Hotel wifi

The summer is good for catching up with old friends and this year has been no different. Oddly, I’ve heard from two former journo colleagues both complaining about the same thing – hotel wifi charges.

Everyone, it seems, has a “you won’t believe this” story about hotels and the way they charge for wireless internet access.

Peter Nowak, formerly a New Zealand Herald tech journalist and now safely back home in the winterless north (Canada) has a nice blog post about the costs of wifi around the world (avoid Australia, he suggests) and points out that fast internet access competes with the hotel’s own revenue stream from phone calls, movies and of course every politician’s nightmare, the porn channel (hint to all MPs: if you knew more about the internet you wouldn’t have this kind of problem).

That’s fine, in so far as it goes, but the damage such exorbitant costs incur on the tourism industry are large and growing. Tourists these days don’t plan a six-week jaunt down to the minutest detail – instead, they travel point-to-point, planning as they go. Hit a rough patch with no realistic internet pricing and word will get around: avoid.

My second catch-up, with a man who wishes to remain anonymous, includes a list of Six Things You Should Never Do At a Hotel:

·         Buy wifi

·         Make phone calls using the room phone

·         Buy anything from the minibar

·         Watch pay-per-view TV (even the non R18 stuff)

·         Exchange currency.

And I fear he’s quite right. It’s all part of the round of “nickel and diming” that goes on at hotels, and it leaves visitors with a nasty taste in their mouths I suspect.

So how do we fare locally? I don’t stay in hotels often enough to claim to be a connoisseur of hotel internet connectivity, but if my experience at conference venues is anything to go by, New Zealand still has a long way to go.

My mystery contact was charged $5.10 (why not just $5?) for half an hour’s internet access at one location, and was so incensed by the pricing at another that he went to the local café where the “free wifi” was so well shielded by process and security (an eight-digit password but they handed out ten-digit numbers on slips of paper) that he gave up entirely.

“I got internet access in one hotel by sitting in the lobby, which is bad enough, but when you have to buy access in two hourly blocks, it’s contiguous time. You can’t spend 20 minutes in the morning then come back in the afternoon to use the rest, you have to buy another two hours’ worth. It’s a rort,” he rants.

It’s nowhere near as bad as Australia though, and I can add my own worst tale – a hotel that billed itself as a “business hub” and offered wifi in the rooms. Great – I’ll take that, I said. Great, they said – here’s your wifi cable.

Erm. Wifi doesn’t need cables, said I, to much confusion. Apparently nobody else had ever complained. I suspect the owner thought “wifi” was a new marketing term for broadband.

Peter points to a lovely website that lets you rate your hotel’s wifi speed. There are no New Zealand entries so next time you’re travelling, why not test it out and we’ll build up a picture of the New Zealand hotel scene and we can compare notes.

On the plus side, the mobile phone companies are now fighting for your dollar, so you can get decent rates for mobile broadband ranging from casual use right up to 2Degrees’ fabulous 12GB for $99 that lasts for up to six months. If the phone world has taught me anything, it’s that customers like simple pricing that doesn’t involve being stung with extra charges all the time. The phone companies are slowly learning that – it’s time the tourist industry followed suit.