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  • Larry Mogelonsky

Why should WiFi be free? Try some empathy

As we close out calendar year 2018, a nagging issue that also should be put to bed is whether to charge guests for wireless internet access, or to only include it as part of a premium loyalty reward.

I am a staunch proponent that it should be free and plentiful to all guests. But to fully grasp why, you must put yourself in your guests’ shoes. And by attempting to empathize with them, you may also glean a few other things about your customers, what makes them tick and what operations are lacking.

I’ll start with a personal experience: I was staying at a southeast flagged property that met all the bells and whistles of a modern city hotel. The guestroom was recently refurbished with a comfortable king bed and neutral décor. The bathroom eschewed a tub for a large shower with excellent water pressure. All amenities were ample and of above-average quality. Bottled water was free and replenished daily. The HVAC was quiet and the thermostat accurate. In pretty much every facet, the guestroom exceeded all standards for a midweek business trip.

On the service delivery side, the staff was more than courteous – welcoming and friendly to a T. The restaurant was also reasonably priced, while the food was tastefully prepared and more than sufficient for unwinding after a long day moving through conference sessions. Last, for my final morsel of daily relaxation via an aperitif, the bar had a warm ambiance with an extensive list of local spirits.

Based upon this summary, you would think that this property was deserving of a five-star review based upon my expectations as a business guest. Wrong! The WiFi signal in the guestroom was unsatisfactory, and for my travel purposes this was cause for major chagrin and an emotionally based deduction.

The hotel offered two levels of WiFi. The basic level had a nominal charge of $9.95 per night but was free if you signed up to the brand’s loyalty program. The premium level was $15.95 per night, which touted five times the speed. The access portal recommended the basic level for emails and the higher level for streaming video. Access to either level of the WiFi was carried out via the typical handshake, where a device has to re-sync with the system every time it is activated. Once engaged, there was no obvious way to move up or down between the two levels.

I opted for the basic level, and yet the speed reminded me of the days of dial-up modems – quite incapable of handling emails as was professed. Moreover, the bandwidth seemed to cycle insofar as availability throughout the day, with numerous outgoing emails queued for dispatch during peak periods.

This is simply unacceptable. If you’re a business hotel, strong WiFi must be mandatory and it has to be complimentary. By free, of course, I mean that you should bury the charge into the nightly rate much like you do the HVAC and all other utilities.

Increasingly, our mode of communication and the way we operate our lives is wholly dependent on continuous internet connectivity. To choke bandwidth, charge extra for it and still call your property business-friendly is a contradiction of terms.

What would you think of a hotel that claims to have running water, but when you turn the tap the most you get is a small rivulet? How angry would you be at a property that, in the dead of winter, stifles the in-room heat output so you are always just a little cold? Nowadays, internet access commands a similar degree of importance.

All those financial gurus out there who advise that a tiered WiFi program is the appropriate way to run their business are not considering the emotional impact of surcharging and the negative impression that poor bandwidth leaves. Guests don’t care about the costly back-end equipment necessary to supply ample bandwidth to every corridor and room. For them, it’s a binary mindset – it’s either working satisfactorily or it isn’t and it sucks.

I shouldn’t have to write articles like this, as I want this to be a dead issue. WiFi must be included as part of the room rate and treated as a basic necessity on the same level as water, heat, air conditioning, electricity and functional door locks. If you ever have any doubts, just consider how a guest interprets slow bandwidth or additional fees and you’ll know why this could have dire long-term consequences if you don’t get it right.

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