Dear Hotels, Start Taking WiFi Seriously

“The world has changed,” I tell Kelly, “More people check if a hotel has free Wifi now than if it serves breakfast. “

Of course I have no stats to back this up; it’s more of a feeling. A little over a year ago I was working on the reception at a busy hotel so I know what people ask for.

“People want to be connected, they have it 24/7 at home and they expect hotels to have it too. Not just in the lobby, in the rooms and even by the bloody pool if it has one.”

Yes, I’m on a rant.

The Importance of Free Wifi

Our current hotel which stated it had Wifi simply does not.

It happens a lot. The hotel website says that free Wifi is available in the room but in practice it does not reach far past the lobby. You could get lucky but the chances are your room is just too far away.

“It’s not the cost. That hostel where we stayed in Phuket was like, £8 a night, and it had a great free Wifi connection.” I continue, “If a cheap ass hostel can give free Wifi then a luxury hotel with a spa can too.”

“I like this room and the price is great,” I concede “but we will just stay tonight and find one with free Wifi for tomorrow.” We live on the road and we stay in places for days and even weeks at a time. Having a good Wifi connection is the difference between us only staying for one night or extending for as long as we are in the area.

For some people, this might seem petty. We realize we are travelling and we don’t want to spend any more time in the hotel as we need to as there is so much to see. However, we are digital nomads and we make our income online. This is what pays for us to travel.

This is what the life of a travel blogger/digital nomad looks like! (photo by Candice Walsh)
This is what the life of a travel blogger/digital nomad looks like! (photo by Candice Walsh)

It’s not only people like us though. Business people stay in hotels all the time, parents can use free wifi to keep kids entertained and people can have a retreat on a rainy day when the beach isn’t an option.

My rant continues, “In just a few years it’s going to be a staple of every single hotel, it will be as expected as toilet paper. FREE WIFI! They won’t even need to advertise it. Why do hotels not realize this? Why do they not realize people are booking rooms elsewhere that offer this basic service for free? Why do they not realize that when guests have a bad experience at a hotel they will not come back? If they invest just a little bit in a good hotel-wide internet connection now, then they will be ahead of the game or at least in line with their competitors”

I know this all too well; I have inside knowledge because I have been the other side of the counter. I have worked in a 4 star luxury hotel which caters to business people all week. The website stated ambiguously “Wifi Available in Public Areas and Rooms” but that’s not really true.

For example, out of the 175 rooms only 50 or so had any signal. These rooms were of course the more expensive ones. “You can upgrade for £20” I used to say. “If not you can use it in the bar, though you will have to buy an access code. It’s £9 for 24 hours.” That really pissed people off.

Being involved in this con made me sick because they expected Wifi and the website led them to believe it was included. Some would pay, some would protest and drive to the nearby Mcdonalds.

I argued with the management, “He paid £95 for his room and he is sitting miserably at McDonalds which will give him free Wifi despite only spending £1 on a coffee.”

My protests were never taken seriously.  “If they want to go McDonald’s with all the screaming kids that is up to them, if they want to sit the comfort of our hotel and work that comes at a cost” a senior manager once told me.  I got a stern look as I remarked that the over-inflated room rate should pretty much cover that. Needless to say I don’t really miss that place.

Working by the pool at our hotel in New Orleans
Working by the pool at our hotel in New Orleans

So here’s my suggestion to the hoteliers, guesthouse owners and hostel managers: Get ahead of the game, do your guests a favour and start taking Wifi as seriously as they do. After all, the ones you upset are the ones more likely to know what Trip Advisor is.

UPDATE

I thought I would test my theory by searching the words “Hotel WIFI” on Twitter and these are some from the last hour. You can clearly see the difference between the hotels making customers happy and the ones making them unhappy. (Click here to try the search for yourself)

Lee Carter

Born and raised in Accrington, UK, Lee has ventured far beyond his hometown, traveling throughout Europe, Southeast Asia, North America and New Zealand. He is the co-founder of Global Goose and as well as writing the occasional rant he can be found tweaking the code and taking photos of amazing things around the world. Lee and Kelly have no plans to stop their "Gap Decade" anytime soon.

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27 Comments

  1. I can see that guest would like FreeWifi, but as someone who works in tourism I have to disagree with you. WiFi equipment as well as internet plans cost money. Also, you don’t wanna provide unsecured networks – so you need good and safe equipment. Giving everyone free access means that you will have a lot of load on the network. Internet becomes slow, people start complaining.. Software for hotspots to control that would create additional charges for the provider..
    And foremost, you admit you are earning money over the internet. It’s your job. So why are you expecting it to be free? As for our Youth Hostel in Ilmenau, Germany we charge €1/hr via a hotspot service provider. It works good and people like it. Internet tickets are ineed a considerable source of income. Of course we could simply “hide” the WiFi costs in the price for the stay, but would I make a difference for you? My suggestion to you – why not buy a mobile plan and use a 3G stick etc. in hostels who don’t have free internet?

    1. Hi Daniel,

      We actually do have a system of setting up a WiFi hotspot via Lee’s phone for emergencies when I need to get work done and the WiFi has failed us. However, we feel we shouldn’t have to use this when we are paying money for a hotel.

      I understand that setting up WiFi in the hotel costs money, but I don’t think that this is a cost that hotels should pass along to their guests. It also costs money for the hotel to buy all of the little soaps for the bathroom or to buy toilet paper and towels and Kleenex. It costs the hotel money to launder the sheets and to clean the room. But hotels don’t charge people a fee on top of their stay for this and say, “If you don’t like it, bring your own toilet paper!” If they did, people would quickly get annoyed and move on to a better hotel.

      It doesn’t really matter whether we are earning money over the internet or not. Like Lee said in the article, people use WiFi in hotel rooms for many other purposes, including looking up travel information for the destination, booking their next train or bus journey, emailing their friends and family back home and much more. They should not have to pay for this.

      You say people at your hostel “like’ paying one euro per hour to use your internet, but do they really? Or do they tolerate it because they don’t have much of a choice? How much happier would they be if they could simply go online and check their Facebook updates or look up an address without having to hand over a Euro?

      How many people do you think have decided NOT to book at your hostel because they found out that you charge for internet and gone to your competitor who offers it free instead? I know that if Lee and I read on your hostel website that you charge for internet we would not book with you, which might be too bad because I’m sure you have a lovely hostel otherwise.

      Every time you lose a guest because they decide to book somewhere else, it will take a lot of one euro hours of internet charged to other guests to make up for the money they would have spent.

      Equipping your hotel with decent free Wifi will cost in the beginning, but more people will book because of it and in the next few years WiFi is only going to become more important. If you aren’t changing with the times, you will be left behind and your competitors will have the advantage.

  2. Too right Lee! In my (limited) experience it seems to be the hotels that are geared towards business travellers that charge crazy prices for wifi, because they know people have no choice but to pay (and often their employer will pay anyway).

    At the very least, they should only advertise free wifi if it actually works in every room. I know it can’t be easy getting a strong signal in every room, but they really shouldn’t claim it’s available if it’s pot luck whether you’ll get it.

    1. Agreed, Rob! We can’t count the number of times that a place has claimed to have WiFi in the room only to find out that we can barely get one or two bars!
      If you only have a strong signal in your hotel lobby, you are going to have to cope with me sitting awkwardly in your lobby all morning long doing my work. 😉

  3. Daniel… I also have an issue with your point that your “internet tickets are a considerable source of revenue.” You seem to imply that a hotel or a hostel can’t afford to offer Wifi unless they charge for it?

    If that is the case why have we stayed at countless dozens of hotels and other accommodation all over Europe, the UK, North America and Asia who offer it for free? These hotels have ranged from backpacking hostels to Thai guesthouses to Bed and Breakfasts to corporate hotels to cheap apartment rentals. They all offered us free WiFi and haven’t gone bankrupt, so there must be a way that they can pay for their internet yet provide it free for their guests. 😉 If all of these places can afford to offer free WiFi why can’t you?

    1. Internet access / WiFi really has become the 4th utility after electric, gas and water.

      The larger the hotel the higher the initial cost of installing WiFi points, after that the monthly running cost really isn’t that much.

      Hotels who don’t offer free WiFi are simply loosing out. Until they get their act together they can expect to see a continued decline in reservations. These days more and more people need to use the internet to do all sorts of tasks – they’re simply not willing to pay exorbitant rates when other establishments offer it for free as part of the package. Those that do offer free WiFi will benefit enormously, especially from word of mouth recommendations.

  4. Well said Lee, and I have had recent problems with the establishment you talk of for that very same reason – if you haven’t got wifi in the room then don’t advertise that you have! It is top of the list for me when choosing where to stay – for business or leisure – and should really come as standard in all but the most basic of establishments! Hope you are both well, Alfie says Hi!

    1. UK web content now has to comply with Advertising Standards Association (ASA) guidelines. If a hotel’s website (or any other website promoting a property) states it has WiFi in the room and it turns out that they don’t then you can make a complaint.

      If enough people do this these establishments will pretty quickly start to get their act together.

  5. Amen!! We’ve been on the road for 7 months and the number one thing we check when booking online is free wifi. If it’s not available we will stay one night and move on. And it is infuriating to book online, then arrive and discover you have to pay. I just don’t understand why SE Asia can provide it in every single run down hostel but hotels in Vegas make you pay $15 per 24 hours? As if I’m going to cough that up on top of my room fee and the stupid resort fee!

  6. I agree if you advertise free WiFi then it should be avaiable in every room. We recently stayed in Pittsburg and they advertised free WiFi. Once all chacked in and ready to hook up we could not pick up a signal. The front desk informed us that our room was in a dead spot and we couldn’t receive it. I specifically asked about Internet when booking. They suggested a coffee shop 11 miles away. This was out of the question for us. When I protest and said we were leaving they were able to find a dead spot free room for us. I just wonder how many people had the same problem and just settled.

  7. It is indeed correct and, somehow, funny that people prioritize free WiFi connection over complimentary breakfast as a factor in choosing which hotel to book with. Nevertheless, I am quite appalled at those hotels that advertise their free WiFi services falsely. They should be charged with misleading advertising. Businesses should really be careful and honest with their marketing messages.

  8. Some hotels are too cheap and they can’t afford to give 24/7 free wifi. Agree with your post.I have been into several hotels locally already and it seems they don’t really give much importance to this. Our generation basically treats internet connection as a need and not a want. They should have at least understand that this simple thing can get them in front of their customers list of hotels.

  9. The last time I traveled, we arrived at the hotel only to find out wifi was only available in the lobby. I had called ahead and was assured it would be available in our room. We left and found another hotel as my daughter is autistic and internet is her obsession. I think hotels need to get on the ball and have free wifi, but if they charge or it is not available, they need to practice a bit of truth in advertising.

  10. It’s crazy in 2012 that a good, fast, wifi internet connection isn’t automatically available in each and every hotel room regardless of the cost of the room of how close/far it it re: the lobby.

    It is incredibly small (feeble?) minded of hotel owners not to provide a good wifi service – and, as this article and the rersponse show, they are only going to urt themselves in the long run.

  11. Truth in advertising for hotels is a must. I showed up ti a hotel once and saw that they had wifi in the lobby and was told it worked in the rooms too. Sure enough I got to my room and no wifi. To say it lightly I was upset. They told me right to my face that they had wifi in the rooms and they didn’t. I talked to the manager and got our room discounted then went to another hotel with free wifi in the rooms for the same price as the discounted price we got earlier. It is really inconvenient that hotels don’t have free wifi. In this digital age it should be included with free tv.

  12. Oh boy, now this is a topic I feel very passionate about – especially in SE Asia where the internet is crappy at the best of times. I quickly learnt to ask if the Wifi reached the room and sometimes even check with my iPod before agreeing to take the room. It’s so essential nowadays – especially for digital nomads and bloggers like ourselves!

  13. Wi-Fi costs can cost rather exorbitant at sme hotels, at times costing more than a simple meal! Wi-fi allows us to communicate with loved ones back in the country when we are abroad without having to spend extra dollars on overseas calls. Paying for wi-fi while staying at a hotel is just not consumer friendly to a certain extent.

  14. I assure you will not have reason to complaint about wifi here in India. WIFI is common even for the residents. It does not need new connection, you only need a router with more coverage. Some of the residential plots that are sprouting beyond the city, are offering it as a free, an attraction. The only disadvantage is hacking is easier.

  15. I agree Lee,

    The same applies in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Most roach-infested cheap hostels offers free wifi while 5 stars luxury hotels charge you for the same thing.

    Ridiculous.

  16. If it clearly says that WiFi is available or even free, it should also be that! Our experience is that mostly it’s not working at all or working badly. If they don’t watch out, people will avoid their hotel, giving misleading information like this! Rumors among travelers will be spread for sure!

  17. very good, you even give so many suggestion and calculation to make available WiFi. I think its the most important as a traveler you need to connect, cox as sometime may be you not have mobile connection when you visit a new country, so the only sort of communication is WiFi. The hotels should take it seriously.

  18. Absolutely agree 100% with this! The world has changed so much over the last few years, and people EXPECT to be online and have free access now. Cheap hostels and guesthouses have on the whole cottoned onto this, but the traditional hotel industry as usual is very slow to react and adapt. It will be there undoing sooner or later and they will be forced to change. I absolutely love your last sentence “After all, the ones you upset are the ones more likely to know what Trip Advisor is.”

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