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Hotel guests are paying more and (gasp!) they’re OK with that

A penny saved may be a penny earned but it probably won’t buy you a good night’s sleep. That’s among the takeaways of the just-released North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study from J.D. Power and Associates, which shows that travelers who focus the most on saving money on their lodging tend to be the least satisfied with their experience.

“You’d assume that because price is a driver of satisfaction that those people should be among the happiest — if I got the best deal, I should be a happier customer, right?” said Rick Garlick, global travel and hospitality practice lead.

“But what we found is that, at every level of hotel, the “price shopper” segment is by far the least happiest, least satisfied of any group. If they’re paying anything for anything, they’re unhappy.”

And who were the most satisfied guests? So-called “scrutinizers,” who do their homework, read online reviews and choose their accommodations on the information they glean before booking.

“In an information age where all this information is available, the 7 percent of hotel buyers that really takes advantage of it are much happier, more satisfied consumers than those who don’t,” said Garlick.

The discrepancy is heightened by the fact that this year’s overall satisfaction scores were the highest recorded since 2006 and come after two years of overall declines. Based on a 1,000-point scale, overall guest satisfaction averaged 777, up 20 points from last year.

By comparison, the average score for price shoppers was 718; the average for scrutinizers was 891.

"That’s 114 points higher than the average,” said Garlick. “That’s huge.”

The irony, perhaps, is that overall scores were up even though hotel prices are higher than in previous years. According to Garlick, the reasons include people feeling more confident about their financial situation, an uptick in company-paid business travel and a resurgence in the renovations and hiring that had been put on hold during the last several years.

“The industry has finally caught up,” said Garlick. “They’re taking on projects and restoring service levels so people are happier with what they’re getting for the price that they’re paying.”

Furthermore, the report suggests that service levels may play an even bigger role in customer satisfaction than conventional wisdom would suggest. On the simplest level, increased staffing should mean faster service and the ability to pay more attention to guests’ needs.

Equally important, though, is the sheer number of staff-guest interactions. According to the report, guests who have four or more staff interactions beyond check-in are the most satisfied, scoring 856, while those who had no interactions beyond check-in scored just 724.

That could present a problem going forward, especially as more hotels embrace the self-service trend, allowing guests to check themselves in, retrieve their room keys and serve themselves meals.

As Garlick notes, what such hotels gain by offering convenience they may lose by turning what many guests consider an important part of their travel experience into just another commodity.

“They’re probably looking at the airline model,” said Garlick, “but, really, when was the last time the airlines focused on service?”

For those looking for something a little more special, here are the top scorers in each of the 8 categories in the J.D. Power report:

·     Luxury: The Ritz-Carlton (881)

·     Upper upscale: Kimpton Hotels (845)

·     Upscale: Hyatt Place (831)

·     Midscale full-service: Holiday Inn (788)

·     Midscale: Drury Hotels (858)

·     Economy/budget: Microtel Inn and Suites by Wyndham (756)

·     Upper extended stay: Homewood Suites (845)

·     Extended stay: TownePlace Suites (819)

Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him on Twitter.