Free Wi-Fi for travellers is a concept whose time has come. The idea of a hotel charging for Wi-Fi may soon become as quaint, outdated and unacceptable as a restaurant charging for tap water.
Even as free Wi-Fi spreads, pockets of stubborn resistance hold out. Some hotels and airports continue to defy the tide, hoping to gouge an extra few bucks by charging for internet. Their stance just gives their competitors with free Wi-Fi a competitive advantage.
In many countries – Taiwan springs to mind – the idea of a quality hotel charging for Wi-Fi is unthinkable. In most countries, many major hotels already provide free Wi-Fi. Patronise those!
Airlines are looking into the subject – Emirates has pledged to make Wi-Fi free as soon as it resolves the technical issues, and Eurostar, the under-the-Channel train service connecting Britain with continental Europe, is about to make Wi-Fi free as well.
Even on cruise ships, Wi-Fi is becoming more competitive. Once one big cruise line provides it free, others will follow.
On land sea and air, here’s how the campaign is going so far:
Eurostar has unveiled its e320 train, scheduled to enter commercial service at the end of next year.
Recognising the importance of connectivity for passengers, the Eurostar fleet will have free Wi-Fi throughout the train. Customers will be able to email, chat and tweet during their journey. Quite right.
The new Wi-Fi portal offers live news feeds, weather reports and destination guides.
Each seat on the new e320 will have power points and a USB socket. Eurostar serves a range of destinations, including Paris, Brussels and Lille, and other areas of the French Alps, Swiss Alps and Geneva.
In May 2015, a new year-round direct service to Provence is commencing. The service will stop in Lyon, Avignon and Marseille.
At the end of 2016, travellers can look forward to a direct route to Amsterdam with stops in Antwerp, Rotterdam and Schiphol.
According to Toronto businessman Jeremy Gutsche, the airline is gouging passengers who connect their devices for work or just to pass the time. Gutsche claimed that 155 page views (mostly to his email) and a file upload cost him US$1200 while flying between London and Singapore.
Gutsche bought a US$30 internet package and was shocked to find he had blown through its ceiling to the tune of well over US$1000. He published the details on his blog.
Breathe easy, change in the skies is on the way. Emirates Airline president, Tim Clark, expects onboard Wi-Fi to become a free service. According to Clark, the demand for onboard connectivity will continue to increase as more passengers embrace an ‘always-on’ digital lifestyle.
Emirates Airline views Wi-Fi as a service and a value-added part of their overall product rather than a revenue stream. The company is working to address technical limitations, such as speed, bandwidth availability and cost.
A survey conducted earlier this year by Britain’s large Thistle Hotels group has revealed that lack of free Wi-Fi in hotels is high on the list of complaints among holidaymakers.
According to the survey, 51% of hotel guests said that free Wi-Fi is crucial when choosing a hotel. Free Wi-Fi ranked higher than a hotel having a swimming pool or being close to a city’s major sites and attractions.
According to a Thistle Hotels spokesman, hotel guests are frustrated with hotels that charge for Internet access. Some hotels charge as much as US$30 a day while others sting customers up to US$10 an hour.
69% said the most common gripe was rude and unfriendly staff while checking in to find your room is not ready came second and no free Wi-Fi was third.
According to Toni Repetti, a hotel management professor, luxury hotels charge for Wi-Fi access because they know their customers can afford to pay. He also said the reason many budget hotels provided free Wi-Fi is because those guests are more price-sensitive. They have to make it free to stay competitive.
Cruise operators tend to charge low upfront fares and boost their profits with onboard sales of goods and services.
Wi-Fi is a significant onboard sale so they are reluctant to give it up. Wi-Fi prices on the high seas are falling, though they still tend to be pretty pricey.
Royal Caribbean’s Pay As You Go rate is 0.65 cents, equating to US$39 per hour, which is US$8.40 per hour cheaper than Celebrity Cruises at 0.79.
Mega-liner Quantum of the Seas is said to be offering a basic one-week internet package for US$150.
A package that enables streaming will cost US$160 and the premium-plus package for passengers who require the fastest speeds will cost US$280.
That’s hardly free – but the fact remains that internet afloat is getting cheaper. Prices for it used to be astronomical. Now they are just very steep.
Back ashore, free Wi-Fi is spreading. It’s up to consumers to keep up the pressure and help it stay that way.
Take heart, the Wi-Fi tide is turning. As the old saying goes, you don’t have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing.