‘Free guest wifi can make your business money’

Accom Management Guide Winter 2013

FREE GUEST WIFI CAN MAKE YOUR BUSINESS MONEY.  SOMEONE HAS TO PAY, SO WHY NOT MAKE IT THE GUEST?   WHAT?!!!  HAVE YOU GONE CRAZY?  I HEAR YOU SCREAM.  YOU’VE BEEN BANGING ON ABOUT FREE GUEST WIFI FOR YEARS AND NOW YOU ARE SAYING CHARGE THE GUEST?…YES, I AM!

I think that we all agree that the universal panacea for happiness for accommodation providers and their guests is free, reliable and capable wifi that doesn’t cost the accommodation provider a fortune to procure and supply, but is easy to use and manage.  64% of hotels overseas offer free wifi.

Free wifi is a necessary evil and as essential as a working shower and something that needs to be procured correctly, with the right solution that is going to meet your business and guests’ requirements now and in future, as technology and your business changes.  You want to be able to take control of your wifi and set parameters around who gets what and when and you want to reap the rewards for this, not a third party that is taking all your profit.

Many accommodation providers are successfully offering free wifi to their guests at a basic level (checking email, surfing the web) by procuring a system that allows them to set parameters and allocate an amount of free data per room per day (eg: 200Mb) that can be accessed by more than one person or device in the room.  If the guest requires more data before their next day’s quota renews there is an option available for the guest to buy more data, by credit card autonomously without reception interaction or at reception when open.

The key here is selling the data at a fee that is desirable.  Gone are the days when guests are forced to buy an hour of internet for $7.95 which is still being offered by some third party Internet Management System suppliers.  Time doesn’t cost you money!  Data does and unfortunately here in Australia our data can be expensive.  By desirable pricing, I mean below the cost of USB dongle recharge prices that Telstra and Optus sell theirs for.   Dongle pricing is expensive and if you price your data correctly guests will buy it if they need more.  500Mb for $5-$7 or 1Gb for $10 – $15.  These price points are achievable for offering additional data to your guests on top of what you are offering them for free.  Don’t limit them to an hour to use data the data they buy from you.  Give them a day or a week if they are buying 2-5Gb of data.

No-one wants to be ripped off and some of the prices being charged for wifi are completely outdated.  I often have accommodation providers say to me ‘why should I have free guest wifi, they (the guest) bring their own.’  I tell them that some bring their own and use it because the wifi you are offering is too expensive.  Most people, particularly business people will carry a USB dongle as a backup if wifi is unavailable or too expensive.  Guests WILL choose to use your free wifi first and then buy more from you if the pricing is desirable.  Drop your price and they will buy.

Data will get cheaper and there will come a time when the amounts you provide for free will need to grow, but you must ensure that you have a guest wifi management system in place to protect your business.

Key points to consider before buying a Guest Wifi/Internet Management System:

  1. Does the system have the ability to manage free and paid guest wifi (or a combination of both) so that the system can move with the changes of technology and with what your business needs now and in the future? You may have guests pay for wifi for the next year and then move to free wifi after that.  Will the system allow you to move or will you have to purchase an upgrade or pay a premium for that service?
  2. Ensure more than one person or device can access wifi with one unique username and password for the room. Families need to be able to access the Internet and having to get 5 user names and passwords for every family member or device is laborious.
  3. Will the system cope with faster bandwidth speeds eg: when the NBN is rolled out – will it be NBN compatible?
  4. Does the system allow you numerous ways of managing guest wifi – eg: vouchers, autonomous free wifi, autonomous purchasing of data via a credit card?
  5. Can you set the pricing of data guests can purchase and can you set the parameters of what data/time/speed of data the guests can access whether free or paid?
  6. Is the system easily and cost effectively scalable? When you start offering free wifi, many guests will start using it therefore, it must be able to cope with numerous concurrent users.  If you have black spots your guests will tell you about them and they will need to be rectified by adding routers/repeaters to the system.

It may take a large capital investment or a monthly leased solution to obtain a reliable and easy to use system.  Do your homework.  Shop around.  Make sure that you compare apples to apples.  Take control of your wifi – it is easy to do with the correct system and it can pay for itself and even make you some money if you choose the correct one.

Postscript from my Autumn 2013 article – Wifi vs Foxtel – Time Out Internet ran a Facebook poll asking “If you had a choice would you choose Free Wifi or Free Pay TV (Foxtel/Austar) when staying at a hotel?”

95.4% wanted free wifi and 4.6% wanted free pay TV (Foxtel/Austar)

Judy Senn Director, Time Out Internet