I've changed my mind. For years—well at least as long as technology has been a factor in how consumers choose hotels—I've been saying lodging operators shouldn't charge guests for high-speed Internet access. That attitude no longer makes any sense because soon it won't be economically viable for hotels to offer this amenity at no charge. And if done correctly, hoteliers can craft Internet pricing models that, given the right messaging, guests will accept.
My tipping point came last week while moderating a fascinating and candid webinar on New Frontiers in Guestroom Entertainment Technology. The webinar is available for viewing on our website, and I urge you to check it out. The excellent speakers, hotel technology consultants Jon Inge and Jeremy Rock, presented well-thought-out arguments why charging for Internet access will be the standard for most hotels very shortly. While they weren't that direct in advocating charging for access, Jon and Jeremy explained how technology and consumer behavior are driving the rapidly expanding need for additional bandwidth in most hotels.
Even though most hotel guests believe Internet connectivity is like a public utility and the cost should be included in their room rate, the economics no longer works for most hotels, or won't in the near future. Nearly every cutting-edge technology on the horizon they described during the webinar will require increasing amounts of expensive bandwidth.
The real problem, of course, is that all hotel guests don't consume the same amounts of bandwidth. When I travel, I use wired or wireless connectivity to send and receive e-mails, check my Facebook account and post stories to our website. No downloading of video, audio or software files, no gaming, no Skypeing. Just plain-vanilla Internet usage.
By contrast, many travelers—both business and leisure guests—expect fast and reliable Internet access for the myriad of functions they want to do online, often on multiple devices, sometimes simultaneously. And, as Jon Inge said during the webinar, on weekends when a family of four checks into a hotel each one of them has one or two web-enabled devices, and everyone wants to get on the Internet at the same time.
The obvious answer is tiered pricing: charging a modest fee (or even offering it for free) for standard Internet access, then offering additional bandwidth in one or two increments for heavier web usage. The problem is getting guests to understand and accept the fact they'll need to pay more if they want to amp up their Internet usage. Perhaps a unified industry campaign led by AH&LA or HFTP might be what's needed to get this message across to consumers.
In the meantime, you can't wait for the traveling public to have an epiphany on this subject. You need to work with tech providers, consultants and PR experts to develop an Internet access strategy that makes sense for your hotel and that can be sold to your guests.