Free Internet Service--a Right or a Privilege?

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Quick, cheap (or free) Internet access has become the norm for most of the world, hooked on logging on anywhere they happen to be. “Free WiFi” signs welcome Web junkies to coffee shops, libraries, restaurants and hotel lobbies just about everywhere you travel. So when I traveled to Ireland recently, I was shocked and dismayed when, after checking into our five-star hotel in Dublin, we found that we would have to pay a hefty daily fee for Internet access. Our dismay turned to annoyance when, after subscribing to access for our room, we found that you had to pay per computer for access. Since my husband and I both work via the Internet, this meant paying double for what we normally access for free in the U.S. and in other parts of the world.

Consistency is one of the reasons that people choose a hotel when they travel. If you loved your stay at the Marriott or Hyatt in Savannah, it is reasonable to expect that you will have the same type of service and amenities (with some variation for the country) at another location. Hotel chains work very hard at building a recognizable “brand” and part of the branding is consistent service. No guest likes surprises, especially if they are not to their advantage. Back to our Internet dilemma. We had choices, of course. But in 2010, it isn’t reasonable to expect that guests would be happy to go without Internet service for a week when other quality hotels offer it free of charge. Not wanting to pack up and move, we decided to see if the hotel management would work out a solution.

A call to the front desk resulted in an apologetic but unmoving agent merely repeating the “hotel policy” about the Internet. Her only offer of help beyond that was to put me in touch with the hotel’s Internet provider. “How would talking to them help me?” was my question, since they certainly couldn’t waive the hotel’s access fee. Offering a solution which is no solution only serves to frustrate the guest and send the situation to the next level. Finally, after a second call to the front desk, she offered to take this to her manager.

I got a quick call from the hotel manager, who was very pleasant, and I admit my frustration level had gone up a few notches. I repeated my story for the fourth time, explaining that I was a loyal customer of this hotel brand and was actually a former employee and stockholder. He listened patiently and then offered a real solution—five access codes for my laptop that would give me free access for my computer for the duration of our stay. As promised, he brought the codes to our room in less than three minutes. Problem solved. He was pleasant, apologetic, and explained that the corporate offices were instituting free wireless service in Ireland and the UK next year.

Three lessons learned:

1. Before booking a reservation, confirm whether wireless is available and if there is a charge for service per computer or per room. Also, if there is free wireless available in the lobby or other public areas.
2. If there is a problem with your room or other services, ask to speak with a manager. It can speed up the process and lower the frustration factor.
3. For hotel managers—give staff more authority to solve problems. Since we were already paying for service for one computer, giving access codes for the second would have been a reasonable solution for an agent to offer, speeding up the solution and the esteem of the agent trusted with decision making.

Mary Nestor-Harper, SPHR, is a freelance writer, blogger, and consultant. Based in Savannah, GA, her work has appeared in "Training" magazine, "Training & Development" magazine, "Supervision," "Pulse" and "The Savannah Morning News." You can read her blogs at, and on the web at

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