Fix the Wi-Fi – The Rally Cry for Better Hotel Internet

Hotel Wi-Fi has become a flash point with business travelers (and all guests, really). It’s expected to be free and it’s expected to work. The fact that this so often is not the case is puzzling…and frustrating.

Marketing guru and entrepreneur Seth Godin posted this insight on his blog today, likening a hotel’s offerings to a buffet. A number of features—comfortable bed, quiet room, hot water, fluffy towels, Internet—are included in the room rate, an all-you-can-consume price. Godin explains:

So, the hotel that says, “With this sort of volume… we do tend to encounter a slower pace with our free wireless internet,” has completely misunderstood how to think about the free internet they offer. It’s not free. In fact, it might be the one and only reason someone picked your $400 hotel room over that hotel down the street. Sure the hot water and the towels and the quiet room are all free in the sense that they’re included in the price, but no, they’re not free in the mind of the purchaser.

The more done right, the greater the chance of a satisfied guest, repeat business and social buzz.

Guests do care about good Wi-Fi and don’t want to pay extra for it. They care a great deal. In fact, it’s consistently ranked as the number one desire of business travelers. I believe hotels are starting to “get it” but must now solve their infrastructure issues to provide this. Offering good Wi-Fi in a hotel room, like offering a comfortable bed, has become a cost of doing business.

When I checked out of a hotel with my family recently, I noticed the hotel’s feedback card had been filled out, apparently by my son. It said simply, “Fix the Internet.” Even kids know that the Internet—even when “free”—should work.

How – and Why – to Choose a “Fast” Hotel

Travel tip: When speed matters, choose a hotel with self-service, convenient parking and quick breakfast options. Even if it means sacrificing a star.

I read Tyler Cowen’s blog post called “If they designed a hotel room just to please me” with interest. (I came across it via View from the Wing and Gary Leff’s hotel-room essentials list.) It got me thinking about how I increasingly value hotels that get me in and out quickly. And often these are not the most luxurious hotels.  No matter, since I’m not spending much time in the room, and as long as I can work and sleep adequately, that’s good enough.

Efficiency means, as Cowen pointed out, as little service as possible. At least as little of the human kind as possible. I want to carry my own bags. I don’t want to be interrupted or disturbed in my room. This is not old-fashioned five-star service, but it’s what’s important on many work trips.

It also means that in addition to choosing a hotel based on location, I think about parking. If I’m renting a car, valet parking can be a huge time suck. Someone told me recently that he loves Holiday Inn Express (and this was a five-star property kind of person) because he wants to park his car by his room so he can get to his first meeting of the day quickly.

Breakfast can be another time suck. The advantage to the free hotel breakfast is that it’s fast (because it’s certainly not the quality of the food), but club floor lounges accomplish the same thing with good food [usually]. For me, even better is the increasingly common to-go market in the lobby where I can pick up a piece of fruit and some cereal on my way back up to my room after a run.

Yes, there’s a place for slow in travel. But rarely when you’re on a business trip. When time is of the essence, choosing a hotel that gets you in and out fast can make a big difference in a trip’s success.

Are there other hotel attributes you like that speed you on your way?

Hotel Solution: One Way to Get a Better Night’s Sleep

Travel tip: There’s a simple tool in your hotel room that will close up that irritating gap between the drapes.

Have you ever noticed that hotel room drapes seem universally unwilling to close fully, so that there almost always is a gap between each side. That’s not the end of the world…until you’re trying to sleep in and the sun pours through. Good morning! Not.

The ever-resourceful Carol Margolis, author of Business Travel Success and the Smart Women Travelers blog, gave me this ingenious tip: Use one of the clip-style hangers from the closet to “clothes pin” together the drapes before you go to sleep. Problem solved.

Phone Charger Panic

Tip: When you forget your charger, borrow one from the hotel lost and found.

Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of interviewing Anthony Melchiorre, whose Travel Channel TV show Hotel Impossible kicks off its fourth season in January. He mentioned that one of his favorite hotel tips is this: When you’ve forgotten a device charger, ask the hotel if they have one in their lost and found. I had already been well aware of this trick, but something happened later that day to broaden its value.

I met colleagues for an after-work drink in New York’s Algonquin Hotel lobby bar (where coincidentally, Melchiorre was once general manager). One friend was in a panic because her train ticket home was on her iPhone app, yet the phone’s battery was dead. With Anthony’s tip top-of-mind, we flagged down the maitre d’. Several minutes later he delivered an iPhone charger. A happy ending: One glass of wine later, the phone was recharged, the train ticket was restored and we all went on our merry ways.

Hotels these days have a plethora of left-behind devices, cables and chargers. See if you can hook into their storehouse before you panic when you leave yours behind. And the lesson I learned from this episode is that you don’t need to be a guest of a hotel: The lost-and-found stash holds true for bars and restaurants, too, especially in hotels.

The High Stakes of Personalized Service

Imagine checking into your hotel room to find a beautiful pot of your favorite green tea, with a note from the general manager. It’s perfectly tailored for you: Your afternoon ritual is to take a break with tea, and you are delighted to find it waiting for you in your room.

At a meeting I recently attended, a travel company explained they were rolling out a loyalty program that asked customers for a wide array of their preferences, right down to the magazines they liked and type of wine. The plan was to surprise and delight—those traditional service goals. They would, from time to time, surprise their most valued customers with the magazine or wine or any of the other lifestyle preferences they had specified.

Technology and big data allow travel companies to personalize customer experience in ways never before possible. But that comes with risks.

The industry professionals who were at the meeting all agreed: “Great idea! That would be cool!” Yet every positive comment was followed by, “But you’d better be able to deliver.” Because the opposite of “surprise and delight” is “disappoint and alienate.” If customers come to expect a personal touch and if it’s not there or (even worse!) it’s In Style instead of Sports Illustrated, you’ve just blown it big time.

Expectations of personalization have risen dramatically. It’s what we all want as customers: to be recognized, to be treated as special and to get just what we want. As this tailored experience becomes more and more possible—even common—our expectations are so high that when they’re not met, our opinion of the company can drop even farther.

As a traveler, I am probably more forgiving than most. I know it’s almost impossible for airlines and hotels to get it right every single time. At the same time, I do notice that I have raised the bar higher than ever. Truth is, I like green tea and not black, and I will be more disappointed with black tea than none all. Be careful out there. Good intentions can only carry a loyalty program so far.