi (esp. after Starbux in Canada offered free WiFi to existing Bell customers yay!) and the VP Marketing said they had been in talks with Rogers Communications about getting out of the current 5 year contract that a previous Marketing Dept. Team had negotiated.

    So as far as I know, they still offer paid WiFi and you can guess where I go for meetings.

    The T’s & C’s can be debilitating to medium term flexibility and longer term market share / goodwill loss.

    Hotels are really out there if they still consider local calls and WiFi to be extraneous charges, esp. if you are in any sort of loyalty plan and pay more than 150$ per night!

    Craig

  • I totally agree with you.
    For some reason hotels are failing to see the business benefits in providing free wi-fi to guests, some of which you mentioned in your post. When-ever I had visitors from abroad my first advice my don’t pay for wi-fi access at the hotel – step outside, you’ll find a dozen places offering it for free. Tel Aviv (and Israel for that matter) is very connected, and you can get free wi-fi at any place – cafe, restaurants, shopping malls, etc.

    Do hope someone from Hilton (and other hotel chains) is reading your blog… 😉

  • You’d think at this point it would be included.

    Fun Fact: Last year at Comic Con, Paris Hilton stayed at the Hard Rock, instead of her hotel that was like, right next door….

  • I think your analogy is spot on. For me, connectivity is as vital as hot running water. It’s one of the first questions I ask and I choose my hotel on the basis of whether they are going to charge me or not for it.

  • Copy this as my opinion I’m not picking on Hilton alone, as I’m told it varies on property per property basis, and there are many other hotels that charge for internet, but as a general rule of thumb, provide a better experience to guests so you can connect with other –and you.

  • i don’t understand why hotels don’t have free access. it makes the hotel more attractive to travellers, for convenience and keeping the guests on the hotel.

    when i was travelling for 6 months as a backpacker around the world, i always chose the hostels with free breakfasts and free internet / wifi. because these were costs that i was going to incur anyway. as you said, it keeps u on the premise so u can stay at the bar or cafe and u can consume more of their goods.

    it would be good to see more hotels and particularly hostels using a social networking function. there are more opps with hostels because its a younger and more techy demographic. people could leave tips on where to go, connect with staff and ask questions, and meet people online. when u go a hostel, most people want to socialise and meet other travelers, so having social networks would make sense.

  • I’ve decided that there is a direct correlation: the more expensive the hotel, the more that it costs for internet access.
    My choice is Super 8 & Comfort Inn when we stay in MSP area. I love free internet & continental breakfast.

    On my last trip to SF we stayed at the Westin & internet access was $15/day. That was irritating in itself but what made it ridiculous was that the connection kept dropping during my meetings. I was trying to work! If hotels are going to charge, then they need to make sure they’re actually provide the service.

    I just chose the hotel for our home office visit (3 rooms for 4 nights). It was based on services: free internet, continental breakfast & shuttle service to airport. Hampton Inn may be getting a lot more of my business elsewhere too! 🙂

    Unfortunately I don’t think the industry will change though. Airports are similar… The Denver airport now has wonderfully FREE access – I love it! and I’ll keep flying United to hub there.

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  • Carolyn Sait

    OK, sorry I’m a bit late to this, but would like to offer another side to this debate. It should be remembered that not all WiFi is equal, and that there is much evidence to show that guests will and do pay for a service they value. It’s all very well being happy to have got something for “free” but not if it didn’t meet your needs and therefore left you feeling dissatisfied. Hotels, especially business hotels, focus on guest satisfaction, and many have recognised that the type of WiFi service they can offer free of charge will leave their guests disappointed and therefore choose to charge guests for a superior service.

    By superior service, I’m not implying that free WiFi is bad – just that it might not have the features that many travellers expect. I’m talking about the sort of service that can handle bandwidth-hungry applications, provides enough IP addresses so that business people can connect to their corporate networks, protects the data on the laptop from theft or spam, and offers a free 24/7 multilingual helpline. Hoteliers are not experts in this field, therefore they rely on 3rd parties to provide the services their guests require now and are likely to require in the future.

    And all this costs. Hotels may be reluctant to meet these costs for a service from which they are getting no revenue, and therefore start cutting back. Limited or no support, less bandwidth, no VPN compatibility, no WPA… Soon they’ll have dissatisfied guests.

    Another way of handling this would be for hotels to offer both – a free service up to a certain bandwidth and with limited features, then a paid-for service that has all the bells and whistles.

  • Francine Geller

    See recent post on how hotels are using Twitter to respond to customer complaints and reach potential guests. This is only good news for consumers. http://snipr.com/kaxsy [industry_bnet_com]

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  • A good hotel is that who provides complete satisfaction to its customers. A free WiFi and free internet adds extra value to the hotel. Customers wants satisfaction whether it is by free internet or any additional services . Internet is a necessary thing right now it should be free if some hotels are charging extra money for it this is not good.

  • Jim

    The messed up part about these highend hotels nickel and diming you is that places like the Baymont Inns and Days Inn supplies such services for free.

    It really makes these high end places that you pay A LOT of money for….look really really cheap.

    High End hotels are supposed to be about services. Yet The Days Inn and Baymont Suites supplies more services. I don’t get it.

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  • They can not be serious about charging the guests for internet. Let's be serious! Who gets into a hotel to heavily use the internet connection they have? What they can do, for security reasons, is to request a MAC address and assign an static IP address to your laptop. This is because they have to record the traffic you do in order not to get access to the network for spamming and other illegal activities. Most of the London hotels have already adopted this policy. The internet service is fast enough to watch online movies but for specific operation, as downloading using torrents and any other p2p networks, the ports are closed or the speed drops a lot until you can not use the connection any more.

  • Anonymous

    I was recently surprised to find that most Niagara Falls Hotels offer free Wi-Fi. And even better it was actually really fast, I hope in a few years every hotel will have realized the advantage of offering free internet access.

  • Batman, that was a fun fact. Thanks

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