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The free WiFi opportunity for budget hotel brands.

by Rajul on November 30, 2009

The UK's budget hotel brands must realise that they have an opportunity to strike a decisive blow against their more expensive competitors

The UK's budget hotel brands must seize the opportunity to strike a decisive blow against their more expensive competitors

We recently identified some mid-price and cheap hotels in London which provide free WiFi.  But what about the very cheapest ones?

Yes, Travelodge and Premier Inn, I’m talking to you!

In the past this blog has praised these companies for raising standards at the bottom of the market.  Travelodge has been regularly featured here thanks to the company’s £9 room sales and consistent execution.

We’re fans of Premier Inn too: as are many TripAdvisor reviewers who particularly praise its County Hall and Hampstead hotels in London.

Check best rate for Premier Inn Hampstead from 30+ hotel booking sites

Both companies seem to understand what customers want.  So it only seems logical to raise our hopes on the WiFi issue…

But unfortunately the current reality is disappointing.

Travelodge bedrooms are functional and cheap

Travelodge bedrooms are cheap and functional

Travelodge charges £5 per hour (too expensive), £10 per day (better, but still too much if you just need to log in a few times to check email) and £20 per week (how many of their guests stay for a week?).

Check the best rate for Travelodge in London from 30+ hotel booking sites

You’d have thought Premier Inn might want to steal a march on their big rival with free WiFi.  In fact, the Premier Inn WiFi charging structure is even worse because it’s a flat £5 hourly with no discounts.

It’s a shame because we recently gave the Premier Inn County Hall top marks as a family hotel right near the London Eye.

Check best rate for Premier Inn County Hall from 30+ hotel booking sites

Both groups try to justify these charges by saying that guests should pay only for what they use.  And given their low rates, I have a little sympathy for this view (more than I would for expensive hotels charging for WiFi).

Premier Inn - like Travelodge - offers great value all over London but has not yet "seen the light" over free WiFi!

Premier Inn offers good value all over London but sadly still charges for WiFi

Nevertheless, I think that Travelodge and Premier Inn need to look at the bigger picture here.

Free WiFi as a competitive edge

Since WiFi is now in the realms of a basic requirement for most travellers, doesn’t it make sense to include it in the room rate as part of the “core product” (alongside the other basics of “bed, shower and clean room”)?

As influential travel blogger Karen Bryan puts it so well:

“I’m a big fan of Travelodge, having stayed in many of their £9 promotional rooms.  So I haven’t really felt justified to complain of the lack of free WiFi.  However, if Travelodge were to offer free WiFi alongside their great-value rooms, this combination would make their brand even more appealing.”

So I’m issuing a challenge to Premier Inn and Travelodge: if you agree to join “the good guys”, I promise that I and dozens of travel bloggers will spread the word about your great value for money all over the web!

Think of how compelling your proposition would be and how you’d instantly make more expensive competitor brands look tired and dated?

Free WiFi in time for the London Olympics?

Budget hotel chains are on a big expansion spree ahead of London 2012.

But what will London 2012 visitors make of having to pay Travelodge and Premier Inn for WiFi?  Chances are it will cause irritation at best.

An urgent rethink is needed.  Several budget chains in France, Germany and the US do after all offer free WiFi.  What makes the UK so different?

A new type of “business traveller”

Since both companies are keenly targeting business customers with special loyalty cards, why not outdo more expensive rivals by offering those clients the free WiFi they can’t operate without?

Travelodge and Premier Inn need to target a new breed of business traveller: for whom free WiFi is far and away the most critical draw

Travelodge and Premier Inn need to target a new and growing breed of business traveller

The stereotype of the smartly-dressed, expense account business customer is disappearing, or at least fragmenting.

Many small business people nowadays (including enterprising stay-at-home mums and early retirers among others) are very cost-conscious.  Bloggers and journalists on a tight budget also can’t do without WiFi.

To get a flavour, check out the comments at James Ellis’s free WiFi campaign (a good example is someone who travels the UK writing reports on football games at his own expense who resents rip-off WiFi fees).

Those who rely on WiFi on the road will help fuel the growth of brands like Travelodge and Premier Inn because we’re going to spread the message.

Both companies do after all rely heavily on internet bookings.

What better way to build a great online reputation than to let those who want to write good things about you do so free of charge from your hotels?

One final tip: if you’re stuck in central London needing access to free WiFi, McDonald’s and Pret a Manger currently have free WiFi in all their outlets.

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Photo credits: Travelodge, Premier Inn.

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