Do Hotels Rip Us Off for Wi-Fi?

I was not happy during a recent visit to the Hilton in Sandton.  I was there for a presentation but also wanted to do some work so went to the Business Centre desk to get the Wi-Fi password.   I was told it was 130. But couldn’t log on.   So I went back to discover that the password was for sale – at R130.  I naturally declined and logged on through my Vodacom dongle.  Am I unreasonable to expect that free Wi-Fi should be available pretty widely these days?   Especially in a hotel, to delegates at an event that is being hosted there?  Here are a few comments from a few of our experts: 

Alan Knott-Craig of PROJECT ISIZWE

Bandwidth is becoming like water & electricity. A basic service. You don’t pay for water at a hotel, so why should you pay for Wi-Fi? One day we’ll look back in amazement that there was such a thing as a Wi-Fi password.

RJ van Spaandonk of the Core Group:

We see in our business that people encounter this situation all the time. This is widespread in South Africa.  It is a frustration.  As a result, the use of 3G devices is much higher in South Africa than in many countries in the world.  Many hotels in Europe offer free Wi-Fi when you are a guest, limited to volume and speed.  If you then want a better experience, and want to download movies and so on, you may be asked to pay a daily fee.

Duncan McLeod from TechCentral:

You’ll recall how in the old days, hotels used to rip people off for using the in-room telephones. It was much more affordable to walk out onto the street and find a pay phone. I guess some hotel groups view Wi-Fi as the modern equivalent of the in-room telephone: something they can use to push up their profit margins.  Unfortunately, it’s a short-sighted strategy. While it’s entirely fair to charge day visitors (non-guests) to the hotel for access, it makes no sense not to provide free access to hotel guests and to people attending conferences. These costs, which are marginal, should be included in the price. It builds brand value for the hotel, making it more likely that people will use its facilities again. People are more likely to re-book at a hotel if they remember its excellent free Internet access. They’re less likely to come back if they’re forced to pay an additional charge for Internet access, especially if that charge is exorbitant.

Jeff Osborne from Gumtree Auto ZA:

R130 is ridiculous when you consider the actual cost of the data. The Hilton is no doubt paying commercial rates and when you look at the published consumer options (far more expensive than commercial rates), you can see the sheer scale of the overcharge. For R99 you can purchase (no contract) 2GB from Afrihost or even 7GB for R145. Mugg & Bean offer free Wi-Fi for 30 minutes, as do Seattle Coffee, Fego, Woolworths and many others. However, hotels do have a different challenge to content with – that being the abuse of the offer. Hotel guests stay longer than restaurant patrons, and as such it is more open to abuse due to the prolonged period that the customer has access to the Wi-Fi. Hotels can reasonably be expected to limit the daily usage per user – BUT is it not fair to match restaurant offerings and have the first 50mb or first 30 minutes free? In this case, R130 could be fair if it is a once-off charge for the duration of your stay at the hotel. But for a day visitor, there should be an alternative offer that is more in line with restaurants and so on… 

Conclusion:  Wi-Fi should be widely and easily available.  If you are worried about people exploiting this, then put a cap on daily use.  But to charge an excessive amount for this service, which costs very little to provide, is mean and short-sighted.   Note to anyone inviting me to a presentation or other event in the near future:  please ensure there is good, free Wi-Fi availability.  If that loses the Hilton some business, then I will shed no tears.   

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