Should Hotels Provide Free Internet Access?

Last Updated Sep 8, 2009 12:34 PM EDT

When I was staying in Squaw Valley, I noticed that my hotel's amenities said that Internet access was something like $10 a day. "Damn," I thought, "but I have a job to do." As I hooked up the ethernet cable I admit to thinking about the several hotels I passed on that advertised their free Wi-Fi and felt a pang of regret. However, when I pulled up the access Web site I saw that the hotel had several tiers of service, including the $10 a day and a lower-bandwidth free service that wasn't advertised. So, which did I take?

The free one, of course. Why? Because I was already shelling out $1,200 for a room and the idea of paying more wasn't appealing.

According to USA Today, approximately 32 of 80 hotels surveyed charge for Internet access. What's most interesting is that the luxury hotels are the ones that seemingly charge most while the economy hotels offer free Internet access. (Not a surprise to those who have stayed at each, luxury hotels seem to nickel-and-dime more.) While some in the story were passionately opposed to paying for Internet access, I think most people are not -- however, they appreciate free access, especially when they're working.

Some of the hotels that offer free Internet were Travelodge, Best Western, Aloft, Element, EconoLodge, Holiday Inn and Radisson. Although several are budget hotels, many are mid-range hotels that are used by business travelers. (Among the hotels that do charge: St. Regis, Embassy Suites, Le Meridien, Four Seasons, Grand Hyatt and JW Marriott.)

In this era of economic instability, shouldn't the Internet access fee be a thing of the past? Shouldn't this be something that hotels provide for their customers, without cost, like cable television? Because for many, Internet access is no longer a perk, but a necessity for their job and customers. If hotels that charge can provide free Internet access at lobbies and guest areas (but not in rooms) it would take only a couple thousand dollars to install wireless routers to the rest of the hotel.

The era of Wi-Fi has revolutionized networking. Previously, wiring hotels (and homes) was expensive and labor-intensive, but with the advent of wireless technology the costs have become a fraction of what they once were. That's one of the reasons for the proliferation of free Wi-Fi, although not all hotels have embraced this. It's too bad, because it's a low-cost way to create goodwill.

While the hotel I stayed at advertised their $10/day Internet access fee, it didn't advertise their free service -- which quite frankly -- was just as important.

Skip Anderson, a sales consultant, states one of the cardinal no-nos of selling is: "You don't add value to the relationship; you only react to the prospect's requests or questions." If you aren't adding value, then why should anyone choose your product or you? And if you aren't providing free Internet service, why not?

Photo courtesy of Comfort Suites in Visalia, Calif., which provides free high-speed Internet