Offering a completely smoke-free environment is poised to become the latest differentiator in the competitive hotel industry, according to a new study from J.D. Power and Associates.
The J.D. Power and Associates 2006 North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study found that 79% of hotel guests prefer a smoke-free environment that exceeds the boundaries of their guest room. While guests of luxury hotels (such as Four Seasons or Ritz-Carlton) are most likely to prefer a non-smoking environment, upscale hotels (such as Hilton, Westin, and Marriott) have been quicker to adopt this policy. Marriott International, for example, recently announced that all of its lodging brands in the US and Canada will be 100% smoke-free starting in September 2006, and Westin Hotels & Resorts have been 100% smoke-free since earlier this year.
Quality of service still top
According to Linda Hirneise, executive director of the travel practice at J.D. Power and Associates, "What was once a differentiator is now expected by consumers. 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 throughout the US, 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 tenth 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, guest room, 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 study found that costs and fees have 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. As Hirneise points out: "Economic forces such as soaring gas prices and increased cost of living are taking their toll on discretionary income. More than ever, travellers 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.