Wi-fi instant hit with overseas visitors

By Roger Moroneyroger moroney@hbtoday co nz

IN TOUCH: American backpackers Daniel Curtiss and Wiebke Janssen check out the wi-fi access with Ruthie Emeny (right) at the Toad Hall Backpackers roof garden. PHOTO/WARREN BUCKLAND HBT1425492
IN TOUCH: American backpackers Daniel Curtiss and Wiebke Janssen check out the wi-fi access with Ruthie Emeny (right) at the Toad Hall Backpackers roof garden. PHOTO/WARREN BUCKLAND HBT1425492

As Ruthie Emeny from Toad Hall Backpackers in Napier pointed out, when she was travelling about overseas 20 or so years ago the thing called e-mail was very fresh, very new and very much sought after.

"But you had to scout around a bit to find an internet cafe."

It was, however, a huge advantage over what had been, 20 years earlier, a seven or eight-day turnover in letters being delivered, or the expense of a telegram or an international phone call.

Today is the age of the instant - or at least as close as possible to instant.

Especially for the generation which has grown up with accelerating communication and social technology.

"They are the generation of tech'," is how she put it.

And in terms of wanting to have good and widespread access to wi-fi there is no argument.

"It is absolutely a high priority for them," she said.

As it is with backpacker establishments all over the city, and anywhere for that matter, they will arrive bearing the staples of cheap travelling life in 2014.

"They walk in with their backpacks and cellphones and computers and the first port of call is usually to get on the internet."

Mrs Emeny said it was all about being in constant touch with families and friends all over the world or to make bookings.

"You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone these days that doesn't have all that gear."

While they have the gear they don't yet have the fast and reliable access and it is a common theme when she chats with guests.

"They say New Zealand, all over, is extremely slow - especially compared to Europe and Australia."

Napier is simply part of the slow network and the visitors generally accept that, although it does create frustration.

"Because they are used to having it."

That sentiment was echoed by nearby Wallys Backpackers owner Ashley Walker.

"It's major," was how he summed up how his guests looked upon wi-fi.

"It is the number one thing that Napier, and New Zealand, needs to get into."

Mr Walker said the European backpackers arrived from countries which had been enjoying quickfire and high-quality wi-fi for several years now - they had effectively grown up with it.

"They are used to having it and get frustrated by our wi-fi here."

Backpackers and young tourists across the board were intent on two things and that was to have a good time and see new places, Mr Walker said.

But he added there was a third ingredient to their travels.

"They are trying to save as much as they can as they go going."

He offers reliable paid access to the internet but said it was important Napier got up to speed as in the world of instant social media word did get around pretty quick about what areas had what.

News that several new wi-fi sites were on the cards was good, very good, Mr Walker said.

But he pointed out that they needed to bear in mind that most visitors kept themselves busy in fine weather and generally went online when the weather wasn't so good.

"So they need a covered area - they need somewhere where the weather won't affect it."

The council needed to look at things like specialised booths.

He said top-flight wi-fi access across the city, coupled with ideas such as the beachfront sandy lagoon, would spark the 18 to 25-year-old travellers: "The place would go ballistic."

Mrs Emeny agreed that location, and the design of places for users to settle, was important.

"We don't have anywhere for people to sit and use wi-fi.

"I see them leaning against buildings talking to mum and dad overseas."

The issue, she said, was simply the need for good reliable wi-fi and places to sit and use it.

She offers 24-hour and week-long paid access but happily points guests in the direction of known wi-fi spots a few blocks away in town.

Many take her advice and hook into the paid system when in comes to carrying out any banking or financial requirements online.

"We know our connection is safe and secure and that's the only reason we ask them to purchase online transaction."

Irene Howson at Portside Backpackers said "without a doubt" the access to wi-fi was one of the main reasons visitors decided where they wanted to stay.

"As soon as they arrive they ask about it - 'have you got wi-fi access?"

She was pleased to be able to reply that yes, they did.

Global internet communications like Facebook, Twitter, instagrams and Skype were "second nature to pretty well everyone who walks through the door".

She said anything free was important to travellers on tight budgets and agreed with Mr Walker in that they chatted online with other travellers and wi-fi came up.

It did have a bearing on the travel plans of some and she said the decision to up the access across parts of Napier was "definitely good news - because without a doubt we want more people to come here".

Dan Curtiss, from Boston in the United States, has been in New Zealand for about six months on a working holiday - and has been in Napier for about six weeks.

"It's a great place - we are loving it."

The 24-year-old said before heading Downunder he had read online that wi-fi was "patchy" in New Zealand.

A couple of friends said "it stinks".

But he and his travelling companion Wiebke Janssen had not had too many problems.

They were, however, surprised to discover that unlike most other places they had been to across the country the Napier Library did not offer free wi-fi. "We figured they would have it."

He said good accessible wi-fi access was vital for a country like New Zealand where outdoor pursuits were a big part of the tourism game.

"New Zealand is well known for its hiking so you need to be able to book ahead, and for hostels, online."

The pair had encountered patchy spots but he said it was simply a matter of finding the good ones.

Napier's patchy coverage had not been a major issue though, and he said there were times poor or no access could actually be a good thing.

"People are so addicted to gadgets these days - sometimes when you can't get to use them it's actually a bit of a respite - you can get out and do other things."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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