Hotel internet – service or utility?
After experiencing two days of slow, expensive internet access in a luxury hotel in Melbourne, I woke up to the news that Australia may soon have cheaper, faster broadband access nationwide.
I have been watching the political debate unfold with fascination. Australian politics is so feisty compared to back hone in Singapore – think Africa’s game parks versus the night safari.
Gillard calls it “a win” for everyone and she’s now able to take the bill for a final vote. “This is a reform literally 30 years in the making,” Gillard told reporters earlier this week.
The NBN business plan is simple – it expects to deliver a fibre network to 8.3 million of Australia’s 10.9 million homes, with 12 million business and residential properties to have access to wireless or satellite when the network is completed.
If you are not part of the inner circle, you have a choice of paying AUS 55 cents per minute, or up to a maximum of AUS $29 per day, per computer – no multiple devices allowed.
Which doesn’t give you much choice really. Plus, connection is slow compared to either Singapore or Luang Prabang, Laos.
I recall a session at the Hong Kong Hotel Investment Conference Asia Pacific (HICAP) last month. The subject of internet and hotels was brought up and a hotel owner from Australia said it was difficult for hotels to offer guests free internet access because it was a cost to them. “You pay for internet at home, don’t you?” he asked.
Michael Issenberg, chairman and chief operating officer of Accor Asia-Pacific, offered a similar argument when I asked him the same question at ITB Asia in October this year.
This argument no longers holds much water I’m afraid. At home, I also pay for my utilities – electricity, water, etc. In a hotel, these utilities are part of the room rate and I don’t expect to be charged by usage (although perhaps this could be a new business model).
And that is the fundamental question: are hotels in the utilities sector or the hospitality business? In the old days, hotels charged for gym use – now a gym is standard in a business hotel room rate.
Hospitality is sometimes defined as “kindness in welcoming guests or strangers”, although my personal favourite is “hospitality is the art of making guests feel at home when you wish they were”.
Nevertheless, also at HICAP, Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts was cited as a hotel group that had decided to invest in making internet available throughout all its hotels to all its guests, a decision it made during the global financial crisis. It cost the company about $20 million, we were told.
Taking the hospitality argument further and since we supposedly live in the age of customisation, imagine if Grand Hyatt had recognised me as a media person and had said, because we know what you do, we are happy to offer you free connectivity throughout your stay? Imagine what I’d have tweeted.
Incidentally, I also checked out the new AUS $350 million Melbourne Exhibition & Convention Centre. It’s a great looking venue, in a fabulous location, and it’s touted to be environmentally-friendly and super high-tech. The rooms are well designed – minimalist, with great use of space.
Internet access? There’s also a payment wall.
Now, I am not asking for free wi-fi everywhere (although that’d be nice), but there needs to be a fresh approach to how hotels and venues package the entire customer experience, which happens to include all the utilities needed for a comfortable stay or a successful event.
Anyway, this morning, I had to wake up at 8am to have a hot shower because, since the hotel is undergoing maintenance, the hot water utility will be unavailable between 9am and 7pm.
Siew Hoon Yeoh is the editor-at-large for SHY Ventures and editor/producer of WIT-Web In Travel.
She created and manages the travel insider website The Transit Cafe and also runs WIT - Web In Travel, Asia’s leading travel distribution, marketing and technology conference, and the weekly WIT newsletter.
In 2008, WIT was awarded the Most Innovative Marketing Initiative by the Singapore Tourism Board. Siew Hoon is also an established speaker and facilitator at travel industry conferences and workshops.
She is also is a published author, having written titles including “Truth, Lies & Other Stuff” and “Around Asia in 1 Hr: Tales of Condoms, Chillies & Curries”.