The very first thing I do when I enter a new hotel room isn't to go straight to the window to check out the view, test-bounce the bed a couple of times or look into the bathroom to see whether the toiletries are Molton Brown or Gilchrist & Soames. It's the boring old Hotel Services directory I snatch up the moment I drop my suitcase, to flick through to "Internet" and find out whether my memories of this place are going to be fondly pink-tinted, or suffused with a red mist.
Mostly, it's the rage. With some notable exceptions, exorbitant connection charges are still standard in most of the hotels I've stayed at in this part of the world, and it makes me go fuzzy at the edges with anger and frustration. Access to free, fast, reliable WiFi ought to be as standard in hotel rooms as the provision of toilet paper. It should be like electricity and water: factored into the room rate as a normal facility, and unthinkable not to provide it. Personally, I would give up the 1000-count sheets that, being asleep, I'm mostly unconscious of, the fluffy robe and silly scuffs that I never wear, and the huge noisy spa bath that takes forever to fill, if I could instead settle down to read my emails, post to my blog, check up on the news at home and generally behave as though I live in the 21st century and not some 1980s outpost where the closest thing to email is airmail.
I find it impossible to understand why budget hostels and five-star luxury lodges have seen the light, while mid-range hotels still seem to think that business travellers on expense accounts are the only ones who might need access to the internet. At these places it's generally necessary to buy, at eye-watering expense, some kind of card or to sign up for a chunk of time that has to be used in one go; then as often as not you have to be anchored to a desk by a LAN cable instead of comfortably surfing in bed. Even when WiFi is available, there's a Basil Fawlty attitude to problems: Patchy access? Fitful operation? You're lucky we have it at all! And no, there'll be no discount or repair if it stops working altogether. Camp in the lobby hotspot with your laptop and be grateful!
To say, as a Hilton representative once did when I got testy about his shoulder-shrugging attitude to free WiFi, "Oh, it'll come one day" is incomprehensible to me in a business where competition is the air that they breathe. For goodness sake, why not be first?
Pamela Wade is a freelance travel writer and president of NZ Travel CommunicatorsBy Pamela Wade