J.D. Power survey uncovers what guests want post-COVID

The hotel industry overall has maintained a strong overall customer satisfaction score in J.D. Power 2021 North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study, but now that the pandemic is waning, hotel guests have made it clear they want breakfast and other hotel amenities.

“Frontline staff have been the real heroes of the North American hotel industry during this past year, managing to navigate a very difficult situation while holding overall hotel guest satisfaction steady and actually improving customer satisfaction with staff interactions,” said Andrea Stokes, hospitality practice lead at J.D. Power, in a statement. “As we transition to a more normalized travel environment, however, guest expectations are growing rapidly and certain must-haves, such as smart TVs, pleasant views and balconies, are becoming increasingly important to maintaining high levels of guest satisfaction. It is also clear that guests expect breakfast service to resume, especially in limited-service hotels that usually provide complimentary hot breakfast.”

Since this round of the survey began last May in the early stages of the pandemic, the J.D. Power team added a few questions about what safety measures guests were seeing in hotels, taking those answers into account month by month as waves of the pandemic affected health and travel. “The numbers started out really low—understandably [as] hotels had to ramp up over time because these protocols were all new,” Stokes said. “But even into 2021, after many months had gone by, the numbers stalled out ... It never got to be 100 percent, which you might think, in a pandemic, it should be.”  

Top Findings

Satisfaction with breakfast declines: In all but one hotel segment, guests were particularly dissatisfied with reduced variety and quality with breakfasts, if the meal was offered at all. Through the study fielding dates, 36 percent of hotels eliminated buffet-style serving. “They had to,” Stokes said of the diminished offerings. “They had to either take away breakfast altogether or develop some kind of grab-and-go.” The dissatisfaction was particularly pronounced in the upper-midscale segment, she noted. “Through no fault of their own, that dissatisfaction did come through in our study.” While some brands have discussed making permanent reductions to their breakfast offerings, Stokes thinks guests won’t appreciate any long-term changes. “It's an expense, but it's a differentiator, especially in upper midscale,” she said.  “If you no longer offer that complimentary breakfast ... you kind of risk losing that differentiation and guests might go elsewhere.” 

Hotel staff, flexible cancellation policies save the day: Overall hotel guest satisfaction across the study is 830 (on a 1,000-point scale), unchanged from 2020 and 10 points higher than in 2019. The strong performance can be credited to the overall hotel staff experience, which has increased slightly in 2021. Hotel guests also had higher satisfaction with value for money, reflecting the reduction in room rates many hotel properties undertook to stimulate demand.

TVs get smarter: The study shows a 9 percentage point increase in demand for smart TVs in hotel rooms—a logical development after a year of quarantining at home. “We were all watching TV at home and we were subscribing to more and more entertainment services,” Stokes said. “[Guests] want to be able to access those subscriptions on the road and while they're in their hotel.” 

Top views: Demand for a balcony or at least a room with a view is up 6 percentage points, a solid revenue opportunity for hotels, Stokes said. “It's understandable—we've all been cooped up in our home so if we’re going to stay in a hotel, it's nice to have a nice view or a balcony.

Study Rankings

The following hotel brands rank highest in guest satisfaction in their respective segment:

  1. Luxury: The Ritz-Carlton
  2. Upper-upscale: Hard Rock Hotels
  3. Upscale: AC Hotels
  4. Upper-midscale: Drury Hotels (for a 16th consecutive year)
  5. Midscale: Tru by Hilton (for a second consecutive year)
  6. Economy: SureStay by Best Western (for a second consecutive year)

The Ritz-Carlton and AC Hotels by Marriott moved up in overall points and rankings since 2020. In the luxury segment, The Ritz-Carlton has achieved first place for six out of the last seven years, earning a total of 890 points in 2021. Within the same category, JW Marriott was awarded the second-highest ranking with a total of 887 points. For the upscale segment, AC Hotels achieved the No. 1 ranking with a total of 871 points, noted for its leading guest satisfaction and top scores in guestrooms and hotel facilities.

Hard Rock was ranked No. 1 in six factors: arrival/departure; guestrooms; food and beverage; services and amenities; hotel facilities; and cost and fees. This is the third consecutive year the brand has been recognized as one of the top-performing hotels.

Drury, meanwhile, is celebrating its 16th consecutive guest-satisfaction award, setting a record for most consecutive wins in the J.D. Power travel and hospitality category.

The 2021 North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study, now in its 25th year, analyzes guest responses to more than 150 questions regarding branded hotel stay experiences and benchmarks the performance of 104 brands across six market segments. This year’s study is based on responses from 32,963 hotel guests for stays between May 2020 and June 2021.