Ask a group of luxury leisure travelers or entrepreneurs what there biggest pet peeve is with luxury hotels and a majority will spit out one thing without having to think about it: getting charged for wireless Internet access. Yet like airlines that know they’re pissing off their customers with fuel surcharges and baggage fees, the big luxury chains keep at it anyway because they’re addicted to the additional revenue. Corporate travelers pay it without blinking because it’s not their money—the company is covering it. So in hotels with lots of business travelers, the hotel chains figure the aggravation to some is less painful than giving up the revenue from others.
HotelChatter just put out its annual hotel Wi-fi report and it’s still uglier than one would expect at the high end chains. Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental, and Ritz-Carlton are still charging a fee universally. In some of the markets we cover, that would seem to put them at a clear disadvantage. While Four Seasons Mexico City and the Starwood chain St. Regis hit up every customer for Internet access, Las Alcobas , Habita, and Condesa df do not. The Ritz-Carlton Santiago makes you pay extra to check your e-mail. The Aubrey does not.
And if lovely Casitas del Colca in Peru can include Internet access in the rates, even though they rely on a satellite signal, surely those hooked into city cables can manage. It’s included in the rates at some of the best hotels in Latin America, like Banyan Tree Mayakoba in Mexico, Turtle Inn Belize, Faena Hotel + Universe in Argentina, and Cliffs Preserve in Chile. Even Royal Palm Hotel on the Galapagos Islands includes it in the rates.
As these examples show, the hotels in Latin America are way ahead of the pack in treating Internet access the way it should be treated—like hot water. It’s an essential part of our life now, for better or worse, so treating Wi-fi as some kind of special amenity is just ridiculous. Installing and maintaining a system is a cost of doing business, the same as supplying air conditioning or new flat-screen TVs. If Red Roof Inn and La Quinta can manage to make it work cost-wise, surely the Four Seasons can.
It’s time for them to free the signal and stop acting like it’s 1999. If you agree, look beyond the international chains and try an independent or domestic chain hotel. As the examples above show, they’re more likely to be run by service-oriented managers rather than hamstrung drones answering to bean counters a continent away.