The drive for free wifi

Without a shadow of a doubt, the most desirable “luxury” item for a hotel guest is free wifi.

If you are looking to increase guest satisfaction with one simple change, you would be hard-pressed to find anything more beneficial than the installation of free-to-use, fast Internet access.

According to product director, Donna Rodios, “Free wifi consistently ranks as the second most sought after inclusion, after a free breakfast, when leisure travellers are asked what free value-adds they look for when choosing where to stay.”

It makes sense that this would be the case. After all, guests are living in a digital age where they connect to the world primarily online. Only too often these days will an otherwise stellar resort be mercilessly criticised for failing to provide adequate Internet access to guests. Your property can be in the most fabulous condition, in the perfect locale, featuring flawless customer service and facilities, but it will not reach maximum levels of success if the wifi is inaccessible to visitors.

For business guests in particular, even if their overall experience of your establishment is great, the weather is pleasurable, staff are friendly and the area isn’t too busy, they will not feel as though their trip was successful. This is because today’s travellers require something that until now has been considered an extra; wifi Internet. If your property is one of the many Australian accommodation providers that fails to offer guests free wifi, you may wish to consider changing that.

There is no worse shock, as a guest, then relaxing into a new room after check in, only to find a total lack of wifi Internet – free or otherwise – anywhere in the complex. For most hotels in Australia that do offer Internet access, it will only be through a wired connection that, on average, will cost around $20 for 24 hours. This may not seem like much but it is an extra $20 your guest must add on to the cost of their room per night. This fee certainly adds up for guests wishing to stay with you for more than a couple of nights.

As most industry professionals will assert, it is rare to see a hotel in Australia with free wifi access. Donna Rodios furthers that “in Australia, we’re seeing more and more properties, especially in CBDs, offering wifi as a free inclusion year on year, as they increasingly try to attract both leisure and business travellers by providing a competitive advantage”. This is good news for incoming tourists but it could be better.

If hotels want to attract more visitors from overseas, they simply need to upgrade to faster, free wifi access. This is because international travellers have a more potent need to keep in touch with international family and friends, and fast wifi has become a business guest requirement.

International tourists notoriously find the lack of wifi in Australian accommodation particularly difficult after having travelled in countries where the industry is generally more internet savvy.

This not only gives the entirety of Australia a bad reputation, but stigmatises independent Australian accommodation providers in particular. If you want your property to stand out amongst competitors, invest in free wifi.

This is not to say that Australia is terminally behind most other countries when it comes to accommodation standards. Far from it, there is a reason Australia ranks amongst the highest this year in TripAdvisor’s Traveller’s Choice 2013 list, voted for “by millions” across the globe. It does intimate; however, that Australia as a whole has room to grow, and smaller hotels in particular would benefit from a technological upgrade.

In 2013, people are more reliant on the Internet than ever before. The majority of business guests now expect to use online banking for all of their transactions; this becomes difficult if there is no hotel wifi. Having to schedule in trips to the bank through their days will massively impact the quality of their stay.

Ultimately, making the decision not to provide free wifi as part of your guest package could seriously detract from your guest’s stay. The internet has become such a part of everyday life for the majority of people these days, that more than a few hours without it can be detrimental.

It’s a big deal, this Internet malarkey. Wotif elaborates, “for the corporate market, [wifi Internet access is] even more important and could make or break a business traveller’s decision to book with a certain accommodation provider”.

In fact, according to a survey of 1000 frequent business travellers that the InterContinental Hotels Group recently released, 62% of people consider Internet access the most important hotel amenity. The presence of an in-room television came second on the guest list of priorities, with 20% of respondents saying they would like one in their room. The majority of travellers were not bothered about having access to a mini-fridge (5%), a landline phone (4%), a bathtub (3%) or even the coveted mini-bar (1%).” This is fairly revolutionary stuff in terms of refurbishment: a hotel would potentially be better off upgrading their Internet than fixtures and fittings.

It’s not just business guests that favour free Internet access: this survey illustrated that for a massive 25% of travellers, the first move after settling into a hotel, is logging online to feel at home. Hotels often claim to be a “home away from home” for their guests and this is a huge selling point. Without free wifi access, your hotel would struggle to follow through on this promise. Almost half (47%) of those who completed this survey also said that “connecting with family back home was the best way to de-stress after a long day of work”. Most respondents, a colossal 83% also made no mistake in claiming that free Internet access would “make them much happier while traveling for business”. Leading the way it seems, the InterContinental Hotels Group have decided to take action since the results from this survey were announced. They are attempting to give free Internet access to all members of their newly-appointed loyalty program, the IHG Rewards Club.

This is just an example of how hotels are beginning to catch on to the wifi scramble. It’s a guest need, being treated like a hotel luxury.

Loyalty members, for instance, are allotted first priority in most luxury hotels. Marriott Hotels and Resorts has just begun promoting free wifi access in the lobbies of each of their 500 hotels, and Hyatt’s Andaz brand has decided to offer “social” lobbies where guests have free reign over the wifi. But even this is something that savvy guests have begun to resent.

Frequent travellers know better than to stay at hotels where Internet is sparse and/or costly. This is because experienced guests know to keep an eye out for key-words and phrases on hotel websites that read something like “high-speed Internet available” or “free wifi throughout”. If it just says “high-speed Internet available” chances are the Internet will not be wireless or will only be available in particular areas. “Free wifi throughout” is more promisingly explicit.

If experienced guests are doing this, it’s fairly safe to assume that most guests are doing this. With websites like TripAdvisor at the forefront of accommodation selection these days, every guest is able to carry with them the experiences they’ve read of others so that they are equally experienced when it comes to making decisions about where to stay. Where smaller, more independent hotels in particular are concerned, having good, free wifi access will certainly encourage more guest bookings.

It is ultimately a question of picking your battles. For whatever inconvenience it might seem to upgrade your property’s Internet, it is much more convenient than a full decorative refurbishment. Plus the fact that free wifi seems to generate immeasurable positive returns. Attracting many more visitors and encouraging countless repeat guests, not to mention substantially increasing guest satisfaction, free wifi surely has to the most efficient way to boost your business.

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