IT HAS been more than once that Gulliver has found himself putting the incorrect electrical plug into the wrong socket or dock at a hotel—whether it be for a smartphone, laptop or shaver. Since such gadgets have proliferated, the hotel industry too has been confused about what facilities they should offer to service weary travellers. But after much trial and error, hotels finally seem to be figuring out which amenities guests truly value—and which ones are little more than gimmicks.

The latest survey of American hotels from the American Hotel and Lodging Association, an industry group, reveals a plethora of shifts in the hospitality industry, including the rapid disappearance of smoking rooms. But when it comes to gadgets, the trends are particularly interesting, since they are not always in the direction of more technology.

The biggest shift, unsurprisingly, is the growth in the availability of internet access. In 2004, the earliest year for which the report has data, half of hotel rooms had high-speed access. Last year, that figure had climbed to 98%. The number with in-room wi-fi has also surged from 35% to 98% over the same period. Outside of budget hotels—91% of which have high-speed in-room internet—and hotels with fewer than 50 rooms—92% of which do—a fast connection to the web is just about a must have. With perhaps an exception for the growing number of hotels that market themselves as internet-free retreats for e-mail-frazzled executives.

But there was a time when it seemed like all kinds of other technology might be working its way into being a must-have at hotels. The share of them with interactive hotel guides in rooms climbed sharply from 23% in 2004 to 48% in 2008. And then? Well, it may have turned out that they were not at all that useful, especially as more guests brought their own laptops and smartphones. Many no longer want to be compelled to use the hotel’s devices, especially if previous guests had left their dirty fingerprints on them. So the number dropped off, and last year it fell to just 19%.

The same applies to docking stations for smartphones. At some point, they probably seemed handy. But then, just like the iPod/iPhone 4 plugs they largely employed, they fell out of favour. No one really travels without a charging cable anymore, and many people simply plug their devices into their laptops these days. And so the share of hotels with in-room docking stations has dropped steadily; like interactive hotel guides, these stations can now be found in just 19% of establishments.

Less surprisingly, newspaper delivery has plummeted as internet access has allowed travellers to read the headlines online. Over three-quarters of hotels offered this for free in 2012, but just 57% in 2014 and a little over a quarter did this year. More surprising, perhaps, is the gradual disappearance of the refrigerator, now present in 61% of hotel rooms. This trend may not be helping hotels in their competition with Airbnb, a home-sharing website, which offers the convenience—and affordability—of apartment living, complete, naturally, with a fridge and free wi-fi. Religious material has also begun to vanish from rooms. It can now be found at just 51% of luxury hotels, although interestingly, it’s nearly omnipresent (99%) at midscale chains. 

As more hotels offer internet access, fewer are charging for it: just 9% did last year. But those that do tend to be at the posher end of the spectrum. Virtually no midscale chains in the survey and only 7% of economy ones charged for getting online. But 69% of luxury hotel chains did. One has to wonder how much longer the most expensive establishments can hold out on offering what’s become a basic expectation for a hotel. Paying for internet with a credit card is not just an expense. It is also an unnecessary hassle. And the top hotel groups should recognise that unless they get with the times, they’ll lose guests—particularly those on business—to Airbnb. And even to the lesser hotels that offer little in the way of luxury but reliably provide free internet—and a Bible to boot too.