WESTLAKE VILLAGE, CALIF.—Offering a completely smoke-free environment is poised to become the latest differentiator in the competitive hotel industry, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2006 North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study.
The study found that 79 percent of hotel guests prefer a smoke-free environment that exceeds the boundaries of their guestroom. While guests of luxury hotels (Four Seasons, etc.) are most likely to prefer a nonsmoking environment, upscale hotels (Hilton, Westin, Marriott, etc.) have been quicker to adopt this policy. Marriott International Inc., for example, recently announced that all of its lodging brands in the United States and Canada will be 100 percent nonsmoking starting in September, and Westin Hotels & Resorts have been 100 percent smoke free since earlier this year.
“What was once a differentiator is now expected by consumers,” says Linda Hirneise, executive director of the travel practice at J.D. Power and Associates. “We saw this in the case of branded premium beds and online check-in/check-out, where one hotel introduced the concept and others followed suit. We could see the same kind of trend with the issue of smoking. Banning smoking is increasingly commonplace at restaurants across the country, and is gaining a lot of public support; thus, doing so in hotels is a natural next step. However, while going smoke-free could be a powerful marketing strategy, at the end of the day, the key differentiator in a guest experience remains the quality of service.”
The study, now in its 10th year, measures overall hotel guest satisfaction across six hotel segments: luxury, 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, guestroom, food and beverage, hotel services, hotel facilities, and costs and fees.
Overall hotel satisfaction has increased in five of six segments in 2006, with only the luxury segment declining slightly in satisfaction versus 2005. This may be a result of many hotel brands investing in massive renovations and bundling more amenities and services as a way of enhancing the overall guest experience. The following hotel brands rank highest in guest satisfaction within their respective segments:
• Luxury: Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts
• Upscale: Omni Hotels
• Mid-Scale Full Service: Hilton Garden Inn
• Mid-Scale Limited Service: Drury Inn & Suites
• Economy/Budget: Microtel Inns & Suites
• Extended Stay: Residence Inn
The study found that the costs and fees factor has significantly increased in importance to hotel guests, becoming either the most or second most important influencer of overall satisfaction across all six segments. At the same time, satisfaction with this factor has also declined significantly across several brands.
“Although there is a lot of optimism surrounding the hotel industry with respect to increased occupancy and development, several factors are still taking a toll on the industry,” Hirneise says. “Economic forces such as soaring gas prices and increased cost of living are taking their toll on discretionary income. More than ever, travelers are looking for the best value for their money and are becoming more conscious of what each hotel offers as far as complimentary services and amenities when deciding where to stay.”
The amenities that guests most often mention as “must haves” across the various segments include: high-speed Internet access, pillow-top mattresses, complimentary breakfast, in-room coffee/tea maker and a 27-inch or larger television. The quality of the high-speed Internet access, in particular, can have a strong impact on a guest’s likelihood to return to the property and the brand. Fourteen percent of guests experienced difficulties connecting to the Internet during their most recent hotel stay.
The 2006 North America Guest Satisfaction Index Study is based on responses from 42,211 guests who stayed in a hotel between January and June 2006.
Go to J.D. Power & Associates for more information.