J.D. Power Report: Hotel Guests Favor Smoking Bans

Westlake Village, Calif. -- Nearly 80 percent of hotel guests prefer a smoke-free environment that extends beyond their own sleeping rooms, J.D. Power and Associates reported yesterday in its annual hotel guest satisfaction survey.

The finding by the market research company suggests that other hotel companies may follow the lead of Marriott International, which last week announced it will ban smoking at its 10 chains in the United States and Canada, beginning in September. Westin, a chain of Starwood Hotels, banned smoking in its hotels last December.

"What was once a differentiator is now expected by consumers," said Linda Hirneise, executive director of J.D. Power's travel practice. "We saw this in the case of branded premium beds and online check-in/check-out, where one hotel introduced the concept and others followed suit. We could see the same kind of trend with the issue of smoking. Banning smoking is increasingly commonplace at restaurants across the country, and is gaining a lot of public support; thus, doing so in hotels is a natural next step."

According to the survey, the following hotel brands rank highest in guest satisfaction within their respective segments: Luxury: Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts; Upscale: Omni Hotels; Mid-Scale Full Service: Hilton Garden Inn; Mid-Scale Limited Service: Drury Inn & Suites ; Economy/Budget: Microtel Inns & Suites; Extended Stay: Residence Inn.

Overall hotel satisfaction has increased in five of six segments this year, with only the luxury segment declining slightly in satisfaction versus 2005. The report attributed the improved satisfaction possibly to renovations at many hotels and the bundling of more amenities and services.

The survey found that costs and fees have significantly increased in importance to hotel guests, becoming either the first or second most important influencer of overall satisfaction across all six segments. At the same time, satisfaction with this factor has also declined significantly across several brands.

Higher lodging prices possibly account for the decreased satisfaction with costs. Average daily rates nationwide increased 6.8 percent in the first half of this year over the same period last year, to $95.56, Smith Travel Research reported yesterday.

The amenities that guests most often mention as must-haves include the following: high-speed Internet access, pillow-top mattresses, complimentary breakfast, in-room coffee makers, and 27-inch or larger televisions.

The quality of the high-speed Internet access, in particular, can have a strong impact on the likelihood that a guest will return to the property and the brand, according to the survey, which found that 14 percent of guests had trouble connecting to the Internet during their most recent hotel stay.

"Customers are extremely pleased with the availability of high-speed Internet access, but it absolutely has to work properly," said Hirneise. "Otherwise, satisfaction declines significantly, and it ends up hurting a brand more than helping."

The survey also found that 43 percent of guests book their hotel reservations on the Internet, up two percentage points from last year. Guests are nearly twice as likely to book their reservations through a hotel brand website compared to an independent travel website, 28 percent versus 15 percent.

The 2006 North America Guest Satisfaction Index Study is based on responses from 42,211 guests who stayed in a hotel during the first half of the year.