I came across a post entitled “Why Isn’t Internet Access Free for Travelers?” this morning and I figured I’d step in and answer the question for the author and others who are curious. It’s one of those pat answers that’s almost too easy to answer.
The overwhelming majority of travelers who need Internet access are business travelers. Furthermore, business travelers are pretty much the only segment catered to by the travel industry. Airfares are based on business-oriented itineraries (unless you are going to Orlando, of course). Hotels are priced based on proximity to business locations, such as convention centers, and their prices fluctuate when big conferences or other events come to town. In other words, going to visit Aunt Sally and the kids doesn’t attract to much attention from United, Marriott, etc.
While this is clearly a generalization of the travel industry, it’s a fairly good rule of thumb. So, if you are in charge of building out services for a given company, and you see business travelers as your key segment, you know you can probably charge them for something you effectively hold them hostage over. They don’t just want to go online, they need to get online to do some work.
The most frustrating part, in my eyes, is the quality of the service we receive while traveling. The connectin is typically a standard DSL line split amongst all guests. Access often blocks proxies or other services many folks need to get to their corporate network.
The question I’m curious about is: what is the timeframe for this to remain a viable revenue source for the travel industry at large?
- I can use my 3G-enabled PPC6700 smart phone to get my computer online (via a technology called tethering), and its fast enough to do everything from surfing to slinging. More and more phones include this capability.
- The upgrade to my Sony Vaio VGN-SZ160P laptop includes various options for 3G services, and most manufacturers have these options as well. Alternately you can pick up a card from your cell carrier to provide this service if your laptop doesn’t have it built-in.
- Municipal wifi access is now available in several cities, and rapidly expanding.
- Wimax (Internet everywhere) offerings are on the horizon. Okay, they’ve been on the horizon for a while, but now they’re really on the horizon. You just need to squint a little.
In other words, the various airports, train stations, hotels, motels, Holiday Inns (say what?) around the country have an 18-30 month window in which to suck us dry for the (on average) $9.99 per night for unbelievably overpriced, underdelivering Internet access.
After that, they’ll probably have to start overcharging for regular things. Like the minibar.