J.D. Power: Hoteliers must focus on services, interaction

The Ritz-Carlton once again topped J.D. Power's list for guest satisfaction. Pictured: The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel. Photo credit: Marriott International (According to J.D. Power’s 2018 North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study, capital investments from hoteliers are paying off. Now is the time, however, to refocus on service.)

Sometimes you have to spend money to make money. According to J.D. Power’s "2018 North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study," hoteliers' investments are paying off as increased approval of guestrooms and hotel facilities drove an 8-point hike in guest satisfaction, which reached 825 for the total industry on a 1,000-point scale.

Jennifer Corwin, associate practice lead for the global travel and hospitality practice at J.D. Power, said that years of capital investment into amenities that guests deem important, such as high-end TVs and in-room tablets, are having a positive impact on guest satisfaction. In fact, a large flat-panel TV in a hotel guestroom can result in a 12-point lift in guest satisfaction for a hotel, and an in-room tablet can bring about a 47-point increase.

While technology investment still is a driver for guest satisfaction, these scores are gradually lowering. The largest boost from technology comes from mobile app adoption at 58 points, though it is down from a 65-point increase in 2017. Because of this, Corwin said it’s up to hotels to turn to service areas to create improvements, singling out direct bookings. According to Corwin, improvements in service should translate into stronger direct bookings, but J.D. Power's survey did not reflect these results.

“One thing that was a little surprising about this year’s report is that we’re not seeing a lot of change in incidence between direct versus [online travel agency] bookings from hotel guests,” Corwin said. “Satisfaction is up and hotels are doing a good job there, but we’re not really seeing that uptick in direct bookings year over year that we expected, given all the work hotels have done in that area.”

Corwin also said that hotels should consider refining service efforts, which represent a greater opportunity for satisfaction improvements and require less investment than capital improvements. She cited Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, a company with some of the highest average daily rates in the industry but also some of its highest satisfaction score. Corwin credits these scores to Four Seasons’ service levels and processes.

“We don’t have data that coordinates staffing levels with satisfaction, though we do ask about staff interaction,” Corwin said. “A lot of guests are still interacting with staff less than they have in the past, so a staffing level change may not have as much an impact now that it may have had in the past. It may be that we have more of a self-service culture at work today.”

Corwin also highlighted the importance of providing an authentic, local experience and its impact on guest satisfaction scores. She admitted that defining a local experience is difficult, but J.D. Power focuses on food-and-beverage, guestroom decor and facility decor to poll respondents, finding that guestroom decor has the greatest impact on satisfaction scores.

“We leave it up to guest perception to define what is ‘local,’” Corwin said. “Because our study ranges from the economy to luxury segments, we noted that guestroom decor has the greatest impact on local perception and satisfaction. However, this is partly because only guests in the upscale segment and above are consistently experiencing F&B in hotels.”  

The report noted that the greatest improvement in overall guest satisfaction is taking place in the upper-midscale segment, which is up 12 points over 2017. Meanwhile, the luxury, upper-upscale, upscale and midscale segments increased seven points, while the upper-extended-stay, extended-stay and economy segments increased six points.

The Ritz-Carlton brand is the leader in the luxury segment for the fourth year in a row, but that’s not all. The brand’s satisfaction score came in at 902, up 14 points from last year and officially the highest score ever recorded for a brand in the study. The largest increase overall came from Drury Hotels, which was up 15 points year over year and was the third-highest score of any brand at 895 (just behind Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts at 896).

The following hotel brands came out on top in guest satisfaction rankings for their respective segments: 

  • Luxury: The Ritz-Carlton (for the fourth consecutive year)
  • Upper-upscale: Kimpton Hotels
  • Upscale: Hilton Garden Inn (for the third consecutive year)
  • Upper-midscale: Drury Hotels (for the 13th consecutive year)
  • Midscale: Wingate by Wyndham (for the fourth consecutive year)
  • Economy: Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham
  • Upper-extended-stay: Staybridge Suites (for the second consecutive year)
  • Extended-stay: Home2 Suites by Hilton