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The April 2014 ACSI Travel Index report on hotels, Internet travel sites and airlines was revealed on Tuesday, designed to serve as an indicator of customer satisfaction among the three industries.
The report-based on interviews with 7,445 randomly selected customers of the three industries between Oct. 21, 2013 and March 11, 2014-indicates that guests are less satisfied with the hotel experience than they were when the 2013 report was conducted.
On the other hand, guests are happier with hotel websites than online travel agencies and airlines when it comes to the booking process itself.
The Hotel Experience
According to the report, customer satisfaction with hotels has dropped 3 percent to an average ACSI score of 75 over the past year.
The question is: Why?
According to ACSI Managing Director David VanAmburg, there are a few reasons for the decline in guest satisfaction.
For one, rates have generally increased in the last year, but the availability and quality of amenities, Internet service and in-room entertainment have remained the same or declined.
Not only have rates increased, but the hotel industry has generally been offering fewer discounts and incentives, as well.
"We've seen the industry as a whole since the (2008-2009) recession do a really good job of offering discounts and incentives," VanAmburg said. "As the economy has improved, hotels have been able to back away from that a bit."
Hotel chains catering to economy and midscale markets have generally scored worse in guest satisfaction. For example, Best Western, Choice and Wyndham each registered an ACSI score of 74 or worse, below the average score of 75.
"Generally, when you see a drop in the value proposition (the value of the experience) it tends to impact the discount brands more than it does the luxury brands," VanAmburg said.
When rates increase at discount brands, "that has a bigger impact on you as a guest because price is a bigger factor in why you are picking that brand," VanAmburg added.
On the flip side, chains that focus on upscale and luxury markets like Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt tend to score higher, even when rates increase, because guests don't mind paying more money at these brands (and expect to pay more) if they are receiving better accommodation, amenities and service. For example, Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott, luxury brands from Marriott International, topped all brands in guest satisfaction, registering ACSI scores of 86 and 83, respectively.
Said VanAmburg: "With a Marriott, with a Hilton, with a Hyatt, they tend to have that better mix of upscale and luxury brands. The focus is more on the customer experience, more amenities and so on. When you stay at a Ritz, at a JW, they do a very good job of meeting those expectations and even exceeding them."
VanAmburg added, "If you raise my price and I get something too, I tend to not be less satisfied."
So, in essence, it's unfair to compare midscale or economy brands to upscale and luxury brands. The best way to determine a brand's success is to measure it relative to the market it is targeting.
The midscale Best Western brand, for example, posted an ACSI score of 72 (below the overall industry average), but it topped all midscale brands.
Starwood's Sheraton brand posted the same score. On the other hand, it was the worst score among "upper upscale" brands.
"There's clearly some quality issues for that Sheraton brand," VanAmburg said. "It wouldn't be price. It really is a matter of that in-room experience."
In any case, every hotel chain except for InterContinental and Wyndham experienced a drop in guest satisfaction from last year's report, including Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt. Intercontinental now has the same score as Hilton and Hyatt (78). Wyndham remains last among the noted chains in the report with a score of 72. Marriott tops all hotel chains with a score of 81 after a 1 percent drop.
According to VanAmburg, a 1 percent drop isn't significant, but a 3 percent drop is worth noting. Best Western, Hilton and Starwood experienced a decrease in guest satisfaction of 6 percent, 3 percent and 3 percent, respectively. Best Western's numbers countered gains the chain had made over the past five years.
Of course, such a drop isn't worth being too concerned about unless it happens year after year. The latest data represents a one-year drop in guest satisfaction. If next year's report reflects the same, then there is reason to re-evaluate.
"If we (are seeing) what becomes a trend, then you are starting to see a consistent downward trend that should definitely be a concern to the industry," VanAmburg said. "Right now, it's not really anything to be too concerned about."
So, while hotel companies can probably get away with higher rates and fewer discounts these days, perhaps this is a warning signal to chains that the rates need to be decreased a little bit from where they are now. What happens in the next year will present a crystal-clear picture.
While guest satisfaction of the in-hotel experience has decreased over the past year, guests are still happier booking rooms at hotel websites than they are with online travel agencies such as Orbitz, Expedia, Priceline and Travelocity, according to the report.
Customer satisfaction with online travel agencies (as it relates to the overall booking experience) increased by 1 percent to an ACSI score of 77 over the past year, but that still doesn't touch hotel websites (83).
According to the report, guests find it more difficult to make reservations through online travel agencies (ACSI score of 79) as they do on hotel websites (88). According to those surveyed, the travel sites are not particularly easy to navigate (75), nor do customers find the variety of travel options all that impressive (75). Descriptions and images of destinations and hotel accommodations are "less than first-rate," according to the report (74). Guest reviews (74) and site-generated recommendations of other travel services (72) fall short, as well.
"The hotels generally are top-notch when it comes to sites that give you the information you are looking for (images of rooms, amenities, etc.)…and very good at managing the reservation process itself," VanAmburg said. "They've got that down."
ACSI Founder Claes Fornell added, via a release on Tuesday:
"Travelers explore options on travel sites, but often go directly to the provider to book. The challenge for travel websites is to close the sale while visitors are on their site. Even with the increased travel website overall satisfaction, this is not an easy thing to do."
Hotels also beat out online travel agencies when it came to customer support (via call centers, help pages or live chat on the website), registering an ACSI score of 81 (compared to 72 for travel sites).
The full ACSI report is available for free download at www.theACSI.org.
Born and raised in Santa Rosa, California. Graduated from San Diego State with a B.A. in journalism. Worked for Bleacher...
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