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Often times, when we plead our case for free hotel WiFi, we hear that setting up a network or upgrading an existing network is an expensive investment for hotels and in order to recoup the costs, they need to charge guests to use the WiFi.
Now, every hotel is different but there are plenty of hotels out there that have been updating their networks to provide faster speeds and more bandwidth to guests and they still aren't charging for WiFi.
For example, The Hotel ZaZa in Dallas which recently added a new fiber data network throughout the hotel. Hotel president, Benji Homsey, explained the reason for the network upgrade saying:
We designed this network with special attention to the increased presence of Apple iPad, iPhone and Google/Android users in conjunction with the typical laptop usage. We want every Hotel ZaZa guest to have the best, from coverage and access points to best of breed fiber data network to the newly installed bedside power docks in every room.
And the charge to access the internet? It's still totally free.
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We brought you the 2013 WiFi Report last week, and today we're here to tell you which hotels in NYC you can count on for free WiFi. Here are a few of our faves…
Indigo Chelsea: This isn't the kind of place you go for a buzzing lobby scene or super luxe rooms. However, with a super-friendly staff and great midtown location, you can't go wrong. Rates from $293/night.
Ace Hotel: Sure, there's free WiFi. But with all the action going on at this hotel (lobby bar, Breslin restaurant, shops, and basement performance venue), will you actually get any work done? Rates from $289/night.
Andaz Fifth Avenue: Fifth Avenue shoppers will love this WiFi-enabled gem, where you can spend the day hitting up Louis Vuitton and Bergdorf Goodman, and then come home and play with those awesome welcome amenities. Rates from $432/night.
With the release last week of our 2013 Hotel WiFi report along with our subsequent report on hotel network speeds, we were feeling pretty good about the status of hotel WiFi. After all, 64 percent of hotel brands have free WiFi and even when you did have to pay for it, you were at least getting your money's worth (i.e. a $25 resort fee at the Cosmopolitan Las Vegas yielded blazing fast WiFi speeds).
But thanks to this recent article in the NY Times, we're not feeling so upbeat anymore.
The article highlighted the changing nature of in-room entertainment. No longer do guests look for the hotel to supply them with in-room entertainment (TV and movies); guests instead bring their own in the form of laptops, smartphones and tablets loaded with streaming entertainment subscriptions like Hulu and Netflix.
So the next logical step here is strengthening the WiFi networks for guests so they can actually access all their entertainment, right? Not necessarily. First, hotels are going to make you pay for bandwidth to do all of this streaming and then they are going to see where else they can charge you while sitting in a hotel room you already paid for. Here's what stood out for us:
Bandwidth capacity at many Marriott International hotels will need to be increased to support these services, an expense Mr. C. Scott Hansen, [director of guest technology for Marriott International] said would be offset by guests’ purchases of Internet access, commissions paid by services like Netflix for signing up new members and advertising revenue from companies that could use the TV or guest’s laptop or tablet screen for messages.
As we showed you yesterday in our 2013 Hotel WiFi Report, getting free WiFi during your hotel stay is now a reality. Nearly two-thirds of hotels offer free WiFi, whether it be free outright, free if you join the loyalty program or free if you simply make your reservation directly with the hotel.
But as more and more hotels do away with internet charges, we're starting to wonder: how are the hotel internet connections holding up?
We've long railed against hotels that charge for WiFi and then deliver piss poor signals where you have to stand near the door holding your laptop and balancing on one leg to get a signal (if this happens, immediately ask for a refund, and never book with that brand again.)
Yet if you book your hotel because it has free WiFi only to check-in and find that websites are slow to load and you are having trouble downloading or sending email attachments, then what good is that to you? And if the hotel doesn't offer a tiered WiFi plan where you can pay extra to have more bandwidth and a faster speed then really, that hotel touting its free WiFi is completely useless.
Yet until hotels start to standardize their internet offerings, finding good hotel WiFi speed, not just free hotel WiFi, will always be a bit of a crapshoot. We'll be doing our best to document the best and worst hotel speeds but for now (see below), here's what sort of internet activity one can expect to do on a hotel's WiFi network:
On the heels of our 2013 Hotel WiFi Report, we've got some very good news from the upcoming Virgin Hotels. The hip four-star hotels from Sir Richard Branson's Virgin company will be offering not just free WiFi in their hotels but "secure, reliable and fast" WiFi. Glorious!
Here's what Doug Carrillo, Virgin Hotels VP Sales and Marketing told us:
Virgin attracts travelers who like to mix business with pleasure, whether they are checking their inbox during a getaway or checking out new restaurants and local entertainment inbetween business. Like our sister Virgin companies, we at Virgin Hotels will offer guests a distinct and better experience at a great value and product innovations that aren’t bells and whistles but that will result in a productive and enjoyable stay. We already love our guests so much that we plan to give them all the tech amenities they need -- starting with wifi that is secure, reliable, fast, and free.
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Ever since HotelChatter's first annual Hotel WiFi Report in 2004, we've insisted that in-room WiFi was as essential as a working shower or air conditioning and that it needed to be offered free, fast, and reliably.
Hotels often gave us the run-around, blaming the costs of installing WiFi networks, the contracts they signed with the hotel owners or network security. But as more and more travelers book their hotel stays based on free WiFi, hotels have begun to drop their nickel and diming ways.
Today, at least two thirds of hotels have realized that offering free WiFi is in their best interests. Progress! Furthermore, many of these hotels have doubled down to put in reliable, fast WiFi networks for their older hotels, even if it means a big capital investment.
However, the battle cry for free WiFi should not die out just yet. One third of hotels out there are still charging for WiFi, including many luxury brands who charge premium internet fees on top of their pricey room rates. But if the nefarious one third don't start offering free WiFi at a basic level (checking email, surfing the web), potential guests will make a reservation elsewhere.
Even when the WiFi is free, there are still some caveats such as requiring guests to join the hotel's loyalty program, offering it free only in the lobby or having it free for just a limited time (anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours) before a charge is incurred. Furthermore, the WiFi fees can vary wildly from property to property within a hotel brand. These gimmicks are just another reason for guests to join together and demand better standardization for hotel WiFi.
Now, if you are a hotel currently offering excellent free WiFi, congratulations! You have made it to the next round of the games. In this round, which has already begun, guests will come to your hotel armed with multiple devices and expect to use those devices as remote controls for everything. Clearly, the end game in the battle for precious guest dollars is free, reliable and capable WiFi. So, let's see who the top contenders are in here in 2013. Shall we?
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File this under Best News We've Heard All Year. InterContinental Hotels Group has just announced they'll begin offering FREE HOTEL WIFI to all its loyalty program members, regardless of tier status. Previously IHG didn't have any free WiFi exceptions, even for the uppermost members of their program, leaving IHG loyalists to choose from either Hotel Indigo or the Holiday Inn Express brands, which offer WiFi as a standard amenity.
The new perk is part of the massive overhaul IHG is doing to Priority Club Rewards which will soon be known as IHG Rewards Club when changes go into effect this July. And this is for every IHG hotel out there--more than 4,600 hotels in nearly 100 countries and territories.
IHG said the reason they decided to offer free WiFi to members was due to a recent survey they completed which said 43 percent of adults would choose not to stay in a hotel that charged for internet. Um. Yeah. We've been saying that for years. No matter, the change is real and it's happening.*
Starting in July, Elite members of the loyalty program will be the first to get free WiFi. Then beginning in 2014, all members will get free WiFi. The reason for the staggering is not immediately clear but we're gonna hold IHG to this no matter what. No take-backs allowed! Now, who else will copycat, and offer complimentary WiFi for loyalty program members? Starwood? Marriott? Hilton? Hyatt? We're waiting...
Your long-awaited Caribbean vacation may be a time for you to do away with your smartphones, tablets and laptops, but if you're like us and need to stay connected, Sandals Resorts International has you covered.
Sandals and its sister resort brand Beaches (for families) has partnered with Ruckus Wireless to drastically improve their WiFi offerings at all their all-inclusive resorts across the Caribbean. From their press release:
The new SRI Smart Wi-Fi infrastructure is being deployed to deliver high-capacity, high-speed Wi-Fi service across thousands of acres of their resort properties in six Caribbean island nations, including Antigua, the Bahamas, Grenada, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, and the Turks and Caicos Islands. SRI’s newly upgraded Smart Wi-Fi network will now support more than 6,000 guest rooms, and thousands of concurrent users.
Now here's the techie breakdown: More than 1,200 of the latest Ruckus Smart wireless LAN (WLAN) access points (APs), including the new Ruckus ZoneFlex™ 7055 dual-band WiFi wall switch, Ruckus ZoneFlex 7982 indoor and Ruckus ZoneFlex 7782 outdoor 802.11n 3x3:3 stream APs will be deployed across the Sandals and Beaches brands.
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We've had our fair share of Japanese hotel adventures, though we never quite tire of hearing about the country's unique taste in budget accommodations. Starting at around $38/night, these places are ideal if you have little cash to spare but need more than just a washing machine-sized capsule.
RocketNews has put together a handy list of the best amenities offered at Japanese budget hotels, explaining in 26 concise bullet points all the useful little extras that get thrown in, like free internet, free toiletries, free water, hand-written notes from housekeepers, pillow menus, origami souvenirs, and air purifiers. Oh yeah, and high-tech toilets.
Which got us thinking...where in the US can we find similar types of amenities?
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We’ve previously gone so far to say that we coveted the furniture in some of the rooms at Hotel Indigo enough to want it for our own apartment (that was in Shanghai, and public spaces do not disappoint either). So when we had a chance to peek into a room that relatives were staying in at Hotel Indigo Tower Hill London, we were eager to check out if it lived up to our expectations.
On the exterior and the public spaces we can be brief: they’re not particularly inspiring. Architecturally, the hotel is nothing to write home about, and the small lobby with its red-granite tiles feels a little clinical. A single elevator serves the 6 floors, which only have a total of 46 rooms.
It looks like we're inching ever closer to the dream of free WiFi everywhere around the world, as Accor just announced it would be making the service free at 500 of its hotels. Now, this is both exciting and also not that big of a deal, since plenty of Accor hotels have already been doing this for a while now, and there's plenty more Accors to go.
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There's even more hotel news flying around this week and we don't have time to give each and every story the love and attention it may deserve, so you will have to settle for some news briefs.
· Hotels to Rake in $2 Billion in Fees: The next time you find yourself shelling out money for WiFi or to use the fitness center access during your hotel stay, remember, it's ok to be really pissed off about it. That's because hotels are set to take in about $2 billion in fees this year. That's up 5.4 percent from last year, according to the Tisch Center at New York University. While the annual take-in from fees isn't expected to keep growing, that's still a crazy high number. All the more reason to raise a fuss if that WiFi connection shorts out. Grrr.
· Seriously Sick at The JW Marriott Chicago: The new-ish JW Marriott Chicago is under investigation as a total of seven people who stayed at the hotel this summer have contracted the sometimes deadly Legionnaires’ disease which is found in water. The Chicago Tribune reports that the hotel has drained its pool, hot tub and fountain and even closed part of its spa. We're guessing that chlorine-free pool might not have been such a good idea after all. While the city's health department said there is "no ongoing health risk at the hotel", the JW Marriott is still working to alert the 8,500 guests who stayed at the hotel between July 16 and Aug. 15. Ugh. UPDATE: Two people have died from the outbreak.