Most frequent travellers will know all too well the trials, tribulations and occasional triumphs of staying connected on the road. Despite the modern world's reliance on the internet, the ease of finding WiFi while travelling is unpredictable to say the least. But according to new research from Skift, internet access is valued by travellers above all else. Happily, some local and national governments are finally making it easy for travellers to get online in towns and cities.
Of course, there are significant benefits to having visitors always online. With the rise of digital it has become almost habitual for people to constantly update their social networks with images, comments and posts about their travels. If positive, those updates can generate much needed social media buzz for a destination, helping attract more tourists, businesspeople and students. Eventually, the cycle of positive feedback may even serve to improve the overall image of the destination on a longer-term basis. This is the ultimate benefit for a destination.
So towns and cities, and even countries, around the world have at last started to invest in public WiFi, hoping to produce happy tourists who will generate lots of happy posts about their destination.
In Taiwan, tourists present their passport on arrival to receive an access card for the island's free internet service. Tokyo and Kyoto have a similar setup, except access only lasts for 14 days. In London, much of the city is now covered by 'The Cloud', not fog...but a free WiFi network requiring only a simple one time email registration to gain access to unlimited free WiFi. Qatari capital Doha offers free access in many of its public parks and shopping malls.
Estonia is gaining fame for its innovative approach, and the capital Tallinn does not disappoint with its city-wide free WiFi network maintained through funding from local businesses. South Korea, most wired country on Earth, is covered country-wide by a government sponsored network that extends internet access even as far as the taxis and the metro system.
But back in 2003, one little pioneer had already cottoned on to the benefits of free WiFi for everyone. The tiny island of Niue, in the South Pacific, had already set up a free WiFi network covering the whole island and accessible to all. It was the first country on Earth to do so. The smart move greatly benefited Niue's development, by helping retain tourists who came for sailing, and also by slowing down the rapid brain drain that was impeding the economy before.
Niue got it right long before others started to follow suit. Ten years later, governments are finally realising that connected travellers are happier travellers, and are taking steps to keep everyone better connected. Now free internet access is gradually becoming standard and the rest of the tourism industry needs to catch up. Staying connected for free will soon become an expectation, not a privilege.
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