Free wi-fi in travellers' sights

Tourism Australia is asking thousands of Australian hotels to provide free wi-fi to end exorbitant in-room internet bills.

Australia's peak destination marketing body has also held talks with large telecommunications companies to join its campaign, which includes a push to have free wi-fi installed in every major tourist destination in Australia.

But Tourism Australia isn't lobbying for the change to help travellers' hip pockets; it wants free wi-fi so it can unleash an explosion of social media marketing about Australia.

Hotels in Sydney and Melbourne charge up to $29 a day for internet use in their rooms.

Free wi-fi is the main consideration for Australian travellers in choosing a hotel, according to a survey by the booking website Hotels.com.

At some hotels, corporate travellers are sacrificing breakfast in favour of "bed and broadband" packages.

The general manager of consumer marketing for Tourism Australia, Nick Baker, says the widespread adoption of free wi-fi will generate "priceless" international exposure for Australia.

"Holidays are all about living in the moment," he said.

"How often have we promised ourselves that we'll post a great holiday moment on Facebook, tweet out a photo or a review on TripAdvisor, but not been able to do so due to lack of wi-fi access?"

Most major hotels offer free internet access in their public areas, including lobbies, but charge set amounts for use in rooms.

The general manager of communications for the Accor Asia Pacific hotel group, Peter Hook, defends in-room charges, arguing that the notion of "free wi-fi" is a misnomer.

"[Free wi-fi] is a major cost to hotels if they want to deliver a high-quality, secure service," he said.

"People say: 'Oh, but McDonald's gives you free internet.' But they have one very basic router that covers a small area. It is often unreliable and slow.

"Our guests want high-speed, high-quality internet that is secure and reliable. That can mean 100-plus routers covering a high-rise hotel.

"Everyone always says they just want it [wi-fi] for emails and social media, but of course a large percentage want to use it to downstream media such as films, music and - I dare say - a bit of the naughty stuff."

Pro Dive on the Great Barrier Reef offers free wi-fi on its diving vessels via laptops so that social-media savvy holiday-makers can

share their experiences instantly.

The sales and marketing manager of Pro Dive in Cairns, Steve Brady, says providing free wi-fi delivers "live publicity", with the costs built into the overall marketing budget.

It also ensures Pro Dive doesn't need to "chase up" customers after their dives to recommend the company on social media.

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