7 years ago

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.

hyatt bikes

Prime Minister Julia Gillard (a dead ringer for Jodie Foster, by the way) has cleared the first political hurdle to make her government’s AUS $35 billion National Broadband Network (NBN) a reality.

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.

As a regular leisure and business traveller to Australia, this is good news. I am staying at the Grand Hyatt, where the internet is provided by DOCOMO interTouch.

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.

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Siew Hoon Yeoh

About the Writer :: Siew Hoon Yeoh

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”.



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  1. Dave

    Hotels are making big steps to ensuring that free wi-fi is offered throughout. Like you say Joe, it is a necessity, no longer a luxury.

  2. Martin - TravelDaily

    personally, i use the boingo global plan which saves me the hassle of working out how to connect or how to pay a hotel hotspot – i do know that some chains don’t participate, such as many of those that use docomo. yet, if a majority were to use a roaming partner for access, hoteliers might understand it’s a utitilty…

  3. Tony Page

    Julia Gillard a dead ringer for Jodie Foster?! Can I have some of what you were smoking…?

    Seriously, I just spent a couple of months in the UK, Ireland and Germany on assignment for our travel website, and although things have improved marginally from the hotel web access POV, very few hotels and chains actually get the fact that internet access is now regarded as a necessary utility by their guests. This is especially true for business but as I noticed a growing expectation for people on vacation too.

    Whether it’s ludicrously excessive telephone charges or ridiculously complicated procedures for getting on line, it does seem that too many hoteliers really do need to be dragged screaming and kicking into the 21st century, not to mention into the adoption of effective marketing practices.

    If I had absolutely needed room internet access every day for longer than 1 hour, not only would I have spent a fortune but I would have also have had to become a member of five or six different networks. Now that wireless networks have greatly reduced the hardware difficulties in providing access, why the majority of hoteliers do not follow the enlightened (and business smart) few in providing free internet in their rooms beggars the imagination. Really, how much will the marginal cost amount to? Incidentally, I enjoyed free internet access in my room in a modern hotel in Istanbul (and a flat screen TV on the wall to surf on) several years ago.

    As it was, this summer I discovered that Starbucks and quite a few pub/restaurants provided wireless internet access basically for the cost of a coffee or pint. And we’ll all be aware of the efforts in Paris and elsewhere to make internet access ubiquitous.

    Yes, Mr Issenberg, I do pay for my internet at home, but I also know that my 94 year old mother in Yorkshire, England, pays GBP52 for three months of the fastest broadband Zen Internet can provide, and they gave her a modem and installed it. When I’m asked for GBP15 for 24 hours access, I can’t help but think I’m being royally ripped off…

  4. Joe Buhler

    Definitely a utility in my book, same as water and electricity. Caution: Please don’t give them ideas fir charging the latter two as “ancillary revenue” in future 😉

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