Free Wi-Fi: Learn from the airports!

I read a lot of online hotel reviews for properties all over. My goal is to try to figure out what simple things can improve the reviews. So, is it fair that people are dishing out one-out-of-five-star reviews and the sole reason given is a lack of free Wi-Fi? No, but that’s just the way it is. Free Wi-Fi is an easy excuse for online ridicule, but it’s also an easy problem to fix. And in terms of remedying the problem, hotels can learn quite a lot from how airport lounges and waiting areas are coping with the same situation.

The most widely adopted of these is the advertisement-supported free Internet service model. Make people watch a 30-second ad clip in exchange for 30 minutes of free Internet, then make them watch another ad for each subsequent half-hour chunk. It’s reasonable, and many people only need about half an hour to do their web routine — email, social media, news websites and so on. This tactic can also involve some lucrative profit-sharing between hotel and ad provider.

Probably the biggest complaint against this system is that the general ad-supported Internet is too slow. The airport’s answer to this is a tiered system. Basic Internet is free, but in order to get reasonable bandwidth, you have to pay. Of course, the real thing is disguised as a “premium” service, but they’re not fooling anyone. This system can get annoying for the consumer because the slow service is often too slow to begin with. And with the 3G data plans on smartphones able to function better than the slow service, there’s little incentive to pay additional fees for faster bite rates, unless you need it for video downloads or file transfers en masse.

So, again I have to resort to the conceit of expectations versus value-added extras. Just as humans are dependent on water, our livelihoods are reliant on the Internet. Free Wi-Fi is an expectation, and you have to consider it as such. Anything else and you’ll be scorned, whether you are trying to cover the cost through a tiered plan or as a loyalty reward.

The ad-supported system works, but only if it’s fast enough to work properly. Plus, if your free Wi-Fi is fast enough, then perhaps it’ll give people an additional reason to hang around the lobby, enjoy a drink or two and encourage a more social atmosphere. Just food for thought.