2017 was another flat year for results in J.D. Power’s North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study, but some brands claimed the No. 1 spot in their segment for the first time.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—J.D. Power’s 2017 North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study showed slight improvements in guest satisfaction ratings from the previous year, and Rick Garlick, global practice lead of the travel and hospitality group at J.D. Power, said results likely will remain stable over the next few years.
“Many of the midscale hotels, even the upper-upscale hotels, they’ve kind of reached a point of saturation where it’s very difficult for them to get any better at this point,” he said. “So in other words, when you look at the quality of the product, the services, the amenities, all those sorts of things, and compare them to a previous era, you can certainly understand why hotel scores have been going higher each year.”
He added that guest satisfaction scores seem to be leveling because hotels have reached the best they can currently be, but things will change once the “next big thing” happens.
“We believe that that next big thing is going to be sort of the explosion—the high, steep curve in the adoption of some of the more technological advances that we see,” he said. “So for example, mobile check-in is something that everybody believes is something that’s really critical for the hotel experience, giving people the opportunity to use their mobile phone to check into their rooms, and yet we’re not really seeing much growth in that area.”
He said once things like mobile check-in and keyless entry trickle down to the upper-midscale, midscale and economy segments, “that’s when you’re going to see another bump in guest experience ratings.”
“So I think I read the statistic that 39% of hotels are thinking about putting mobile check-in (into effect) next year,” he said. “If that were to happen, the (guest satisfaction growth) number would be exponentially higher. Each year that it gets more and more common and gets greater penetration, the steeper the curve of people who say that they use that particular method.”
It’s becoming more and more common for hotel guests to give feedback about their recent hotel stay on social media, Garlick said—people no longer want to pick up a phone or fill out a comment card.
“So last year 13%, (and) this year 15% of guests posted on social media,” he said. “And most of the comments are positive, except if you have a problem. So for example if you have a problem, then there’s the expectation that the hotel will not only respond to you, but also that the hotel will resolve your problem.
“It’s now becoming more of an expectation than something that’s nice to have. … If you resolve an issue during the course of a social media exchange, then you can get that person’s satisfaction almost back to where it would have been had the problem not occurred.”
This year, JW Marriott tied with The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company for the top spot for highest guest satisfaction ratings in the luxury category. Christy Donato, VP of global brand management at JW Marriott, said the brand uses social media platforms for marketing purposes and to interact with guests online.
“(We’ve found) that making sure we’re very much in tune with our guests in terms of review sites, that is very much embedded in all of our guest surveys and review process,” she said. “It allows our hotels to react very quickly; if they should see something posted by a guest, they’re able to really react and rectify the situation if need be, or when they’re commenting, providing positive feedback, that’s a great accolade for the brand coming from those (valued guests).”
Hervé Humler, president and COO of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, said social media allows the brand “to directly converse with consumers unlike ever before.”
“Through our social media channels, we can now answer questions, offer assistance, provide updates, and follow along on a guest’s journey as they discover our properties and their destination,” he said. “We have also built up our online content platform, The Journey, through which we share behind-the-scenes photos and interviews, travel tips and stories to provide a new perspective on luxury travel. This increased communication gives us additional insight into the guest experience, but also allows us to have an impact on guest satisfaction in real time.”
InterContinental Hotels Group’s Candlewood Suites brand earned the top spot for guest satisfaction ratings in the extended-stay segment. Heather Balsley, SVP of Americas brands and marketing, said Candlewood Suites is able to let guests know it cares and listen to guests via social media.
“We are able to get a real-time pulse from guests who post their experience in a review or on social media,” she said. “It allows our hotels the ability to respond to guests and open up a dialogue if needed. Whether fixing a problem or just saying thank you for a five-star review, it lets our guests know that we care and we listen to them.”
Distribution, booking trends
Many brands have set out on a mission to encourage guests to book directly through brand.com sites, but Garlick said study results show that it “has really, really not taken root as (he’s sure) the brands had hoped.” Still, people who booked through online travel agencies reported having more problems than those who booked through brand sites, he said.
“One of the things we’re interested in looking at is the experience people had booking via OTAs versus direct-booking sites,” he said. “People who do book through OTAs tend to have a higher percentage of problems, they’re less satisfied, and it’s always one of those things where there’s a number of concerns people addressed with us in our study.”
Bernie Moyle, EVP and COO of Red Lion Hotels Corp., said consumer behavior has shown the brand that booking a room needs to be easy and efficient. (RLHC is parent company of the Americas Best Value Inn brand, which took the top spot for guest satisfaction ratings in the economy segment for the first time ever.)
“It also needs to be done on the platform that the guest chooses, and they are expecting more mobility and convenience,” he said. “(RLHC) has stayed ahead of these trends to develop technology that constantly communicates with our guests. With an emphasis on social media, a mobile-friendly website and evolving hotel standards, we are keeping guests fully engaged with each property and the brand. Because the deeper they’re engaged, the more satisfied and loyal they’ll be.”
Garlick said some were surprised by the results of the study.
The guest satisfaction study surveys a brand’s own customers. “It’s not a study of someone else’s customers comparing another brand to you; it’s your customers rating their experience at your brand,” he said.
“One of the key elements about driving a good satisfaction score is making sure you (position) your value proposition for the right individual,” he said. “And I frequently will talk about how Southwest Airlines is always … near the top in our airline study, and one of the reasons why Southwest does so well is that it does a really good job of (marketing) to the customer who is the best fit for the Southwest brand.
“We like to point that out that we’re not necessarily saying what (one company’s) offering is better than another; we are saying that certain offerings do better jobs than others at satisfying their company’s customers.”