What do hotel guests care about the most?
In a study published in February by the Hotel School at the SC Johnson College of Business at Cornell University, authors Jie Zhang and Rohit Verma analyzed online reviews to learn which aspects of a hotel stay matter most to guests. The study covers more than 95,000 reviews on TripAdvisor, Expedia, and Booking.com for 99 independent hotels that are members of Preferred Hotels & Resorts. The study examines how guests’ ratings of four subcategories – room, service, amenities and facilities, and location and building – affect their overall rating of a hotel.
The authors explained that by studying reviews for hotels that are all members of the same association and that have similar standards, they can assume guests’ preferences and characteristics are fairly consistent among these hotels. This allows the authors to zero in on the qualities of a hotel stay that lead to positive or negative reviews.
According to the study, guests value a comfortable room most highly, and that service is the next most important factor. Amenities and facilities are less important, and location and building have the smallest effect on a rating. It appears that guests who write reviews are most focused on their immediate surroundings during their stay and on the service they experience. The authors conclude that building and location have little effect on ratings because guests are already aware of a hotel’s location before they arrive, so there are few surprises there.
The study also examined how consistent a hotel’s ratings are, finding that hotels with consistent ratings tend to have higher ratings on average. Although hotels with inconsistent ratings receive some positive reviews, the positive ratings are outweighed by many negative ones that drag the average score down. This implies that hotels should aim to provide consistent service and to meet high standards in every interaction with guests. Although it might be tempting to try to give a small number of guests extra attention during special occasions like anniversaries or birthdays, this study suggests that it’s more important to offer good service in general than to single anyone out for exceptional treatment.
Finally, the authors compare the wording of positive and negative reviews and identify some phrases that appear most frequently. They find 23 words that show up most often in both positive and negative comments, suggesting that these factors could make or break a guest’s stay. Some of these words are “staff,” “comfortable,” “bed,” “clean,” and “room.” Guests apparently focus on the quality of service they receive and on how clean and comfortable their room is, and the tone of their reviews depends on whether they’re satisfied with the room and customer service. The words “friendly” and “helpful” appear in positive reviews but not in negative ones, underscoring the importance of a helpful staff. And the word “bathroom” appears more often in negative reviews, which might mean that dirty bathrooms or not enough soap or towels are especially disappointing to guests and cause them to complain online about their stay.
The authors’ advice for hotels and their staff is to concentrate on service because it’s important to guests. Some areas of service that hotels should emphasize are speaking to guests in a friendly and helpful way, keeping the bathroom clean and well-stocked, and making sure the room and bed are comfortable. Hotel professionals should try to provide the same excellent service to every guest who walks in the door, because consistency contributes to a good reputation. In comparison, amenities are a nice extra but not very significant for a hotel’s relationship with its’ guests.