Front Desk

As Guests Return, Keeping Them Happy Becomes Challenge

Many of the usual suspects are back on top of this year's North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study from J.D. Power and Associates, but what is somewhat surprising is overall guest satisfaction increased in all six segments. It's a credit to savvy hotel owners and operators who have been forced to cut costs (and staff) to survive the worst downturn in the industry's history, yet still managed to find a way to keep their customers happy.

The real challenge will be during the ongoing recovery as occupancy returns while rate continues to lag. Will any of the programs or employees slashed be brought back or will properties be stretched even thinner? Scott Steilen, a principal of asset management firm Warnick + Co., noted during the recent Midwest Lodging Investors Summit that operations have been scraped to the bone and can't become a permanent thing. But if rate and revenue aren't returning as quickly as guests, what will give?

The six leaders in guest satisfaction, according to the J.D. Power's study, by segment:

• Luxury: The Ritz-Carlton (Four Seasons ranked first last year)

• Upscale: Omni Hotels (Embassy Suites last year)

• Mid-Scale Full Service: Hilton Garden Inn (for a second consecutive year)

• Mid-Scale Limited Service: Drury Inn & Suites (for a fifth consecutive year)

• Economy/Budget: Microtel Inns & Suites (for a ninth consecutive year)

• Extended Stay: Homewood Suites (Staybridge Suites last year)

Other interesting nuggets from the study:

• The proportion of guests making reservations online increased from 54 percent to 58 percent, a year after a three percent drop. Good for brand companies and owners, the study showed more guests booked using the hotel's site than independent travel sites.

• The top five “must have” amenities for guests are wireless internet access, free breakfast, bedding and pillow choices, pillow-top mattresses and free parking. Seventy-seven percent of guests said they would rather use WiFi than wired connections.

• Guest awareness of “green” programs increased slightly with 68 percent saying they were aware of a property's efforts.

The study was based on responses from more than 53,000 guests who stayed at a hotel between May 2009 and June of this year.

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