The US-based hospitality market research firm Market Metrix has published the 2006 Market Metrix Hospitality Index (MMHI), revealing the year's top hotels, airlines and car rental providers, from a customer satisfaction point of view.
Based on 140,000 consumer interviews conducted throughout 2006, Drury Inns, JetBlue Airways and Enterprise Rent-a-Car took the top spot in the hotel, airline and rental car industries for customer satisfaction.
Compared to 2005, hotel customer satisfaction for 2006 remained unchanged at 82.1, slightly below the pre-9/11 customer-satisfaction score of 83. For 2006 Drury Inns led the way, improving 2.3 points to 91, but most of the industry did not show improvement.
The only segment to advance was Midscale with food and beverage (+0.5 to 79.4) led by Clarion Hotels & Resorts (+0.9 to 80.4) and Holiday Inn Select (+0.7 to 79.9). The luxury segment showed the biggest decline (-0.7 to 86.4) with W Hotels (down 3.5 to 85.7) posting the largest drop.
The airline industry dropped 0.7 points to 78.5, its lowest score since the industry was rocked by 9/11. As airlines continue to struggle with labour contracts, bankruptcies and higher fuel prices, consumers feel they are getting less for their money.
Industry leader JetBlue still rules the industry at 89.1. Spirit Airlines made the industry's biggest jump, improving nearly 6.1 to 81.6. Northwest Airlines, on the other hand, dropped 1.1 to 70.9, taking last place in the industry (possibly due to strikes and its Chapter 11 filing).
Car rental changes
Satisfaction among car rental companies was unchanged at 78.9 with Payless showing the biggest improvement (+2.8 to 75.1) and Advantage Rent-A-Car falling the most (-4.5 to 76.1).
Hotel bookings online
The MMHI also includes measures of the hotel reservation experience - both online and offline, which provides special insight into the growing popularity of web site usage and the satisfaction with the online experience.
More people are booking online than ever before - and hotel companies have been trying hard to get these customers to book through their web sites. These efforts have paid off. The majority of persons who make hotel reservations online are now booking directly on the hotel or brand web site rather than going through the big travel portals. According to Market Metrix, this is quite an achievement for the hotel industry despite many new web sites attempting to book or refer hotel reservations. Hotel companies are paying less money to travel portals and are establishing more relationships directly with their guests.
Rise of the hotel-branded web site
One major reason why more customers are using hotel sites to make their reservations is that hotel companies have significantly improved their web sites. The quality of the experience with the web site can influence customers' decision making, ultimately reinforcing loyalty or losing customers for the brand.
In 2004 and 2005, hotel web sites were outscored by Yahoo! Travel and Hotwire for satisfaction with the online reservation experience. But now, for the first time, hotel web sites scored higher in satisfaction (providing a better reservations experience) than popular travel web sites. To make these gains, hotel sites have improved their navigation, design, usefulness of information, ease of booking and other critical components of the online experience.
The top performing hotel site for 2006 was Drury Inns. According to travellers, Drury's web site delivered the best user experience compared to all other hotel brand web sites. Sleep Inns (Choice) and Courtyard by Marriott finished closely behind Drury. Hotel and brand web sites have improved significantly and now, many of these sites outscore the best internet travel portals in overall satisfaction with the online experience.
Top rankings for 2006
The companies ranking top for customer satisfaction in the 2006 Market Metrix Hospitality Index included: