Guest satisfaction in U.S. hotels increased eight points compared to 2017, according to results from J.D. Power’s North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index study. But satisfaction in services like check-in and check-out aren’t gaining as much ground.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—J.D. Power’s 2018 North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study revealed overall guest satisfaction has increased by eight points to 825 out of a possible 1,000 points, mostly underpinned by better product offerings.
However, check-in, check-out and food-and-beverage services aren’t improving at the same rate as other areas, according to Jennifer Corwin, associate practice lead for the global travel and hospitality practice at J.D. Power.
J.D. Power surveys seven key factors to determine guest satisfaction, including reservation, check-in, check-out, guestrooms, F&B, hotel services, hotel facilities and cost and fees.
Corwin said most areas increased about seven or eight points; and some, such as product offerings and hotel facilities, were in the double digits. But satisfaction with check-in and check-out only improved five points year over year.
“Now that’s a great improvement, still substantial, but when you see other areas improving 10, 13 points, it’s just not the same,” she said. “Now I would also say, though, check-in is already an area that’s doing very well, so when you’re scoring an A, it’s hard to get to that A+. But it’s much easier to move from a C to a B.”
In this year’s survey, Ritz-Carlton earned the top ranking in the luxury segment—scoring 902, the highest ever for a hotel brand—followed by Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants for upper upscale, Hilton Garden Inn for upscale, Drury Hotels for upper midscale, Wingate by Wyndham for midscale, Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham for economy, Staybridge Suites for upper extended-stay and Home2 Suites by Hilton for the extended-stay segment.
Nick Gregory, SVP of hotel operations at Kimpton, said guest satisfaction will increase when employees are empowered and want to care for customers, and it starts well before a guest walks in the door.
Creating a seamless reservation process
Gregory said to best accommodate guests at check-in and throughout the entire stay it’s essential to understand what type of traveler they are and their occasion for staying at the hotel.
When the guest “comes in from a long coast-to-coast trip and it’s late at night, they don’t want to hear about all of the things that the hotel has to offer,” he said. “They just want a really quick interaction so they can get to their room. I think it’s incumbent of us to be able to read that guest.”
On the other hand, if the hotel is hosting a wedding party for a weekend, there’s a “significant contrast in the amount of time that is needed to provide a level of experience,” he said.
He added hoteliers should recognize a good experience really starts with the booking process.
“The websites and technology really have to be user-friendly, and they have to be responsive,” he said.
Corwin said J.D. Power’s research shows the number of guests who are using a branded channel for their reservation is going down slightly year over year.
“We know that hotels are investing a lot in advertising around direct booking, and we would expect to see it paying off,” she said.
Looking back at 2015, she said the incidence of reservations through online travel agencies was going up about 1% a year. In 2018, she saw 21% of guests book through OTAs versus 17% in 2015. She said it’s “counterintuitive to what we know is happening in the industry. There’s a huge push for directing booking, yet it’s not really sticking.”
Elizabeth Delens, VP of operations for Crestline Hotels & Resorts, said it’s important for hoteliers to make sure guests have great stays whether they book direct or through third parties.
Where Crestline—which manages several Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott International-branded hotels— excels, she said, is using collected information to exceed guest expectations.
“We have different methods of capturing that same information,” she said.
Guests want tech and human interaction balanced
This year’s J.D. Power study noted technology offerings are still key to a good guest experience.
Corwin said generally the less common the technology is, the higher the boost in guest satisfaction.
Hotels, she said, have to keep up with what guests are using in their homes, such as smart TVs versus large flat-panel TVs. Hotels that offer in-room tablets—allowing guests to control temperature, lighting or even make requests—are also seeing a bit more of a satisfaction boost, she said.
Terri Ryan, SVP of operations for Crestline, said the company is constantly upgrading offerings and finding “new and better ways to engage with guests through technology, which makes their stay much more efficient and pleasurable.”
She said it’s important to recognize that some guests still want that personal interaction. Technology is great, she said, but there needs to be a balance between both.
“Great technology without great service isn’t the answer,” she said.
Delens added guests still want personalized stays. Hilton Garden Inn recognized it was important to meld “the way we live on technology and encouraging increased engagement with a hotel team member,” she said.
Gregory agreed that live interaction is essential in destination markets. It’s what people want, he said, and it’s what guests are paying for.
“It costs so much money to get to these remote locations, and once you get there you really want to get your money’s worth through that interaction and that experience,” he said. “Devices don’t create experiences. They’re just convenient, which is good; we’re not trying to be anti-technology.”
He said Kimpton stays on top of where capital is spent for technology improvements, such as in meeting rooms, which he said must have state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment. And Wi-Fi is an absolute must, he said.
“If you don’t have good Wi-Fi nowadays, you’re not going to have a customer very long. They’ll just go find another hotel that has it,” he said.
Lisa Holladay, global brand leader at Ritz-Carlton and St. Regis Hotels & Resorts, said in an email interview that Ritz-Carlton focuses on both high-tech and high-touch experiences.
“Where I find technology to be the most effective is when it removes the transaction from the experiences and frees up our (staff) to engage in a more emotional and personal way with guests,” she said.
But technology has also helped Ritz-Carlton to elevate the guest experience in unexpected ways, she added. For example, the brand recently updated the Ritz-Carlton app to offer better customization, personalization and anticipatory services.
“We know that our guests want options such as mobile check-in and mobile key,” she said. “They want to be able to browse in-room dining options from the convenience of their personal device, they want room-ready alerts and the ability to communicate with their hotel without having to pick up the phone and call.”
Improving F&B experiences
According to the survey, F&B experience only improved seven points, which means there’s still room for enhancement in that area, Corwin said.
Gregory said Kimpton is experimenting with adding bar carts to its living-room like lobbies to let guests mix their own drinks or let the staff do it for them. He said Kimpton is also looking at how to enhance the coffee hour in the morning.
“We have a few hotels piloting some really cool cold brew on-tap right by the front desk that you can grab quickly,” he said. “No fuss, you’re in and out. We look at our guests’ behaviors to guide us on all of this.”
Delens said Hilton Garden Inn has reimagined its breakfast offerings, moving away from the old-fashioned dining experience and working to meet the needs of how guests are traveling today.
Focus on experiences, local flavor
Corwin said while J.D. Power isn’t in the business of predicting the future, she knows there are economic cycles to take into account when thinking about where to make capital investments.
She said instead of focusing on product offerings, which are already strong, capital—while it’s available—should be focused on experiences.
“A focus on service would make sure the industry continues to improve, that it’s successful despite any changes in the economy,” she said.
The Ritz-Carlton brand, Holladay said, is just as supportive of product investment, whether it’s through renovating a hotel, updating a spa or creating a new restaurant experience, as the brand is when it comes to enhancing services and programming.
“I believe that product investment, the quality and they type of service given, and the programming and experiences a hotel offers all go hand in hand,” she said.
Gregory said the key for Kimpton is to not lose sight of the brand’s culture and create guest satisfaction no matter where the economy is headed.
This year’s survey included three new questions, which focused on whether or not there was an F&B experience that provided authentic, local flavor as well as if the guestrooms reflected local décor, Corwin said.
Holladay said Ritz-Carlton completely evolved its design approach to a “consistently inconsistent model where no two hotels are the same, and instead each hotel tells a story about its destination.”
New and renovated F&B outlets across the portfolio are also providing additional and local relevant experiences, she said.
Gregory said Kimpton promotes a “live like a local” philosophy at its properties, which may mean activing localization through design or through personal experiences between the hotel guest and staff.
For example, he said, many hotels under Kimpton have wellness programs with a local angle. Kimpton Marlowe Hotel in Boston’s “run with the GM” program, for example, is a twice-a-week guided run in the morning.
“There’s a number of different ways you can bring it alive,” Gregory said.