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Rejoice fellow geeks and just plain normal folk everywhere!  I know you’ve been putting free hotel Wi-Fi on your letters to Santa for years and years now, with admittedly mixed results.

Some chains provide free Wi-Fi to higher level members of their loyalty programs.  Others provide free Wi-Fi in some brands but not in others.  Some have rate plans that include or exclude or somehow relate to Wi-Fi.

In many cases, even if you pay, because of how poorly the pay-wall is executed, it forces you to log back in again and again which is annoying in a laptop but downright intolerable in a tablet or phone.

Enough to make guests opt to be on the bad list and just use a cellular connection while all the while hating the experience.

So what just happened?

Twas the night before Christmas, when thro’ all hotel brands
Not a creature was stirring, not even an IT support tech;
The stockings were hung by the concierge desk,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The guests were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of free Wi-Fi danc’d in their heads,

And Mama in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a good drink at the bar —
When out in the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bar to see what was the matter.
Away to the bar’s door I flew like a flash,
Tore through reception and out did I dash.
The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,
Gave the luster of mid-day to objects below;
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a large sleigh, and eight big reindeer,
With a Hyatt exec, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and call’d them by name:
“Now! Dasher, now! Dancer, now! Prancer and Vixen,
“On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Donder and Blitzen;
“To the IT closet! To the back of the night manager’s office!
“Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So though the hotel hallways the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Wi-Fi access points — and St. Nicholas too:
And then in a twinkling, I heard on the marble floor
The prancing and pawing of each reindeer hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the foyer St. Nicholas came with a bound:
He was dress’d all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were bristling with tools and gear;
A bundle of routers was flung on his back,
And he look’d like a peddler just opening his pack:
His eyes — how they twinkled! His dimples: how merry,
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
A bit of electrical tape he held tight in his teeth,
And the coils of wire encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face, and a little round belly
That shook when he laugh’d, like a bowl full of jelly:
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laugh’d when I saw him in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And turned on all the gear; then turn’d with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose
And giving a nod, up the sleigh he rose.
He sprung to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew, like the down of a thistle:
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight —
Free Wi-Fi to all, and to all a good night.

We believe this may be remembered as the moment when hotels finally started ripping off the band-aid  of wireless revenues and abandoned misguided fears of lost revenue in favor of the one thing that has always been true in business:  Delight your customers and their willingness to recommend and willingness to increase spend will rise dramatically.  Annoy them, and the next thing you know they’re trying out Airbnb.

What a concept!  What gall!  Providing a key utility without charging extra when guests pay you $400, which Starbucks has been providing for free when their customers buy a $4 drink or nothing at all…  As Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter might say, “Wisdom too often never comes, and so one ought not to reject it merely because it comes late.”

  • Why we believe this is a win for hotels?  This allows hotels to provide the free utility at no additional cost, while still using Quality Of Service to tease guests into paying more for premium ultra-fast bandwidth:
    • Many guests will use basic Wi-Fi to look at streaming options and then find it irresistible to pay more for higher resolution streaming.
    • Brands can still provide differentiation for members of higher levels in loyalty programs by making premium Wi-Fi available to those.
    • Any hotel that is well provisioned for peak usage will likely not be adversely impacted… and any that are not ready for Wi-Fi peaks shoudl be making those investments anyway.
  • What to look out for?
    • Many legacy Wi-Fi providers are stuck in the dark ages:  making a bold step like this but then turning over quality of service to zombie service companies peddling Wi-Fi bandwidths from 10 years ago is definitely not the way to go.
    • Prepare for media-geddon:  assume your property is at full occupancy and every room is streaming to five devices simultaneously, while your ballrooms are hosting a convention of Youtubers.  If you do the math and you’re fine, congratulations.  If not, time to think about whether your ISP and Wi-Fi provider need to face an open RFP.

Congratulations to Hyatt.  Let us hope that airports and other brands may follow.  You can be quietly assured – whatever you give away for free will surely delight some while prompting others to pay even more for ultra-high bandwidth premium services.  Happy holidays!

Update:

Hyatt has in addition announced that elite members will now enjoy complimentary premium Wi-Fi starting February 14, 2015, just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Hyatt Premium Wi-Fi