Is Free Wi-Fi a Worthwhile Marketing Tool?

The hotel group Tsogo Sun won some positive publicity this week with the news that it is to offer free Wi-Fi to guests. But will this be a draw card? Would you stay in a particular hotel or hotel group, or visit a particular coffee shop or cafe chain to benefit from a free Wi-Fi connection?

Expert Comment:

Tsogo Sun CEO Graham Wood had this to say:

Wifi is becoming an increasingly important choice in local and international travellers consideration of which hotel to stay in. High speed connectivity is of absolute paramount importance, which is why we at Tsogo Sun have invested in the latest technology to ensure a consistent and reliable high speed WIFI service. In time Wifi will become a commodity such as soap or shampoo in a room!!!!

Jeremy Sampson from Interbrand Sampson:

Tsogo Sun’s offer of free Wi-Fi is to be welcomed. For some time, where Wi-Fi is charged for, it has been seen as onerous, even a bit of a con. In many parts of the world, as costs come down, it is now offered for free. The UK for the most part is a glaring exception. Will it change my booking habit? If I am on the road travelling it certainly becomes a factor. The other question is: how will the competition respond?

Duane Newman from Cova Advisory:

I have stayed at various Tsogo Sun hotels and the recent offering of free Wi-Fi is a move in the right direction. I believe all hotels need to offer this. It initially was a differentiator; now it is expected by customers. If you don’t offer it, I believe it irritates customers and could result in you losing customers. I recently installed it in my wife’s coffee shop to offer convenience to clients, especially business people who use the shop as a temporary office. We did take a while to offer the service as it does increase the fixed cost base of the coffee shop, but it was a worthwhile investment – in upgrading the IT infrastructure, and the increased monthly fee. While there are conditions to using the free Wi-Fi and it is secure through the use of codes which are only valid for an hour, it does ensure the coffee shop does not lose customers. I am not convinced it results in new customers.

Mike Ratcliffe from Warwick and Vilafonte Wine Estates:

In this interconnected age, access to the Internet is a key criteria for travellers as they all require connectivity. While Internet provision does not come free, it is as important as good food and a comfortable bed. The above is especially true in Africa given its low Internet connectivity rates and the high price of broadband and mobile Internet. The Tsogo Sun move is consistent with international trends. The key question is whether they will be able to harvest the valuable data that this opportunity presents.

Duncan McLeod from TechCentral:

Yes. I work on the road a lot and I definitely go to places like Mugg & Bean where I can find an AlwaysOn Wi-Fi connection. So, yes, Wi-Fi availability plays a big role in my movements. I’m less sure I’d pick a local hotel based on Wi-Fi, though it’s always nice to have it. If it’s not available, I default to using my 3G wireless hotspot device.

Chris Gilmour from Absa Investments:

Absolutely! In a country where internet access is poor, unreliable and outrageously expensive, many people are attracted to free Wi-Fi in a variety of areas in order to supplement their meagre and expensive allowances from internet access providers. So, for example, any hotel that doesn’t offer free Wi-Fi to its guests is operating at a distinct disadvantage. It has become the international norm, even if it is only offered in the public areas rather than throughout the entire property, or if it is capped either in time or by usage. Coffee shops such as Thyme on Nicol, for example, offer 2hrs or 200Mb of data per day to their patrons. Virgin Active offers something similar in its health clubs. Airport lounges also offer free Wi-Fi. These types of offering are especially useful to people who are grabbing a quick bite, chilling after a workout or catching up en-route to a new destination. Mango Airlines apparently offers free Wi-Fi in its aircraft and that should be a big draw card, relieving the monotony of flying

Malcolm MacDonald from Tersos:

Our South African Wi-Fi providers have taught me up to now not to rely on Wi-Fi, so I have invested in cellular data bundles. I am a member of two Wi-Fi services that give free roaming access at many Wi-Fi hotspots. The problem is that the bandwidth available behind those Wi-Fi connections is often so slow, that using my mobile phone is faster – especially since the advent of LTE. I have used a few restaurants’ internet access, and it was adequate to update my Flipboard articles while having lunch, but I had to go to the front desk to get a logon key. The standard amount of free internet bandwidth that hotels offer is neither fast enough nor large enough to stream a movie or TV show – only enough to check some emails. I cannot understand why a hotel charging R1500+ per night cannot do better than 50MB free internet access.

Lavan Gopaul from 28e:

A Wi-Fi offering has become commonplace in recent times. We take it for granted that any establishment will offer connectivity and expect a generous download allocation. Google has recently provided free Wi-Fi and generous download capacity to a few blocks in Manhattan as a test case. This is a pre-cursor to a major US roll-out of a similar offering. Today’s Tsogo Sun Wi-Fi showboating is already becoming a minimum standard worldwide.

Conclusion:

In this age where phones, tablets and computers are all hungry for data usage, it is a welcome development to receive free Wi-Fi. I am writing this from the gym where – you guessed it – my Wi-Fi consumption is more consistent than my work outs.

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john loos (@john_loos): "If you’re going through Hell, keep going." Winston Churchill

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