WESTLAKE VILLAGE, California—The improving economy is the driving force behind falling guest satisfaction scores, according to the “J.D. Power and Associates 2012 North American Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study,” released today.
When the industry struggled during 2010, fewer people were traveling and “check-in lines were shorter, it was easier to get upgraded … the first treadmill in the morning was easier to get to,” said Stuart Greif, VP and GM of the global travel and hospitality practice at J.D. Power and Associates.
Today, however, more people are hitting the road and hotels are more crowded, which has led to the lower scores.
Overall hotel guest satisfaction scores declined seven index points to 757 on a 1,000-point scale from 2011. Increased satisfaction with cost and fees guests reported this year masked declines in the guest services categories, Greif said.
Consumer satisfaction levels regarding the check-in/check-out process, food and beverage, hotels service and hotel facilities hit a new low since J.D. Power’s study in 2006. Guestroom satisfaction declined within one point of its lowest level in the past seven years.
“What’s happening is that as expectations have come back, hotels companies that have been running with lower staffs and putting of capital expenditures have fallen further behind in meeting guest expectations,” he said.
Ritz-Carlton ranked highest in satisfaction for the third consecutive year among luxury brands. Omni Hotels & Resorts topped the upper-upscale segment. Hilton Garden Inn and SpringHill Suites tied for first in the upscale segment. Holiday Inn was ranked first among midscale, full-service hotels for the second consecutive year. Drury Hotels continued its dynastic reign atop the midscale, limited-service segment for the seventh consecutive year. Newcomer Jameson Inn ranked first among economy/budget brands. And Homewood Suites topped the extended-stay segment for the third year in a row.
View the study’s complete findings.
Costs and fees
As for costs and fees, many guests reported they had a higher level of satisfaction in 2011 than they did in 2010. “People still feel that in certain markets like New York that prices are a relatively good deal compared to what they were paying a few years ago,” Greif said.
One area of costs and fees consumers still are showing high levels of dissatisfaction for are Internet charges. The satisfaction score among those hit with Internet connection charges was 76 index points lower than those who were not charged a fee or who had the fee included in the room rate.
Greif said because Internet is free in low-cost locales such as coffee shops and bookstores, consumers have a sense of, “If I’m paying more, you should be throwing more in.”
“It’s more of a challenge for upper-upscale (properties), frankly. If you’re (a guest) at an upper-upscale, you might say, ‘Instead of staying at Hilton Hotels & Resorts, I might go down a chain-scale or two and stay where (Internet) is included,’” he said.
Although some hoteliers continue to play around with different pricing models and struggle with debt difficulties that inhibit their abilities to provide solid Internet service, guests do not care, Greif said. “If the Internet doesn’t work, look out.”
Consumers who booked through online travel agencies were particularly unhappy, according to the report.
Greif said many of these price-sensitive customers have no problem booking through an opaque channel because of the low price, but they feel disappointed with the property or service once they experience what they purchased.
Price-sensitive OTA customers also might have an inflated sense of how they should be treated once they arrive at a higher-end property if they are not accustomed to staying at properties at that higher price point, he said.
Hotel staffs have the ability to see what channel guests used to book their stays when they check in, so some might have the thought of, “You’re not my core customer, so I’m going to treat you a little different.”
This is an opportunity for hoteliers to win these customers over, Greif said. Although guests who book through OTA channels are known to be less loyal consumers, hoteliers can offer them deals for particular hotel services if they book through the property itself the next time they come back, which could prove fruitful down the road.
Hotel ranking criteria
A notable point of this year’s hotel ranking based on guest satisfaction was the decline of Microtel Inn & Suites to second place in the economy segment behind Jameson Inn, which made its debut on the list this year.
Each hotel brand needs to have a certain number of rooms in its portfolio to take part in the study, and that varies depending on the chain-scale segment, Greif said. Jameson did not have enough rooms in time for last year’s study, so historical data to how the brand compared to Microtel in the past is not available.
J.D. Power has a detailed model to rate the overall guest satisfaction experience, Greif said. Within each of the satisfaction factors, there are more detailed attributes that make up the score.
For example, in guestroom satisfaction, J.D. Power does not just ask guests to rate their overall impression of the room. Cleanliness, comfort of the bed, ease of adjusting the room temperature and guestroom smell, among other factors are taken into account.
“Our Ph.Ds literally run tens of thousands of progressions to learn what matters most to guests … This is a much more predictive model of behavior … It’s not just a pop quiz or taking a poll,” Greif said.