Does Charging for Wi-Fi Drive Hotel Guests Away?

It’s all about the free Wi-Fi.  That’s what hotel guests overwhelmingly say is the most important hotel amenity, according to a recent survey by J.D. Power & Associates. Among 53,000 survey respondents, Wi-Fi trumped a free breakfast, a flat-panel TV – even a good mattress.

And yet, while the study found that 96% of surveyed guests at mid-priced hotels and 64% at budget hotels got free Wi-Fi, only 3 percent staying in the luxury category did. Why the disparity?

According to some luxury hotels, it’s often the superior connections and the added support staff they employ that warrant the higher charges.  Why pass  these costs on to every guest when you can charge just the users, they ask. This argument, however, becomes tougher when the majority of travelers do use Wi-Fi.  The study, unsurprisingly, also points to higher levels of guest satisfaction when free Wi-Fi is offered.  Also, when guests do pay for Wi-Fi access, their expectations automatically become higher that service will be perfect; one glitch and hotels have an annoyed guest on their hands. 

In general, the hotel industry has made substantial progress from the days when in-room Wi-Fi wasn’t provied at all.  Staking a kind of middle ground, now some hotels are instituting tiered levels of payment.  According to this USA Today report, InterContinental is testing  a concept at hotels in New York, San Francisco and Chicago, where guests pay $20 per day for low bandwidth and $25 for faster access.  Four Seasons also offers a two-tier option throughout its North American hotels.  But the move suggests that upscale and luxury hotels are realizing they may not be able to charge guests for much longer.  And with the Federal Communications Commission’s recent opening of U.S. airwaves for “super Wi-Fi” technologies, guest expectations for better, faster in-room Wi-Fi will likely escalate.

Perhaps the luxury traveler expects to pay a premium for Wi-Fi just as they do for breakfast or other amenities.  And when they do, they expect the same level of quality they demand for other luxury hotel amenities.  The question becomes whether the inclusion of complimentary Wi-Fi, or the lack of it, will secure or lose an existing or future guest.  Only time will tell.

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