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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?
A HotelChatter Exclusive
If you take the Way Back machine to view HotelChatter's first annual Hotel WiFi Report in 2004 you will quickly realize we were merely looking for hotels that offered WiFi in the guest rooms or lobbies, and of course, offered it for free. Back then, WiFi was in its infancy, only a handful of years removed from being invented by the Australians (um, sure) and providing it to hotel guests was cutting edge. Heck, some hotels were still making guests walk down to the basement business centers to get online.
Fast forward to 2012 and pretty much every hotel worldwide has WiFi from the communist confines of Beijing to the hemp hammocks in Costa Rica. Success!
Alas, the problems that we had eight years ago, remain today. It's not always free and it's not always reliable. New problems have popped up too. Guests are getting dinged with internet charges per device (cellphone, tablet, laptop, etc.) because hotel WiFi networks are too antiquated to handle multiple devices per room.
Hotels have also complained that streaming digital media services like Netflix are sucking up precious bandwidth forcing the hotels to invest more money into their networks and (so they claim) to keep on charging guests per day (and per device) for internet access.
But we've got the numbers on how much it costs a hotel to install and maintain a decent network and there's no reason why hotels should be charging us for this service, which is just as important as air conditioning and working toilets, other than it's an easy revenue source.
True, the hotel WiFi landscape is not all doom and gloom. In looking at our 2012 Hotel WiFi infographic, the good definitely outweighs the bad. And in our many conversations with hotel general managers, owners and brand executives, we are hearing that they are hearing us and our calls for free WiFi.
But hotels are still in the business of making money and so while they may cave in and offer "basic internet" options for free like email and surfing the web, they won't tolerate bandwidth hogs.
Thus, we expect more tiered payment plans to be introduced in the very near future and you know what? That's alright with us. But just promise us that those basic options will actually work. Oh yeah, the "working" part of free, working WiFi is still the dream.
Have you logged on in a hotel recently? Let us know your Best and Worst Hotel WiFi Experiences Here.
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Seen at the Novotel Gare du Lyon in Paris
UPDATE: We goofed. Accor Hotels has been providing free WiFi in all their hotels in France since July 1, 2010.
We'd like to think that this latest bit of news from Accor Hotels in France and Marriott Hotels in Australia and Asia had something to do with our Hotel WiFi Report which we released on Tuesday, but never matter, we're just happy that finding free WiFi at these hotels just got a hell of a lot easier.
First up, Accor Hotels has told HotelChatter that
starting since July 1 of 2010, all their hotels (about 1,400 total) in France will offer free WiFi. This includes the brands Hotel F1, Ibis, All Seasons, Mercure Hotels, Novotel Hotels, Pullman Hotels and Sofitel Hotels. They also have plans to roll out free WiFi progressively at their hotels in Europe. Sadly, in America, you will still have to pay at Sofitel hotels.
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**A HotelChatter Exclusive**
Chances are, you are probably reading our seventh annual WiFi Report right now on your iPad. Or your iPhone. Or your Blackberry, Droid, Kindle or Galaxy Tablet, if anyone actually uses those.
Much like cellphones have practically put land lines out of business, mobile devices are fast changing the way we sign onto the web when we’re on the go. And that includes when we're staying in hotels.
While the hardware we carry into hotel rooms is changing seemingly from one month to the next, our demands free and reliable WiFi have not wavered a bit. And as more and more of us start to travel with cellphones, laptops and tablets, the call for free WiFi is more urgent than ever.
Yet hotels around the world, especially those luxury ones, are still charging daily rates of $10 or more for WiFi. Worse, some are even double-dinging us for our mobile devices.
This leaves guests the choice of navigating the always, ever-changing WiFi fees at mid and high-end hotels, or spending the night at budget places just for the internet.
So you better know the lay of the free hotel WiFi land before you book your room. After all, the one thing we can do as loyal, frequent hotel guests is vote "free WiFi" with our credit cards.
Once again, we’ve broken down the Hotel WiFi landscape into Best Hotels, Worst Hotels and the best and worst from the International Hotel Scene. We’ve also added a couple of new sections; picking out the Best and Worst cities for free hotel WiFi, tips on getting secondary devices on for free when the hotel wants you to pay per device, and where to stay in stylin' and free WiFin', to name a few.
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You also know that the more you pay for your hotel room, the less likely your internet connection is to be free. And the repeat offenders who make our naughty list year after year are the luxury brands like the Four Seasons and Ritz-Carltons. But there might be an exception to that crappy rule.
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Picture this: you've just arrived to your room in a luxury European hotel. You're tired, a little sweaty, and your phone is out of battery life. Because of the time difference, you've also got to start working on your computer right away, but you can't locate the electrical outlets. A quick, feverish look around the room don't reveal any and thenlike a lightbulb going on over your headyou have the sudden idea to check the desk drawer, and there they are. A pair of polished-up glimmering outlets, an ethernet port and A/V cable ports are right there at easy reach and out of sight. It's brilliant.
It's what we found in the rooms at the 5-star Breidenbacher Hof, a Capella Hotel in Düsseldorf, Germany, and we've never seen a plug panel so advanced.
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Same old, same old.
Every year without fail Hollywood takes a working vacation to France for the Annual Cannes International Film Festival and every year, hotels in Cannes get besieged by the A-list stars, directors, producers, agents and inevitably some reality TV show stars.
And every year, we watch the festivities with no real emotion as it's the same old dog and pony show every year. Rinse, lather, pull out any Jon Gosselin-types and then repeat in 12 months. Plus, it's not like we can even afford a hotel room there. And if we did, it would probably have been sold out months ago. So unless something major happens this year, we're going to avoid reporting on the scene.
But if you insist on knowing what's going on right now, we'll pick out what we've found to be interesting hotel-wise so far.
Technology is meant to be all about making our lives easier, right? The newly-opened Upper House Hotel in Hong Kong seems to have got this figured out just right.
The hi-tech experience starts from the airport transfer in a (good-for-the-environment) hybrid Lexus car, because this car has got WiFi on board, and it's free for you to use for the whole ride to the hotel, and back. This would sure give us a great first impression, and it sounds like it continues, because the Upper House provides free internet connection (WiFi and wired) throughout all the guest rooms and public areas of the hotel.
When you turn up to stay at the Grand Hotel Wien in Vienna, you'll likely be thinking along the lines of "old elegance" and "grand luxury" rather than "high technology" – but you might be pleasantly surprised.
This grand old dame of a hotel has just got itself hooked up to a WiFi network system which claims to be one of the best. (Well, actually it claims to be the best, but we think that's hard to prove). The NonStop Wireless Networking, a Belden brand, has been installed in 140 different access points within the hotel – we assume that means that most or all of the guest rooms now have WiFi. The system has actually been extended to the hotel across the road, The Ring, which is owned by the same company.
In our neverending quest for finding hotels around the world with sensible WiFi in other words, WiFi that not only works but is also free we were daydreaming this week about vacationing near the beach in Thailand and we came across someone with a similar wish looking for WiFi in Pattaya.
Any beachside town will do, we figure, so Pattaya is an interesting spot for us, and according to the locals there are quite a few hotels with good WiFi. But the one that grabbed our attention is The Venue, a stylish and very gay-friendly hotel near the beach. What grabs us most is this:
The Venue [has] wireless throughout the hotel...very relaxing around the pool doing laptop work.
The Venue is a boutique hotel and the private pool is not huge, but if you're typing away you probably don't want too many people jumping into the pool and splashing you, so we figure it's a great combination. A standard room will cost you just 1,290 Baht ($40) in the low season, or you can splash out on a junior suite, which goes up to 2,390 Baht ($70) a night in high season.
Two things we love: Free Wi-Fi (duh) and a killer view. So naturally we're pretty excited about Barceló Raval, a hotel that opened last fall in Barcelona. Via the New York Times, we hear the hotel proffers 360-degree views from the roof terrace, which just so happens to also boast free Wi-Fi (offered throughout the rest of the hotel too). Um, yes please.
The Barcelo Raval is "meant to help anchor a bold urban revival program in Barcelona's famously seedy Raval neighborhood just west of the famous — and somewhat seedy itself — Rambla de Catalunya," reports the NYT, who also aads that a "bit of urban grit can be a good thing" in "bourgeois Barcelona." The 186-room hotel sits within walking distance of many of the city's attractions.
In an ideal, globally-connected world, all hotels would have free and fast WiFi. This is however not a perfect world, and so traveling across borders with the intention of checking your email or uploading pictures to your Flickr is often a bigger headache that it should be.
Our most recent instance of entering Hotel WiFi Hell occurred during our 3-night stay at the centrally-located and business traveler-happy Marriott Berlin. After enjoying free and freeflowing access at a much cheaper hotel elsewhere in the city for our first few days in Berlin, we were admittedly spoiled. Nonetheless, we found the internet plan at the Marriott too exorbitant for any visitor:
· One hour of access (common areas): € 6.95 ($9.72)
· One hour of access (in room): € 5.95 ($8.32)
· 24 hours: € 19.95 ($27.91)
· One week: € 99.75 ($139.56)
· One month: € 379.05 ($530.33)