Front Desk

Are Airlines Gaining on Hotels in Satisfaction?

Aren't you glad your parents didn't raise you to go into the airline business? It's hard to find an industry more loathed, ridiculed and demeaned (all with good reason) than our nation's airlines. The good news is while the flying experience is generally horrible for travelers, many of them feel they've reached a safe haven once they arrive at the front door of a hotel.

This characterization of hotels versus airlines, while intuitive, is also based in fact. The most recent annual American Customer Satisfaction Index was released this morning, and it shows a wide gulf in satisfaction between the lodging and airline industries. Disturbingly, the satisfaction chasm has closed slightly in recent years, hopefully as a sign that air transportation is improving, not that hotels are slipping.

A few numbers: According to the ACSI report, customer satisfaction with hotels is 77 on a scale of 0 to 100, while airlines register a mere 67. Since the inaugural report in 1994, hotels have only improved slightly (from 75 to 77), while customer satisfaction with air travel has fallen from 72 to the base year to this year's 67. Even the U.S. Postal Service kicks airlines' butts, improving from a hideous 61 in 1994 to a respectable 75 today.

Digging further into the data uncovers another unpleasant fact: business travelers, the cash cows of the travel business, are less satisfied with their hotel experience (72) than are leisure travelers (77). And perhaps not surprising, upscale hotels score better, probably due to the higher levels of service and amenities they provide.

Of course, it's all just noise and numbers unless you stop to think what this kind of study means to you as an owner or operator. It's easy to sit back and laugh at your colleagues toiling in the airline industry, they being hated and ridiculed simultaneously. What's important is to remember the reasons why travelers get that feeling of relief when they check into a hotel following long, arduous and hassle-filled plane trip. They like hotels because of the high levels of personal service, the ease of checking in and out, the comfort, quiet and cleanliness of guestrooms and the lack (for the most part) of hidden fees that gouge customer wallets and psyches at the same time. But these feelings of good will toward a hotel can fade quickly if management doesn't pay attention to both the basics of hospitality and the cutting trends guests want today and in the future.

Many hotels and hotel companies reduced staff at the onset of the recession and have largely resisted hiring these employees back. While that's good for the bottom line, it can affect the levels of personal service even guests at mid-market hotels expect. And what are bigger turnoffs to travelers than televisions with substandard channel offerings, or Internet access that costs $15 a night or doesn't provide the service it promises, or the $5 bottles of water sitting on tabletops taunting weary and thirsty guests?

It's good to revel in our superiority over the airlines, but it can all change quickly. Who would ever believe consumers would one day have positive feelings about the Postal Service?

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