By Agnes DeFranco, Ed.D., CHAE, CHE, CHIA, CAHTA and Minwoo Lee, Ph.D., MBA, CHE, CHIA
Want to give your guests the tech amenities they want? Put your money where your five-star reviews are. This study mines thousands of online reviews to provide hoteliers with data-driven strategies to maximize payoff on IT spending.
Most modern enterprises in the United States have come to terms with both the benefits and the burdens associated with online review channels. Although guest satisfaction has always been a central pillar of the hospitality industry, instantaneous customer feedback has revolutionized the way hoteliers evaluate their performance in this area, and it was not long before researchers and data analysts across the hospitality industry started putting this information to use by recognizing online reviews for what they are: ultra-convenient data. This resource is an ideal opportunity to provide a fresh answer to a perennial conundrum: hotels might spend heavily on information technology, but are they giving the guests what they really want?
By using readily available data-mining and text-mining software, we were able to gather insight that would have otherwise taken years to accumulate through survey methods. The study used actual hotel guests’ reviews from TripAdvisor of the time period of November 2001 to July 2015, with a total of 520,668 reviews of 488 hotels in New York City. New York City was selected for this study because of the number and also the variety of hotels included in the sample. And, most importantly, the city ranked as the second largest market in the United States in 2018 with $12 billion in total revenue (STR, 2019). It was just behind the highest grossing market, Las Vegas at $14 billion (STR, 2019). Before diving into the vast pool of data, the study delineates the types of guest-facing technologies in question by organizing them in five categories: in-room, comfort, business essentials, communication and new technologies. The “in-room” category primarily includes audiovisual amenities: pay-per-view, streaming services, voicemail, speakers, etc. “Comfort” technologies include more physically tangible appliances such as safe deposit boxes, keycards, coffee makers and air conditioning. “Business essentials” refer to work tools like printers, broadband and wake-up calls. “Communication” mostly denotes internet connectivity features like high-speed Wi-Fi. Finally, “New Technologies” covers many of the buzz-worthy amenities that are currently propelling the industry into the future — newfangled developments such as robots, virtual reality, artificial intelligence and electric vehicle charging stations.
Findings: New Tech Reigns Supreme
After analyzing hundreds of thousands of reviews spanning the last two decades, the researchers found that there are multiple answers to their question. In short, it depends on the type and size of the hotel, as well as the demographics of its guests. The data does reinforce some things that are just good business sense: all hotels should make sure current features are in good working conditions to avoid surefire one-star reviews.
In terms of the number of reviews by category, in-room technologies reign supreme when it comes to gaining high ratings, closely followed by communications technologies (see table below).
The most commonly occurring ratings across all categories are 4 and 5-stars, possibly indicating that guests are generally more satisfied than less satisfied with all guest-facing technologies. This does not mean that hotels should rest on their laurels and stop investing in this regards. On the contrary, it means that hotels need to continue to invest in new technologies to uphold the tried-and-true precedent. The highest percentage of 4 and 5-star reviews come from the “new technologies” category, indicating that investing in this area is one of the most certain ways to guarantee favorable reviews.
Some guest interests vary according to the type of hotel. For example, over half of the time that tech terms were even mentioned in reviews, they came from those written by guests staying at four-star hotels. This is a strong indicator that guests at this category of hotel pay attention to and are more likely to comment on the technologies they experience. Four-star hotels were also more widely scrutinized (though usually favorably) for their comfort technologies.
As mentioned, the type of guest was also a critical factor in determining rating tendencies. Guests who traveled as couples were more likely to write reviews about comfort technologies. In fact, couples were responsible for over a third of all reviews where tech terms were mentioned. Consider how the modern couple or family tends to travel: little ones have iPads and tablets to play games and stay occupied, teenagers have smart phones, and parents have all of the above, including laptops. It follows that couples and families tend to demonstrate high engagement with guest-facing technologies during their stays. Accordingly, if hotels want to attract these demographics as their clientele, it is wise to highlight all technology amenities in advertising and pre-arrival marketing, especially stressing the comfort technologies.
While there are rarely financial shortcuts to achieving high customer satisfaction, the study illuminates hoteliers’ best alternative: take advantage of data that is already available to develop the smartest course of action for your operation. Let us, as an industry, stay smart, embrace technology, and let technology work for the enjoyment of our guests.
Agnes DeFranco, Ed.D., CHAE, CHE, CHIA, ISHC is a professor and the Conrad N. Hilton Distinguished Chair at the Conrad N. Hilton College, University of Houston in Houston, Texas. Agnes is a HFTP Global past president and a recipient of the HFTP Paragon Award. Minwoo Lee, Ph.D., CHIA is an assistant professor at the Conrad N. Hilton College, University of Houston in Houston, Texas.