To charge or not to charge?

Debate rages on regarding guests' access to the internet

Comment, Hotels

Last month, I lamented the high price guests had to pay for internet in the region’s hotels and highlighted some examples of luxury hotels in Muscat charging high rates for internet as uncovered by Hotelier’s Grassroots mystery shoppers.

Following this, York Brandes, the proactive general manager of The Chedi Muscat in Oman, slashed the price of internet use for outside guests by three quarters (see page 10). This was very impressive – ‘way to go’ York Brandes, as a reader on commented.

However, since then, the hotel IT community has drawn some very important facts to my attention, both during the IT roundtable Hotelier held in Abu Dhabi last month (see page 43) and at the first Hotel Technology Middle East conference held in Dubai.

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Firstly, not only do hotels in this region have a very limited choice of internet providers, they pay exorbitant rates for internet use, according to hotel management and IT professionals alike speaking at the conference.

Secondly, the service that is provided is reportedly not reliable. Working with suppliers to get the necessary bandwidth was a major issue, although the responsibility does not lie solely with the providers — obtaining investment from owners for a sophisticated network was another gripe.

Thirdly, guests’ demand upon internet services is huge, with many people — children being the main culprits — apparently hiding away in their rooms downloading music, videos and entire films.

This then affects the quality of the service for every hotel guest — people like me that simply want to open their inbox and send an email — as the pressure upon properties’ networks grows.

Operators, therefore, are increasingly offering tiered services or two levels of bandwidth, where the minimum is free, but increased bandwidths are charged for.

This seems like a fair compromise to me — and definitely better than hiding the cost of internet in the room rate.

But, sadly, I was informed there is still no guarantee, in the UAE at least, that the paid-for service will be of a quality experienced elsewhere in the world.

So hats off to Jumeirah Group, which has introduced internet for free across the board at its Dubai hotels for this very reason. It appears to be a shrewd and successful move that has seen guest complaints regarding the internet significantly decrease.

But why should hoteliers be put in this position?

E Horner and Associates managing director Ted Horner raised a point worth considering: “Every time I leave this country [the UAE] my mobile phone bill rises by around 300%+. International travellers are noticing this. Has the hotel industry tried to lobby the government to provide more competitive pricing?”

Judging by the heated debate that took over at the conference and this month’s roundtable, I suspect that a savvy IT saviour might do just this.

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