In today's modern techno age, many of us are connected to the internet no matter where we are. At home, at work, on public transport, at restaurants - rightly or wrongly we are often connected on our mobile devices or computers all our waking hours. Naturally, when we stay in a hotel, we expect to be able to connect to the internet quickly and easily - and for free - but not all hotels offer complimentary WiFi access to their guests and this is becoming an increasingly important factor when choosing where to stay for either business or leisure.
When WiFi access is free at McDonalds and Starbucks, where the average spend would be well under $20 per person, I find it hard to believe that hotels aren't offering the same to their guests who are spending considerably more.
Hotel owners might believe that by offering free internet access in their lobby, either via WiFi or on a computer they have provided, that this is sufficient. I don't agree! Travellers like the privacy of being able to access the World Wide Web from the comfort of their room without the pressure of time limits or a queue of other hotel guests breathing down their neck waiting to use the computer. When travelling, I regularly call home using Skype and a hotel lobby is not the place for a Skype call and neither is the nearest Maccas or Starbucks.
In my travels through Europe I have stayed at many hotels and other styles of accommodation with varying internet charges. Annoyingly, the 'brand name' hotels tend to charge more for WiFi access than the smaller (often family-owned) establishments. In the UK this year, I paid GBP14.95 for 24 hours at the Hilton Bath City and GBP10/24 hours at the Parc Hotel by Thistle in Cardiff, yet at all the B&B's and 3* hotels I stayed in, WiFi access was free. Switzerland is one of the most expensive countries I've come across for internet usage - CHF30 for 24 hours at the Marriott in Zurich and CHF25 per day at the Hotel de la Paix in Lucerne are fairly standard (but ridiculously expensive) rates.
Yet on my 2011 visit to Finland and Norway, two countries renowned as being expensive, I was pleasantly surprised that each of the four hotels I stayed in offered free WiFi, something that, in this day and age, really should be the norm.
Internet fees are definitely something I will take into consideration when booking accommodation in the future and it seems I'm not alone. According to a global online survey conducted by InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG), 43% of adults would choose not to stay in a hotel that charges for interest access (source: travelBulletin, October 2013).
It's interesting to note that some of the newer member countries of the European Union have embraced free WiFi much faster than their neighbours, with more than 80% of hotels in Turkey and Poland offering free WiFi, way ahead of a measly 53% in Italy.
% of hotels offering free WiFi in Europe (source HRS, April 2013 - published in businesstraveller.com, June 2013)
1. Turkey 84.7%
2. Sweden 82.3%
3. Poland 80.5%
4. Netherlands 77.4%
5. Norway 75.3%
6. Belgium 74.6%
7. Denmark 74.4%
8. Czech Republic 73.9%
9. Russia 71.6%
10. Finland 67.2%
11. Hungary 66.4%
12. Germany 66.36%
13. Austria 63.5%
14. Great Britain 62.6%
15. Switzerland 61.8%
16. France 57.7%
17. Spain 56.8%
18. Greece 55.2%
19. Italy 53 %
20. Portugal 43.7%
Update: On my 2015 European trip, all accommodation I stayed at included free WiFi. The accommodation was a mix of apartments, hotels and B&Bs and having WiFi included was one of the criteria I used when choosing where I would stay. Some places had slow connections, but at least it was free.
Would the availability of free WiFi influence your decision when it comes to booking a hotel? What's the most you have paid for internet usage at a hotel or other accommodation?