Hoteliers must find new ways to boost guest satisfaction as expectations for amenities grow, according to a recent study from J.D. Power.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Guests are happy with their hotel stays overall, but that satisfaction isn’t growing by leaps and bounds.
The J.D. Power 2016 North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study saw that guest satisfaction increased from 804 to 806 on a scale up to 1,000. Rick Garlick, global travel and hospitality practice lead at J.D. Power, said that kind of increase is “not statistically significant.” In recent years, scores have jumped much more than that.
The reason, Garlick said, is amenity creep.
Over the past five years, the quality of everything in hotels has improved, he said, so much so that it’s all become standard in the eyes of guests. Take the flat-screen, high-definition TV, he said. Those used to be a selling point for hotels, but now they’re in every guestroom so they have become the norm.
That extends to free breakfasts, too, and not just continental breakfasts with a banana, some bread and cereal, he said, but hot breakfasts. Some upscale and luxury hotels are now providing complimentary Wi-Fi as well.
“The good news for the industry is customers recognized they’re getting a better value and it’s reflecting in their satisfaction scores. It’s not just their experience but their willingness to pay for a room. They’re paying more, but they’re satisfied with what they’re getting.”
Where satisfaction is headed
Based on the data pattern he’s seeing, Garlick said his personal prediction is that there will be a decline in satisfaction because guests are getting used to these free perks. If hotels aren’t adding new changes, he said, the guests may not see more value for what they’re spending.
“They’re offering about as much as they can offer at this particular price point,” he said.
As rates flatten out, that might offset the lack of new perks and ways of creating value, he said, calling it a natural progression. While satisfaction isn’t as high as it could go, he said that when looking at the scale, getting what amounts to an 8/10 is a “pretty high level of satisfaction.”
The luxury segment was the lone exception as it saw an increase of 12 points, Garlick said. One thing setting it apart is the higher quality of bed linens in guestrooms.
Bed linens are “the fourth-most desired amenity behind free Internet, free breakfast and free parking,” he said. “Only 37% of hotels overall are delivering on that expectation.”
The impact of technology
Mobile check-in and check-out hasn’t received widespread use, Garlick said, but those who use it report the highest level of satisfaction during the check-in and -out process. However, hotels receive their highest overall satisfaction scores when guests check-in the traditional way at the front desk.
“The reason is the front desk is really the first form of engagement,” he said. “It sets the tone for the guests’ stay.”
Hoteliers should know that while mobile and online check-in generates high levels of satisfaction, he said, that means guests are losing an important piece of the experience by not interacting with the front desk. For many guests, that’s the only chance they might have to engage with a staff member. That means hotel protocol is changing, he said, and staff will have to find other ways to connect with guests.
One finding in the survey might come as a surprise. Of the guests who posted about their stay on social media, 75% were positive compared to 13% negative. The conventional view is people don’t leave a review unless it’s negative, Garlick said. Keep in mind that these posts are to Facebook and Instagram along with review sites, he said, and people like to write positive posts on Facebook.
TripAdvisor scores are mostly positive, he said. Through proprietary tracking methods, Garlick said his company found that a guest survey that then leads guests to TripAdvisor for a review often reflects a higher satisfaction score than guests simply going to TripAdvisor on their own.
Social media is becoming more and more the feedback method of choice, he said, especially among millennials. Those users also expect a response to any feedback they leave. Responding to guests’ comments on social media is a new path to loyalty, he said, but data shows the instances of hoteliers responding falls below 50%.
“It’s critical you respond,” he said.