The time has come for all hotels worldwide to offer complimentary basic Internet to all guests.
No longer is this a nice to have item, it is an expected part of the hotel room, one that today's guest requires. Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt, and Starwood must take the lead on this and make it a worldwide industry standard. I sense that there has been talk over which will be the first major brand to crack on the issue, and I am here to challenge one of them to make the first move. Be the industry leader on something that would delight your guests. Internet is just as important to most guests as running water and clean sheets.
I suggest including basic Internet service in the room rate, enough for checking e-mail, voice calls, and basic Web surfing. Guests who stream videos, play online games, or have other bandwidth-intensive needs could pay a premium. But the days of paying for basic Internet at hotels is over and needs to come to a halt yesterday. Be clear that I am not talking about Internet in the meeting space, but just in the sleeping rooms. Most business travelers will opt for the higher speed, as most VPNs (virtual private networks) depend on a very fast connection to function properly.
Hotels are so anxious to reposition themselves for the younger generation of travelers, with wireless room keys, , hip spaces, funky decor, but they have forgotten that charging for Internet is a huge turn-off for travelers. Check out the Travel Brilliantly campaign that Marriott released in 2013 (at a reported cost of $30 million) to see this intense focus on the younger generations.
Hotels are a home away from home, a respite of hospitality in an unfamiliar city. Why, then, do most full service hotels still charge $9.95 or $12.95 per night just to access e-mail, Skype with the family, read the hometown newspaper online, or peruse a map? There is not a separate fee to access the iron in the room, no extra surcharge to turn on the lamp, or to use the desk. Paying the Internet fee reminds me of the great song from Les Miserables, “Master of the House,” where the innkeeper lists off of the nickel and dime (well, sou and franc) charges he assesses the guests:
Charge 'em for the lice, extra for the mice
Two percent for looking in the mirror twice
Here a little slice, there a little cut
Three percent for sleeping with the window shut
Realize that your guests see that hotels who charge for basic Internet in this same vein. It goes against the grain of hospitality that all good hotels strive to provide to their guests. Check TripAdvisor for any full-service hotel that charges for Internet, and you will see this is one of the top complaints from travelers of all ages—but especially those Millennials, and Generations X and Y.
Some hotels already provide comp Internet in guest rooms, and I commend them. InterContinental, Omni, and Fairmont do it for guests of their frequent stay programs, regardless of tier or status. Most of the focused or select service brands do it. For international hotels, I rarely pay extra; it is just a given at most hotels, even the full-service ones.
So why do full-service hotels in the U.S. still insist on charging extra for what many hotels include in the room rate? I know there is an expense to the hotel. But there are also expenses to hotels for water, air conditioning, laundering the sheets, and cleaning the rooms. All of these charges are not separated on the bill, but are rolled into the room rate. (Except for hotels that still charge a daily fee for the safe. While we are on the subject, the safe fee is another spurious charge and needs to go post haste!)
The average traveler is getting younger at most chains. Complimentary Internet is just not an option any more, it is mandatory if hotels want to really compete for the hearts and minds of their travelers now.
I know it comes down to money, and I understand that Internet is a cash cow for hotels and a huge profit center. I understand the cost of providing the service and the bandwidth for a large hotel. For the overwhelming majority of my group , I am already getting it included in the room rate. Again, if hotels include the basic Internet in the rate, and charge those guests who want to use more bandwidth a surcharge, it would likely even itself out fairly quickly. I have talked to many hotels, and the cost of providing high-speed Internet at for the sleeping rooms is typically pennies a night, when amortized across the hotel with what the system cost to install and monthly service charges.
In closing, I challenge Messrs. Nasseta, Sorenson, Hoplamazian, Van Paasschen (CEOs of Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt, and Starwood, respectively) to be the industry leader on Wi-Fi. Provide it within the room rate, and truly become the bastion of hospitality that your travelers expect you to be. Those chains that do this will perfectly position themselves to increase market share of the younger generation. Those who fail to provide this basic service are doomed to be the stodgy brand of today’s travelers’ grandparents.