How Can Hotels Justify Charging For WiFi?

I’m not the type to rant and rave. I tend to look for the positives in most situations and I’m happy to give people the benefit of doubt. But if there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to get me going, it’s blatant profiteering by a business which is totally unnecessary. So how can hotels justify charging for WiFi?

It’s more important than ever in the current environment for a business to not only provide an excellent service but also to respond quickly and effectively to any dissatisfaction expressed by the people who ultimately pay the bills.

I was down in the South of England last week at a family wedding. Not great timing, coming in the middle of various projects and clashing with the excellent Turing Festival in my hometown. But with a family that’s spread far and wide across the UK and Europe, it was a great opportunity to meet up, despite having some work to juggle during the trip. Of course, given other commitments, the only time that I’d have available for work was likely to be at anti-social hours. But of course the wonder of the modern working life is that time and location are for many projects pretty much irrelevant – provided you have internet access.

But, upon checking in to the Holiday Inn in Winchester, it soon became clear that the hotel didn’t share my view on access to the internet. The policy of that particular Holiday Inn is that it gives each customer 30 minutes free wifi access.

End of.

After that, you are expected to pay £3.99 for 2 hours or £9.99 for 24 hours.  Note: that’s 30 minutes from the first time you check in to your email account. Nice for the irregular Facebook visitor or the once-a-day email checker perhaps. But insane for anyone who has any aspiration of carrying out any form of work which requires internet access.

This sort of attitude from businesses – particularly those that supposedly occupy the ‘luxury’ end of the market (we’re not talking a backpackers’ hostel here) – stinks. I don’t believe that a coffee shop has an argument for restricting wifi access (which represents zero marginal cost per additional user), let alone a hotel at the so-called  premium end of the market where someone has committed to spend a not-insubstantial amount of money to spend at the very least a third of the day. I’m sorry but after looking into the issue a little further, the cost per room when you have 141 bedrooms is negligible.

But of course, in today’s business environment, it’s the responsibility of customers to comment. So I ended up tweeting:

To give them their due, the response from kc at IHG Group was

Great, I thought. A quick response and a real opportunity to show that they were willing to take concerns onboard. Intercontinental Hotels Group are the franchise owner by the way, with the various Holiday Inn hotels being run individually.  Impressed with their responsiveness, I replied:

To which they replied….

Er, no. Actually, they didn’t even reply. Not a peep from ‘kc’ nor any other person behind the @IHGcare twitter account

Silence.

I followed up with the hotel staff directly in person (again). They finally gave me two hour’s free access and suggested that I simply access wifi within the business suite overnight – not a great deal of help when you’d have to leave kids sleeping in your hotel room.

So, to recap:

  • Zero marks for the hotel for trying to charge customers for something that should be delivered free of charge for all customers.
  • Decent marks awarded for responding quickly when they were obviously monitoring the social networks.
  • But a resounding zero for failing to follow up with an clearly-annoyed customer and for failing to offer a successful resolution to a genuine complaint, despite the fact that it represented zero marginal cost to the business.

It’s time for businesses to realise that for some customers (admittedly not all, but then why piss off any of your customers if you can help it – particularly a group that continues to grow?) these kind of issues are significant. I certainly won’t be booking with them again until the policy is changed.

I should be clear – the staff I dealt with in person were polite and responsive and, to their credit, stated that my complaint was one of many that they had received about their policy. Unfortunately, the failure to follow up on social media left me with arguably a worse impression than if they had failed to respond in the first place.

I’m glad I’m not in kc’s shoes. But the problem goes far deeper I suspect. Unfortunately, Holiday Inn remain in the category of companies who – in my view, for what it’s worth – just don’t get it.

Over to you, competition. If you’re currently losing market share to a hotel that refuses to provide 24-hour wifi access, let me know. You’ve just got a potential new customer.