||Guests Happier with Hotel Prices Despite Rising Rates
Hotel guests this year are more satisfied with the price of a hotel stay despite rising room rates, an annual survey of travelers finds.
The counterintuitive finding, from J.D. Power and Associates' 15th annual study of North American hotel guest satisfaction published this week, also comes as many hotels continue to charge extra for Internet access and travelers say they're generally less satisfied with their overall hotel experience than they were last year.
The finding surprises Stuart Greif, J.D. Power's global travel practice chief.
"You'd expect that when prices go up, satisfaction should go down with cost and fees," Greif says.
By "cost and fees," the study refers to hotel rates and fees for Internet service, parking and other amenities.
The study measures consumers' enthusiasm with hotels generally and in specific areas, as well as with large chains from across the price spectrum.
Hotels may have airlines to thank for the uptick in satisfaction with hotel expenses, Greif says.
Airlines have been more aggressive than hotels in raising prices because they control the number of seats available for sale, he says.
Hotels cannot control the number of rooms they have available, and so they haven't had the power to raise rates as much as airlines, he added.
Travelers, meanwhile, are less happy than last year as many hotels had postponed property improvements during the recession.
Last year, they had an easier time getting upgrades into nicer rooms and benefited from shorter check-in lines because hotels were emptier, Greif says.
This year, some of those pleasant surprises have disappeared as more business travelers get back on the road.
"So now we see a strain on check-in times, and folks who want to use the treadmill may have to wait a little longer," he says. "Expectations bounce back faster than hoteliers are able to catch up to."
According to industry tracker Smith Travel Research, U.S. hotel occupancy through May was 65%. That's 5% higher than last year.
The average rate hit $102, or 4% more than a year ago.
The J.D. Power study measures overall hotel guest satisfaction by examining seven key measures: reservations, check-in/check-out, guest room, food and beverage, hotel services, hotel facilities, and costs and fees.
The study is based on responses gathered in May and June from more than 61,300 guests from North America who stayed in a North American hotel between May 2010 and May 2011.
Other highlights from the survey:
• Free Internet. This year's survey shows that a traveler's satisfaction with a hotel is 32 points higher if Internet fees are included in the rate.
"Even among the highest-ranking luxury players such as Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons, when they charge separate Internet fees, it cuts against what could be higher levels of satisfaction," J.D. Power says.
• Most-improved chain. Holiday Inn's rating underscores the massive transformation the chain's hotels have completed in the last several years, Greif notes.
Holiday Inn this year is the highest-ranked chain in its category, following gains made last year.
"That's something that didn't happen overnight," he says. "It shows that when hoteliers are focused, they can take even brands that have fallen on hard times and reinvigorate them."
• Making a difference. Satisfaction scores for the upscale hotel category show a small point spread between most of the 10 chains listed, such as No. 1 Embassy Suites, followed by Omni, Marriott, Westin and Renaissance. That raises the question, Greif says: "How does a hotel distinguish itself?"
Hotels, he says, need to work even harder to stand out from the pack as more hotels embrace technology that reduces travelers' interactions with humans, such as automatic check-in kiosks.
"The bright spot for hotel guests is that costs and fees remain relatively low, so the value received for the price paid is still quite high," Greif says. "The bright spot for hoteliers is that there appears to be more upward opportunity on rates."
(Source: USA Today, 07/20/11)
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