The gap in most hotels internet marketing strategy is especially strange given that the travel industry was one of the first sectors to be significantly impacted by the digital revolution, with consumers quickly adopting digital channels to research and book holidays. From airlines to hotels, travel agents to attractions, everyone in the tourism industry needed to develop a digital strategy and adjust to the evolving media habits of consumers. Whilst the implementation of digital strategy in most travel spaces is still somewhat patchy, nearly all tourism and hospitality providers have stepped up to the plate and provided some level of digital engagement. Most hotels internet marketing strategies allow potential guests to research online, preview the features of their rooms, book via their websites, use comparison sites to secure the best deal and even diligently manage feedback on ratings sites like Trip Advisor. These strategies are generally based on good, solid research about their guests and their digital habits – how often they go online, their usage of different digital devices, how they use social media and how often they spend online. However, there seems to be a massive blind spot in the hotels internet marketing strategies when it comes to provision of access to the Internet during their stay. It would seem that marketing teams are not passing on their insight into their guest’s digital addiction to the management team of the hotel, and in most cases, the hotel response to the needs of their internet addicted guests is extremely poor. Before we look at how the hotels’ internet marketing strategy has a vital piece missing, let’s first examine the mindset and digital engagement of the average traveller.
Extortionate Roaming Charges
For most people travelling overseas, the option of using your mobile phone as an internet access device is just not an option. With the telcos stuck in the dark ages when it comes to roaming charges, even if you’re travelling on business, DIY hotspot just isn’t really a viable option. With stories of people being slammed with roaming charges in the thousands, even businesses are clamping down on staff using 3G in foreign countries.
Highest level of need
On the other hand, when we’re travelling we’re most likely to need access to that hosepipe of knowledge. When you’re travelling on business, the internet is your connection with the world – from picking up email, finding somewhere good to eat, skyping home to say goodnight to the kids, using Google Maps to find out where on earth the next meeting is, or even finally streaming the final episode of your favourite TV series you never get time at home to watch, our demand for internet has never been higher. And ironically, if you’re travelling with your family, it’s likely to be as high. With a couple of electronic babysitters (iPads) along to keep the kids happy and give mom and dad a lie in, and the need to Facebook / Instagram how much fun you’re having to the world, we’ll take all the bandwidth we can get.
Access to free wifi
At the same time as we have this driving need, most consumers have a pathological hatred of paying for access, stemming from our belief that the internet and everything on it, content included, should be free. This mindset is driving us into the arms of anyone promising a quick fix of free connectivity. Whilst recently in New Zealand, travel booking companies were promising free wifi at their office if you booked with them, Starbucks promise half an hour free access if you manage to stomach their coffee and even tourist attractions like the gondola and ski lodges actively promote the availability of free wifi in their remote locations. When I was in France, we were desperate for wifi, and joined the row of backpackers all sitting on the step outside the closed McDonald’s at 10pm at night, tapping into the open hotspot.
The opportunity for hotels
So given this massive demand and almost primal need of people to get connected, you’d think that a core pillar of a hotel’s internet marketing strategy would be how to take advantage of this insatiable desire of its guests. In almost all cases, this doesn’t seem to be the case, and hotels actively frustrate, annoy and drive away their guests with a variety of frustrating approaches.
The quick buck / mini bar approach
Knowing that they have a captive audience, some hotels use internet access as a way of boosting profits. They implement a charging system that extorts relatively small amounts of money but this has a highly detrimental impact on guests. I pay $80 a month for a really good internet connection, or around 0.000002c a minute, and yet when I stay at a hotel, they feel it is reasonable to charge up to $10 for an hour’s access. When compared with the $250 room fee, this is a tiny amount, but the level of aggravation and frustration it causes must far outweigh any profits that roll in as a result. I now actively avoid certain hotels and groups due to their internet pricing policies – not because I can’t afford to pay, but simply because the extortion rankles even more than paying $5 for a $2.50 chocolate bar.
The free but rubbish approach
When we booked accommodation recently, a significant criteria was internet access, and the choice between our final two options was made on the basis of it having internet access as part of the price. However, whilst they did indeed have internet available to their guests, it was so poorly set up and configured that it was almost worst than useless. Patchy, erratic, and with speeds that reminded me of dial-up days at any time in the evening when people were in the hotel, it was a source of significant frustration, both for me and my kids, dying to stream the latest episode of their favourite shows.
Good, free Internet access as part of a hotels internet marketing strategy
With fast, affordable Internet being more and more of a requirement for travellers, there is ironically still a real opportunity to make this relatively cheap service a differentiator as part of your hotels internet marketing strategy. At the cost of two or three bed-nights a month and a small investment in decent infrastructure and training, boasting about decent internet access that is as standard as the room kettle and the Bible is likely to drive significant preference from online bookers. Along with decent access comes the opportunity to collect data, cross sell services and keep people on-site to partake in food-and-beverage options. Why drink Starbucks to check your mail, when you can do it all without leaving our lounge? Want room-service? Send us an email or order online and it’ll arrive in a jiffy. By recognising and catering to the fact that most hotel guests have as many digital needs when they arrive as when they book, this can significantly enhance a hotels internet marketing strategy, integrate their guest experience and drive up their revenue per guest at the same time.