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Are we still talking about Wi-Fi charges?

With much of the conversation about hotel consumers turning toward Millennials, it is curious that more hotel brands are not adopting Loews Hotels’ recent move to stop charging for in-room Wi-Fi. Quite frankly, to court Millennials — the Connected Generation — in the era of the Connected Economy and charge up to $20 a day seems illogical on some level.   

Whereas some argue that the “alone but together” behavior of the connected guest is a result of some psychographic-generational choice, I hypothesize it is because that is where the free Wi-Fi is … and the behavior was born of out of “free is better than $20 a day” — when the day is about three hours awake in your room.

Recently my co-author Margaret Ady of TrustYou and I spent a great deal of time looking at hotel guest reviews across the world for the year 2013 and found that Internet service is a source of frustration globally for hotel guests. In North America, traveler satisfaction with Internet service in hotels fell in all three countries; in Europe it fell in half of the 31 markets studied and the seven most-visited countries; and in Asia Pacific it dropped in the four largest regions combined.

Some hotel chains have chosen to bundle complimentary Wi-Fi into their rewards programs. That’s one response, and if you are above the point balance to get free Wi-Fi that is a good thing. Understandably, it is complicated to absorb a previous “fee” into the ADR of a hotel given commissions and other costs, or on what line of the P&L that cost is charged. So free Wi-Fi may not be a one-size-fits-all solution to this guest issue. We have to teach my students the economics of the issue from the hotelier’s perspective. As consumers, they don’t get it.

Yet consider when it comes to a new, curved shower curtain rod or a flat-screen TV, hoteliers were upgrading as fast as their closest competitor. Do you think the bandwidth for free Wi-Fi will follow the same pattern as these FF&E upgrades? Will 2014 reviews show improved guest satisfaction with hotel Internet? With all the technology innovations, will it be irrelevant in a few years? Are you connected on the road right now reading this?

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