Hotel WiFi

Internet access is free at cheap hotels and costly at expensive hotels.  Costly in money or inconvenience.  What I want from hotels is a friction free experience, and mostly that is easier at mid-range hotels like, say, Hampton Inn, than it is at “better” hotels.
Case in point – the Omni Austin.  I stayed there during the Supercomputing 2008 conference, and internet access is $9.99 per day or free for members of the frequent sleepers club. The system intercepts your web access until you log in by entering your frequest guest number or agreeing to the charge.  The user experience is hideous.
Here’s what I wrote to the hotel:

The WiFi service at the Austin downtown is dreadful.
  • Slow, poor reception on 10th floor
  • Horrible signin system – The wifi being slow, but the web pages you go through to log in display very slowly
  • The promise of “returning you to the page you wanted” is a lie, you get sent to the Hotel home page. I do not want to look at your slow home page!
  • Daily login is incredibly annoying. After leaving my laptop on the desk, running, I get back and all of the network services and email have stopped working, due to your wifi cutting me off in the middle of my session.
  • The registration stuff makes it impossible to use my iPhone via wifi, because the login pages are too slow and too complicated and too tiny fonts to work on the small screen.
The design is just wrong anyway, because other net services like email simply fail to work, rather than giving any explanation. Then I have to guess that I have to use the web browser to click through your slow pages before I can read my mail. Personally, I think having paid wifi is counterproductive – much cheaper hotels just have free wifi. The cost to you is negligible, and the annoyance to your customers (me) is just stupid. I would rather stay in a Hampton Inn than an Omni. Instead, you raise your cost structure by having all this registration crap, and irritate the paying guests.
I got a letter back, from Gene McMenamin, General Manager of the Omni Austin Downtown
He offers his sincere apologies and says they are currently upgrading this service “to improve our connectivity to better accommodate the needs of our guests.”
I hope you get it right, Mr McMenamin.  
Let’s go over it, step by step.
  • Internet access is not quite too cheap to meter, but it is close.  ANY impediment to access in the name of cost recovery will reflect negatively on the hotel.
  • People who don’t use web email services, but use POP or IMAP email services, cannot use the network access until they remember that it won’t work until you use the web to click through.
  • Don’t charge or intercept, but if you must, test it yourself to see how fast it is.  A slow set of hard to read pages will just reflect negatively on you.
  • My iPhone will try to use your “free” wifi, but it will fail silently. Even if I try, the signon pages are hopeless on a handheld device.
In contrast, just putting in a free system has many benefits:
  • It is painless for the guests.  Put the hotel name in the wifi ID, leave it at that.
  • It works for all devices
  • It works for all services, web or not
  • It works for business meetings
  • It works for visitors to your coffee shop and bar

Internet access that is really friction free as well as free as in beer, leaves me a happy customer.  What I remember about hotels with bad internet experience is the same as what I remember about restaurants with slow service.  The bad experience has destroyed every other good thing you’ve done.

Why do hotels shoot themselves in the foot like this?
Sometimes it is because they were forward looking, and installed wired internet years ago. All that stuff still isn’t paid for, while hotels who waited just dropped in a few access points. In a way this is the same story as cell phones – the US was early, and as a consequence, we have a junky system by world standards.  These sunk costs are really an accounting problem, but instead of just writing them off, operators are driven by the bean counters to keep bad systems in place until their erroneous estimates of useful life are used up.
Another reason is corporate. The management fell victim to a slick salesman from a wifi accesspoint company, so they signed  a contract for paid service, and they are stuck with it. 
The worst reason is marketing, and I think that is the problem at the Omni. It is $10 a day, which they think is cheap, so they make it free for frequent guests.  Well, it isn’t free, it takes minutes of inconvenience for every user every day, and whose name is on the page they didn’t want?  Why “Omni”! Good going.   At least this is the easiest problem to fix.

One thought on “Hotel WiFi”

  1. Next time rent an aircard. We get tons of people who are fed up with the high rates “full service” hotels charge for internet. What’s more, an aircard can be used out of the hotel (e.g. on your way to and from the airport and even in the airport).

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