Qualtrics’ Hotel Pain Index Reveals Guests’ Likes, Dislikes

PROVO, UT—Are you serving hotel guests in the way they want to be served? High customer satisfaction is a telltale sign of a thriving business. It’s what keeps them happy and coming back for more. However, new data shows that hoteliers have room for improvement.

Experience management company Qualtrics, based here, surveyed 1,000 recent hotel patrons for its Hotel Pain Index to determine which factors most improved or diminished their hotel stay. Surprisingly, nearly one in five guests said their hotel experience was so bad it ruined their vacation.

Other findings revealed that guests prefer free WiFi to the complimentary breakfast; guestrooms that are clean and quiet; and friendly employees. It all factors into the price, too. A strong 82% of guests surveyed check out of hotels thinking they overpaid for their stay, at least sometimes. On the flip side, the most desired hotel amenities are the on-site restaurant (86%), parking (83%) and the pool or spa (68%).

“We live in a new world where producing incredible goods or providing a great service are no longer enough. Customers are looking for an unforgettable experience. They are looking for something they can share with all of their friends on social media. That’s why experience management is the new marketing,” said Mike Maughan, head of global insights at Qualtrics. “If hotels can provide a meaningful experience for their guests, then those guests can do more of the marketing through online reviews, social media posts, etc. Word of mouth is more powerful than ever given that there are so many more places and ways for people to share their experiences—whether good or bad.”

Hoteliers are looking to close the gap between experiences they think they are providing and the experiences their customers are actually receiving, noted Maughan. “It’s what I call the experience gap. Most organizations think they are doing a great job at providing an incredible customer experience, but most customers don’t agree.” With strong competition from a variety of different business channels—OTAs, home-sharing websites, retailers becoming hotel brands, etc.—it’s important to focus on ensuring guests have the best experience possible at your establishment.

To gather the data, Qualtrics used a “statistically significant panel of people” who are regular guests at hotels. The company has survey methodologists on staff who oversee the study, data collection and analysis. “We were hoping to better understand what the experience is like for the typical hotel guest and how that experience differed among guests who traditionally stay at different types of hotels—five star vs. two star, etc.

“I think the most important piece is potentially the least surprising. Clean rooms are the single biggest factor in people having a great experience. Dirty rooms are the single biggest factor in people having a negative experience,” he said. “Why is that so important? Hotels spend huge sums of money on getting the decor right or putting in a new restaurant or updating amenities. All of those things can make a difference, but none of them will matter if a hotel can’t get the fundamentals nailed perfectly. Sometimes, groups focus too much on areas that aren’t essential to closing the experience gap and that can be energy wasted in the wrong direction.”

Guests who regularly stay at five-star hotels were four times more likely to say they always overpay, according to the results of the survey. “Again, this goes back to the experience gap. Guests at very nice hotels have very high expectations that they will have an incredible experience,” he said. “While hoteliers may feel they are providing an experience at that level, it’s clear that there is a gap between what people expect and what they are actually receiving.”

Lastly, Maughan noted that that 13% of guests have had a hotel experience so bad they have cried. That number goes up to 34% for guests of five-star hotels.

“This is a huge indication of the experience gap and what happens when the gap isn’t closed. Business travel is one thing. Personal travel is another. People put lots of effort into travel. And for some, it’s a very rare experience,” he said. “Expectations are high, maybe not even for the best service in the world, but expectations that at least the minimum threshold will be met—clean rooms, for example. When that doesn’t happen, a lot of emotions can come pouring out.”

So, what can hoteliers do about it? Show a sincere effort, according to Maughan. “We live in a world where people want great experiences and they disproportionally reward or punish companies based on the experience they have. To that end, guests are also willing to reward effort if they know you’re trying to provide a great experience or at least willing to hop in and make something right,” he said. “In the survey, we see that guests don’t think hotels put a lot of effort into providing a great guest experience. About 35% of overall hotel guests feel the effort is lacking. It’s easy to focus on the glitz and glam of a place and fail to remember that if the fundamentals aren’t taken care of, then none of the rest matters.”