Charge of the wi-fi brigade

Hotels are losing the battle to make guests pay for internet access. Forget the free breakfast. We want to stay connected — and we don't want to be charged.

Free wi-fi internet access has become the leading factor for Australian travellers in choosing a hotel, according to a survey by Hotels.com.

Just over 40 per cent of Australian leisure travellers and almost half of business travellers say free wi-fi is their must-have when selecting where to stay, ahead of free breakfasts and free parking.

The survey was conducted across 28 countries, with a total of 8600 respondents, and the Australian figures for wi-fi demand were well above the global average.

More than three quarters of Australian respondents believe wi-fi should be provided free in all hotels to allow them to stay connected while travelling.

Many also favour hotels that provide iPads, with a fifth of Australian respondents naming the iPad as their favourite "modern" in-room amenity, used for guest information and room service as well as local guides.

The marketing director of Hotels.com for Australia and New Zealand, Katherine Birch, says breakfast used to be the priority for Australian travellers, but wi-fi has stepped up to become a must-have, rather than a nice-to-have.

Birch says customer feedback, reviews and research show Australian travellers want and expect free wi-fi in hotels, leading more properties to provide it.

"Mobile has become such an integral part of travelling for Australians, who are using mobile devices and apps to book their travel on the go and to stay connected to family and friends," Birch says.

"We're seeing more and more hotels cater for this need and we would expect this to continue."

On a global basis, high-end coffee machines are in most demand as a "modern" amenity in rooms, followed by "totally wired" rooms where everything can be controlled with one remote.

The most-wanted "simple" amenity for Australian travellers is bottled water, with more than half of respondents saying that they appreciate free bottled water above anything else.

Aussie travellers are also thinking of their stomachs, with free breakfast ranking as the number-one non-technology item they want to see as standard in hotels.

Australian travellers rate access to an unlimited supply of food and beverages as their most-missed home comfort when travelling, closely followed by their own bed and their pillow or continental quilt. On a global scale, happy hours, wine tastings and any other free food and drinks are popular, with 42 per cent of all respondents ranking this as their favourite "new" offerings from hotels.

Another way to measure what we value in hotels is to look at the most common rants and raves posted on review websites.

An "online reputation management" agency for the hospitality industry, TrustYou, analysed 1 million randomly selected comments from reviews written by travellers last year in order to find the most commonly mentioned aspects of hotels.

Topping the list of rants were unprofessional or incompetent service, small rooms, expensive or overpriced rooms, bad breakfasts, bad food and dirty rooms.

The raves were much the same in reverse, with good service, location, room standard, food, quality breakfasts and cleanliness topping the list.

Many large hotel chains put a lot of focus on the quality of their beds, but this appears to be a lesser factor for travellers, with the quality of the bed coming in only at number nine for raves and not even mentioned in the rants.

However, online reviews tend to be dominated by leisure travellers, while the bed wars are focused on business travellers needing a good night's sleep.

Personally, one of my biggest hotel rants is pillows that could be used to build a rock wall, but pillows failed to make the top 10 on either side.

Surprisingly, given the results of the Hotels.com survey, the availability and cost of internet access also failed to make the top 10 rants or raves.

Busting the myth that people are more likely to write reviews when they want to complain, TrustYou says the positive comments on review sites outnumber negative ones "by a landslide".

List of demands

Hoteliers receive some strange requests but being asked to buy alpacas for a Middle Eastern royal family is not one that comes up every day.

Gold Coast Tourism has released a list of unusual requests received by five-star hotels and resorts and it makes eyebrow-raising reading.

One visitor wanted the hotel to organise a trip to see Sydney, Melbourne, Alice Springs and the Great Barrier Reef all in one day. Another hotel was asked to organise a private jet to fly the Argentine polo team to Malaysia — with six hours' notice — while one guest booked rooms on separate floors for his wife and girlfriend.

jane@janeefraser.com.au

The story Charge of the wi-fi brigade first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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