Loews Hotels and Resorts is now offering free Wi-Fi to all guests in their rooms, bucking the industry norm of charging for it, especially at higher-end properties.
The New York-based luxury hotel chain says every guest room at each of its 18 properties throughout North America will now be equipped with complimentary wireless Internet access.
“We look at it as a service our guests at Loews expect because they are getting it at home,” says Paul Whetsell, president and CEO of Loews. “I don’t think it’s sustainable to keep charging for it.”
Loews properties had been charging from $14.99 to $20 a day for Wi-Fi, depending on the market. Most of their lobbies had complimentary Wi-Fi. Now all of them will in addition to the guest room Internet.
Those guests who use an excessive amount of bandwidth will still incur a charge, however.
Several studies have shown that free Wi-Fi is one of the most coveted amenities among hotel guests. In a Hotels.com survey of 8,600 travelers worldwide, just 11% said they would be willing to pay for Wi-Fi when staying in a hotel.
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Yet the hotel industry has been slow to offer it as an amenity, particularly at the luxury level.
“It’s been a revenue source and when something new comes out, typically you have the ability to charge something for that,” Whetsell says. “As time goes on and that service or amenity becomes more standard in the guest ‘s mind and it is expected, then it becomes more difficult to do that.”
There are signs that the industry is headed toward easing up on its practice of charging for Wi-Fi.
This year, InterContinental Hotels Group will begin offering free Internet to its Rewards Club members. IHG, parent company of Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza, is the largest hotel chain based on room numbers and has 71 million Rewards Club members worldwide.
Last year, Marriott Hotels & Resorts starting giving patrons free Wi-Fi access in the lobbies of its nearly 500 hotels.
Chekitan Dev, marketing professor at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and author of Hospitality Branding, says there’s a huge payoff for hotels who give Internet access for free because it attracts new and repeat customers.
“Free internet access for hotel guests has now become as basic and critical a need as electricity and water,” he says. “Hotels that offer free internet access will steal market share from those that don’t and come out ahead in the long term.”
Bruce Ford, a senior vice president at industry research firm Lodging Econometrics, says he expects more hotels to begin offering free Wi-Fi, but that they will probably create another fee to do more streaming and use more bandwidth.
“The cost of Wi-Fi in the hotel continues to rise, and there has to be some sort of revenue stream attached to it to be able to handle all of our electronic devices in a hotel,” he says.
Courtesy of USA Today