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As the hotel industry gradually starts to recover from the economic downturn, guest satisfaction with the underlying hotel is on the decline, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2012 North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study released last week.
Overall guest satisfaction has declined 7 points, down to 757 on a 1,000-point scale, from its 2011 score.
However, guest satisfaction with the underlying experience has deteriorated much more than this score suggests, as relatively high levels of satisfaction with costs and fees mask declines in other areas of the guest experience. Satisfaction with check-in/check-out; food and beverage; hotel services; and hotel facilities are at new lows since the 2006 study and satisfaction with guestroom has declined within one point of its lowest level in the past seven years.
A particular topic of interest to travelers is hotel Internet usage. More than half of guests use the Internet during their hotel stay, and charges for access can drag down satisfaction. The study found that 55 percent of hotel guests use the Internet during their hotel stay—an increase from 20 percent in 2006—and 87 percent use Wi-Fi to connect. Among those that use the Internet, only 11 percent are charged an additional fee to connect. Yet those who were charged a fee have an average cost and fee satisfaction score of 688, 76 index points lower than those who were not charged a fee or for whom the fee was part of the room rate. Complimentary Internet access is more likely included at mid-scale limited service, mid-scale full service, upscale and economy/budget hotels.
“Guests enjoy Wi-Fi for free in many places outside of their hotel experience, such as in coffee shops, restaurants and other locations, setting expectations against which hotels are compared,” said Jessica McGregor, senior manager of the global travel and hospitality practice at J.D. Power and Associates. “When guests learn that they have to pay for Internet usage or when connection speeds are slow at a hotel, they are much more dissatisfied now than they were in the past”
Research conducted by J.D. Power’s Consumer Insight & Strategy Group to track social media activity finds that:
• Hotels that charge extra for Internet access are perceived as taking advantage of guests, especially given the number of places that offer this service for free. • While consumers use social media to complain about how slow Internet connections are at hotels, it is not uncommon for hotel guests to praise hotel brands that are known for fast, reliable Internet service. • While complaints about Internet fees charged by hotels are common, rolling Internet charges into a generic “resort fee” heightens resentment among hotel guests. • Loyalty club members have come to expect free Internet as a perk at their hotel of choice.
The study also examines how guests book their hotel stay. Guests who book through an online travel agency (OTA) tend to be more price sensitive; have lower levels of satisfaction with their stay; are less loyal to hotel brands; and tend to report more problems, compared with guests who book through a hotel website or call the hotel or hotel brand directly. Satisfaction among guests who book through the hotel brand website or call directly averages 774 and 768, respectively, compared with guests who book through an independent website or online travel agency (OTA), 729.
The 2012 North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study is based on responses gathered between August 2011 and May 2012 from more than 61,700 guests from the U.S. and Canada who stayed in a hotel in North America between June 2011 and May 2012.
Now in its 16th year, the study measures overall hotel guest satisfaction across seven hotel segments: luxury; upper upscale; upscale; mid-scale full service; mid-scale limited service; economy/budget; and extended stay. Seven key measures are examined within each segment to determine overall satisfaction: reservations; check-in/check-out; guest room; food and beverage; hotel services; hotel facilities; and costs and fees.
The following hotel brands rank highest in guest satisfaction within their respective segments:
• Luxury: The Ritz-Carlton (third consecutive year) • Upper Upscale: Omni Hotels & Resorts • Upscale: Hilton Garden Inn and SpringHill Suites (tie) • Mid-Scale Full Service: Holiday Inn (second consecutive year) • Mid-Scale Limited Service: Drury Hotels (seventh consecutive year) • Economy/Budget: Jameson Inn • Extended Stay: Homewood Suites (third consecutive year)