The inhospitality business

When you charge somebody for a service, your charge embodies your costs. That’s just the way business works. You bear the costs of overhead, and you charge enough to make a profits above that overhead. So, if you’re a hotel, your room rates embody the costs of heating, air conditioning, water, electricity, maid service and other necessities. Those are all overhead.

It’s time to look at Internet service the same way. Providing it should be as astandard at hotels as providing water and electric service.

Actually, more and more hotels are starting to realize this. Oddly, they’re mostly low-end hotels. But bravo for them. At least in those cases they seem to have worked out the kinks. I’ve had many fewer problems getting online over free Internet at cheap hotels than I’ve had getting online over paid Internet at expensive hotels. In fact, the costs of running a pay toilet business around Internet service are themselves pretty high, I’d reckon. You’ve got all these labor-intensive value-subtracts to maintain, starting with servers that throw login pages at users, and bump users offline if no activity is detected. These things are Murphy bait.

Of course I’m in the middle of one such mess right now, in San Francisco, where I’m paying $9.95 per day, per device, to not get online. (Luckily I have a Sprint EvDO card. But I’d rather get on a solid Net connection with more upstream speed than the EvDO card can muster.)

There is nothing wrong with a hotel hiring some outside company to make sure guests have working Internet service. But there is something wrong with a hotel offloading the entire service, and then charging guests for it. Can you imagine a hotel charging extra for water or electricity — and then sending you to some outside company to get it running if it isn’t working?

I’ve said it before and keep repeating it until it sinks in: Charging for Internet in hotels is like charging for toilets. Hotels need to get out of the pay toilet business.

What are some companies that help hotels provide free Internet to guests? Let’s have their names and pass them along. I’ll start with my hotel right here. (Where I’m currently waiting for a call from this hotel’s outside company.)

[Later...] So, at least empirically, we’ve found the solution that is also the problem: the hotel’s wi-fi system was only tested with Internet Explorer. We couldn’t get it to work with a Mac laptop or with a Linux one, each running Firefox and the former also running Safari. But when the Mac laptop fired up an ancient copy of Internet Explorer, it worked. How lame is that?

12 comments

  1. Flip’s avatar

    And yet the airlines keep going further and further down the pay toliet path… About the only thing remaining is to pay to get into the toliet.

    I have hope for the hotels. I think they still see the internet as some weird special thing. It’s not a utility to them yet.

  2. Arthur’s avatar

    I’ve been writing about the seeming inverse relationship between the price of a hotel room and free internet on my blog. Perversely, the more expensive the room, the more likely it is you’ll pay extra for internet service.
    Some hotels with free internet:
    The Monaco, DC
    Courtyard by Marriott Century City (I think that’s true of all Courtyards)
    Springhill Suites, Memphis
    Grand Hotel Tremezzo, Como, Italy
    The Claremont, Berkely, California
    The Henley Park, Washington, DC
    Hotel Gault, Montreal

  3. Bob Boynton’s avatar

    You are lucky with a fee of only $9.95. I usually have to pay $15.00.

  4. David Berlind’s avatar

    I was completely blown away by The Holiday Inn by the the SFO Airport (north end). The whole place is blanketed with free WiFi and when I checked in there (I sometimes move camp to a hotel by the airport if I have an early flight the next day), they handed me a basket full of snacks and toiletries to take to my room at no charge. The room wasn’t super luxurious but it offered a solid nights sleep at a cut-throat rate compared to the other places (Westin, Hilton, etc.).

  5. Russell Nelson’s avatar

    In particular, the hotels in Mumbai don’t “get it”. They charge $10 (500 INR) for a 24 hour login.

  6. Chip’s avatar

    Doc
    Not nearly the traveler that you are, but an observation

    Lower rate hotels maybe more used by younger, tech savvy, clients.
    Higher rate, older, less techie clients.
    Sometimes even the “I don’t use the internet, that’s for staff” types.

    I’ve stayed at enough of each.
    Low end you have a coffee maker in the room, higher end – you pay for room service (or go to lobby)

    I’m on your side on this, just know that part of it is the client demand side, client expectation issues.

  7. Bryan Alexander’s avatar

    I’ve been observing this for about the past six years. My rule of thumb: the pricier the hotel, the more likely internet is to cost (and to not be very good). The less expensive, the more likely broadband is to be free.

    Am typing this from a rural Best Western, with free WiFi -

  8. Pauly’s avatar

    Flip makes a good point about hotels not seeing internet connectivity as a utility, but rather as a profit center (and low-end hotels raison d’etre doesn’t avail them of many add-on profit centers which explains that irony). But I want to take Flip’s “not a utility” observation further into what for your regular readers Doc is well-tilled ground: that is, the telcos and cablecos *also* don’t see internet connectivity as a utility or infrastructure but rather as a profit center. And where that seems to be taking us is frighteningly analogous to your “IE only” support model.

  9. Jacob Burke’s avatar

    I work for a resort in upstate NY. We are not part of a chain, just a family owned business. One of the first questions asked is if there is internet access and how much does it cost? We offer all of our guests free high-speed access in their rooms and have wifi available in our lobby, restaurant and conference room. I think the larger chains just don’t understand that people still want or need to be connected while they are on the road. As for the whole IE-only issue? Well, the service provider that the hotel is using needs to catch up to the 21st century and realize that IE use is declining and isn’t even an option anymore on Mac computers. Sometimes I think people just don’t get it.

    Cheers, Jake

  10. MN’s avatar

    We stayed at a Marriott to be near our daughter in Fort Worth. NOt only did we get charged for internet, but were charged extra for the concierge lounge that was closed. I did get that charge deleted.
    When we returned, we stayed at a Comfort suites, just as nice, free internet.

  11. OMB’s avatar

    I stay in hotels about eight to ten months per year. As a consequence, I refuse to stay in a place that does not offer free Internet. I’ll tolerate a room without a refrigerator and microwave (for a while), but if the net isn’t free, I have a one night maximum.

    Of course, I’m typically in one area for three to four months. I’m also using employer reimbursement, so the rate cap keeps me out of the high-end piece-rate places you seem to frequent.

  12. Shawn Powers’s avatar

    I was in the same hotel, and it didn’t seem terribly high-end. I’m sure the place felt as though they were high end, but in all honesty, charging a lot of money and thinking highly of one’s self isn’t nearly as endearing as a company would hope. Of course, most of the “high end” hotels I stay in (usually due to location, not snooty preference) all suck rather profusely. Give me a Best Western or a Days Inn any day.

    I’d have given up my bidet in a heartbeat for free wifi.

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