Hotel Guest Satisfaction Scores Are Disappointing

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I got a press release last month from NewYorkHotels.org, an online booking service, trumpeting the fact that 73% of visitors to New York City said in a survey they were happy with their hotel stays. That's an alarming statistic and should be a major call to action for every lodging property in New York and everywhere. Is that the best the hotel industry can do?

According to the survey, 13% of those surveyed gave their hotels a negative rating, and the remaining 14% of the group were neutral about their stays, which to me is as damning as the percentage of people who had a bad experience. If this is the standard the hotel industry collectively believes is acceptable, then every owner and operator needs to reevaluate his or her operation. No business can afford to have one out of four customers unhappy with the product or service they receive. When compared to other sectors of the hospitality industry, hotels should shine in the eyes of consumers: Everyone hates the airlines and the air travel experience; car rental is a commodity buy that provides no sizzle to the customer; timeshare will struggle until the economy gets healthy; and too many people can't afford or are afraid of the cruise ship experience.

However, hotels should be a place of refuge, romance, fun, comfort, efficiency and exhilaration depending on why a guest is checking in. And, in fact, even a business traveler can be exhilarated by his or her stay at a hotel, and leisure guests, while primarily seeking romance and fun, also want their stays to be efficient and hassle free. Anything less should be unacceptable to anyone who owns, operates or works in a hotel.

This seemingly low standard of acceptable satisfaction reminds me of a story about J. Willard Marriott, Sr., the founder of Marriott who initially resisted his son Bill's desire to get into the hotel business. Once the company built and opened the Key Bridge Marriott in suburban Washington, DC in the late 1950s, Bill and the group of hotel pros he hired to help start the lodging business went to JW Sr.'s office with the good news that the Key Bridge property hit 90% occupancy. Instead of the expected response (such as atta boy!), Marriott Sr. wanted to know why the hotel hot shots couldn't fill up the remaining 10% of the rooms.

The same is true of guest satisfaction. No hotelier should be happy or stop trying to improve until 100% of guests say they're happy, thrilled, overwhelmed, bowled-over and utterly satisfied with their stays. It's a job that never ends.

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