By Guy Chiswick, managing director of Webloyalty Northern Europe
The internet has become a global utility. Today internet is included in the list of household bills in the same way as water and electricity. As such, travellers expect internet access as standard in their hotel room, just as they would expect the lightbulb to switch on and a tap with running water.
Research Webloyalty undertook with TNS earlier this year showed that nine in ten British travellers expect to use hotel Wi-Fi during their holiday, with 84% intending to stay switched on so that they can access social media, emails and the wider web in the same way they would at home.
Is free the key?
Research has shown time and time again that hotel guests are not willing to pay for expensive Wi-Fi, with travellers often buying data beforehand or using local cafés to stay connected if the price isn’t right.
Our research showed that one in four UK holidaymakers will actually buy more data for their mobile devices to ensure optimum connectivity to the net during their time abroad.
Travellers now expect Wi-Fi that’s both affordable and high performing. High-speed internet is not just a perk but an expectation in 2015, and the challenge is for hoteliers and other providers to respond accordingly.
What about digital detoxers?
Despite the eagerness to stay connected, there’s still a reasonable proportion (16%) of British holidaymakers that use their breaks as an opportunity to switch off from the web.
This may be a growing trend – a luxury hotel in Germany is even using this as a hook to get guests on-board. Customers have the option of flicking a ‘kill switch’ to any Wi-Fi or internet signals present in the room, ensuring a complete ‘digital detox’ if desired. The premise of a disconnected room in a spa resort might sound idyllic, but at £770 per night, it’s not a viable option for all consumers.
What will be interesting is how many guests actually want a room devoid of digital compared to the number of guests who want functional, free Wi-Fi as standard. For each person who does want to switch off entirely, there are four people who want free internet access.
What next? The challenge to hoteliers
UK holidaymakers are more digitally connected than ever, and gripes like an absence of free Wi-Fi are a source of increasing frustration and need to be addressed. Constant access to the web is a feature of our daily lives, and we no longer expect this experience to change just because we’re in a different country.
Wi-Fi frustrations can continue if the connection doesn’t reach the guests’ rooms – many hotels still only offer Wi-Fi in communal areas, when the majority of the time customers want it in the privacy of their rooms.
As of July 2015 Google advertises within its search results whether a hotel offers free Wi-Fi to its guests. For many consumers, this will now act as a first port of call instead of scrolling through an establishment’s amenities list. Hotels without the ‘Free Wi-Fi’ graphic in the search results could see a drop in bookings as Google seeks to shake up the travel space.
In-room internet charges have changed little in the last decade or so, despite the cost to the hotel for providing this access dropping dramatically.
Rival hotel chains are conflicted over the question of whether to offer reasonable internet access without charging an extra fee. Hyatt, Four Seasons and Shangri-La hotels offer free internet access for all guests, with no loyalty requirements at all.
In contrast, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton and Starwood Hotels began offering free connections to guests, but only if they have a loyalty membership and booked directly with the hotel. For a bit of perspective on all of this, Starbucks stopped charging for its Wi-Fi access in 2008.
With 75% of people stating that a week without Wi-Fi would leave them grumpier than a week without coffee, it seems that free guest internet is the new hurdle that businesses must climb over to reap the rewards of a loyal and satisfied customer.
Hotel Chatter found that nearly 40% of hotel guests state that a lack of Wi-Fi is a ‘deal-breaker’ and they will book elsewhere – a statistic that will surely multiply if hotels continue to charge a premium.
Hotels that recognise the customer need for this will not only benefit from additional bookings, they will also have more opportunities to engage with their guests. It is imperative that they understand the digital channels their customers are using and evolve their customer care strategies accordingly, delivering a consistent guest experience both on and offline.
Greater online holiday engagement with customers means brands can communicate through new channels, and also make themselves indispensable to guests through web-based services and support during a stay.