Saturday, January 28, 2017

Why is paid internet access in hotels so shoddy?

Free internet access in a hotel is often shoddy.  Internet access is nearly always outsourced, and in many hotels, outsourced as on the cheap as possible.

And it's often outsourced to someone whose ability and enthusiasm for marketing exceeds their ability and enthusiasm for delivering a decent product that works, providing adequate bandwidth to keep up with demand, etc. 

For example, Ethostream, Choice Hotels' provider for internet, is a disease. Bandwidth is kind of thin (you get what you pay for), and every time you log in, you get that 'terms of service' screen which, once you approve the TOS, only gives you 24 hours of use before it cuts you off unexpectedly, and you have to go approve the TOS again (often having to close your browser and reopen it in the process). The TOS screen redirects you to the hotel's webpage - and provides its own address bar (like anyone's going to use that rather than the one on their own browser): apparently, this provider has a captive audience and plans to milk it for all it's worth, to the extent that it can. There's also a countdown clock on that address bar telling you how much time you have left, but most people are not going to use that address bar or even leave that screen open. And at least three or four times a week in some hotels, the switchboard lights up like a Christmas tree, with unhappy guests complaining that there's no internet, and the clerk usually has to leave the desk on autopilot (often at an inopportune time) and go reset the router.

But it's a required purchase for Choice franchisees, so if you stay at a Comfort Inn, Comfort Suites, Quality Inn, Econo Lodge, Clarion, Cambria Suites or Rodeway Inn, you're stuck with it. (If it's any comfort, the hotel staff, and even the hotel's management, hate it too.) Like Al Capone's beer salesman said to the bar owner in the opening scene of The Untouchables movie, "It don't have to be good, it has to be bought!". Someone at Ethostream scored a marketing coup - a hotel franchise organization with a captive audience - but Ethostream cannot or will not provide internet service for crap. And Choice gave them the deal, I suppose, on the basis of someone's personality - if the basis was even that respectable.

I've even seen some hotel providers that offer a service that includes spammy 'offers' to download games and other crapware to your device.

You or I, on the other hand, if we were running a hotel, would want something that works, and that keeps the guests happy, even if we did have to pay so much for it that turning around and charging for it would be a temptation.

Keeping the guests happy is surprisingly not much of a priority for a hotel 'chain' that is nothing but a franchise organization. Choice Hotels, for example, owns no hotels. Wyndham Worldwide owns some Wyndham hotels, but no Ramada or Days Inns or Super 8's. InterContinental owns very few, if any, Holiday Inn Expresses, and I don't think Hilton owns too many Hampton Inns. Their revenue doesn't come from room charges. It comes from royalties and franchise fees. If they can sell their franchised hotel owners cheap crap internet service, that doesn't work well, that 'everybody else' uses, at a 'good' price; then they can sell franchises and keep the franchise fees and royalties coming. (Making it a required purchase is a device which keeps some owners from going out and rigging something themselves, or contracting something even cheaper, that doesn't work even as well. Unfortunately, it gets in the way of owners who want to replace the crap internet service with something better that does work.)

Keeping the guests coming, and keeping them happy, is the franchised hotel owner's problem: all the franchise organization gives them in return for their fees and royalties is the assurance (true or not) that just being franchised by them will do that for them as well as it can be done.

Which probably explains why a lot of hotels charge for internet service - in addition to turning it into some starry-eyed dreamer's idea of a profitable revenue stream, it keeps the demand down to the limits of the hotel's capacity. The guests are unhappy to be asked to pay for it, it's the number one complaint about hotels that I see among Quora users, but 'every other hotel' charges for it, so . . .

And it would also explain why it works better, and you don't get charged for it, at an independent or boutique hotel.

So, anytime you have internet service in a "chain" (franchised) hotel, that's usually how it's selected and outsourced.

Whether they charge for it, or it's free. (And with a lot of these chains, even when it's free, it comes at a price.)

Originally appeared on Quora

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