Laptop parade

This week I spent some time on an oddly positioned treadmill in a hotel fitness center. Strangely, the room was just off the lobby and the treadmill faced out to the front desk. So I spent my workout watching the comings and goings in the lobby. (Literally!) The parade was diverse: individuals, couples and families walked by the door, many stopping at the front desk to check out. There were grandparents, young couples, busy families and business types. After a while I noticed that with one exception, they all had only one thing in common: a laptop bag.

Surveys show–backed by anecdotal evidence such as my treadmill observation–that free Wi-Fi is the single most important amenity to travelers (both leisure and business), trumping free parking and breakfast. I know I would not even consider traveling without a laptop (except for one unplugged vacation last year) and usually have at least one other device for which I will use Wi-Fi. While business travelers have long behaved in this way, I suspect that it’s only within the last five years that leisure travelers have as well. No matter where we are, or why, connection to elsewhere has become essential.

Travelers have long been perplexed by the pricing contradiction: lower-tier properties tend to offer free Wi-Fi, while higher-end properties charge for use (or charge for faster speeds). A year ago, I would have said this is bound to change: Free Wi-Fi for all! But hotels have just caught on to what airlines have known for a few years: Ancillary fees can have a huge, positive impact on the bottom line. What’s your take? Do you see Wi-Fi becoming so essential to the hotel experience that it will go the way of the bed: free?