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Tue 10 Nov 2009 04:00 AM

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Wherefore art thou WiFi?

Louise Oakley asks why wireless internet access isn't yet available in all hotels in the Gulf region.

In a recent announcement, Oman Air claimed that from January 2010, guests in all cabins on board all of its new A330 series aircraft will be able to use their mobile phones and have access to WiFi.

While no doubt this will be charged for, the fact that this service is available to all passengers is surely impressive.

And it certainly begs the question: why is WiFi not available at all hotels yet?

In some cases, there is the capability for WiFi across the hotel, yet in a cunning marketing ploy, it is only offered for free in expensive hotel coffee shops. The trouble is, once your guest is $15 down on a cappuccino, the free-of-charge concept starts to lose its value.

In other instances, there is WiFi in the public areas of a hotel, but only ‘high-speed internet access’ in the rooms and suites, more often than not attached to a desk area.

While this may suit business travellers, your leisure guest is likely to resent having to sit at a table to stay in contact with their friends rather than being propped up in the super-comfy bed they have shelled out so much for.

And don’t get me started on the price of internet access or WiFi in luxury hotels.

In the November edition of Hotel Spy, our mystery shopper “nearly fell off their chair” when told that internet connection at The Chedi Muscat, Oman, cost OMR 20 (US $52).

This was an inclusive 24-hour rate and for non-guests only; it was free of charge to hotel guests. Still, shouldn’t all visitors to your hotels be treated as guests — if they are using the spa or restaurants they are certainly paying customers.

The Chedi wasn’t alone either; at Al Bustan Palace InterContinental Muscat, internet connection had to be paid for by guests and non-guests alike, reported the Grass Roots mystery shopper.

The fee was OMR 5 ($13) an hour, plus our mystery shopper reported connection issues. Where’s the five-star service in that?

If your IT experts have secured the capability for you to offer WiFi access across your property, make sure you pass that advantage on to your guests — and visitors, they are future guests after all — and try to keep the meddling sales guys out of it.

Louise Oakley is the editor of Hotelier Middle East.

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