Meh. According to a recent study from J.D. Power, that’s a growing sentiment among travelers about hotels these days. The study, released last week, noted that as hotel guests increasingly come to expect amenities that used to be special perks, the industry may be reaching a customer satisfaction plateau.
In particular, the J.D. Power 2016 North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study noted that while consumers still love free Wi-Fi, breakfasts, and parking, these perks aren’t impressing travelers as much as they used to. The study measured satisfaction on a 1,000-point scale, and although overall satisfaction improved for a fourth consecutive year, the bump was only 2 points over the 2015 total, representing a much smaller increase than in recent years.
Also of note: Ritz-Carlton earned the highest satisfaction scores in the history of the study at 896, and 2015 was the second consecutive year Ritz-Carlton topped the list. Four Seasons was second with a score of 882, Hilton Garden Inn took top scores in the “upscale” category, and Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham notched top honors in the economy/budget category.
A closer look at the data indicates that the issues of hotel rates and fees appear to be a major factor in the leveling-off. Previous studies found that satisfaction with costs and fees improved by 25 points between 2014 and 2015, but this year satisfaction in this area improved by only 1 point.
Rick Garlick, global travel and hospitality practice lead at J.D. Power, said in a press release that travel consumers demand value from hotels and become dissatisfied when they feel they aren’t getting it.
“Customers have responded well to the enhanced offerings provided by some hotel brands to create value, but as those perks become standard, customers are quick to ask, ‘What have you done for me lately?’” said Garlick. “When guests no longer see added value in the quality of amenities they receive, the only option to truly differentiate a brand is to develop a strong service culture that makes guests feel special and appreciated.”
Not surprisingly, the J.D. Power study also found that satisfaction generally is higher among members of hotel rewards programs and that older travelers (Gen Xers and Baby Boomers) are much more likely to be members of these programs.
By extension, this means that younger travelers (Gen Yers and Millennials) not affiliated with rewards programs are among the most dissatisfied travelers.
Other interesting findings of the study:
1. Only 3 percent of 63,000 respondents used online check-in, but customer satisfaction was highest among these guests.
2. The three most important amenities to study respondents were free Wi-Fi, free breakfast, and free parking. More than 70 percent of respondents said they received free Wi-Fi at some point this year—a number that feels high considering how many hotels still charge for access.
3. Overall satisfaction is about 40 percent higher among guests who post comments about their experiences on social media.
This was the 20th year of J.D. Power studies focusing on consumer satisfaction in the hotel industry.
Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor based in Healdsburg, California. In nearly 20 years as a full-time freelancer, he has covered travel for publications including TIME, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Sunset, Backpacker, Entrepreneur, and more. He contributes to the Expedia Viewfinder blog and writes a monthly food column for Islands magazine. Villano also serves on the board of the Family Travel Association and blogs about family travel at Wandering Pod. Learn more about him at Whalehead.com