Focus on fundamentals remains key for hotels

By Jie Zhang and Rohit Verma

By: Demola Kehinde Ogunnaike

Hotel operators may be tempted to add new amenities and facilities, but focusing on the fundamentals is the best strategy for attracting new customers and maintaining ties with previous guests.

Our recent study, titled “What Matters Most to Your Guests: An Exploratory Study of Online Reviews,” shows that the core of the hotel business remains creating a memorable stay by providing consistent, exceptional service and comfortable, well-appointed rooms. We examined nearly 100,000 online consumer ratings and reviews of 99 independent hotels on three popular online travel agents (TripAdvisorExpedia, and

Quantitative analysis revealed that service and rooms were overwhelmingly the most important aspects, while facilities, location, and amenities moved the meter far less. Our findings can be applied by management of both high- and low-rated hotels to avoid potential distractions and to concentrate on basic offerings.

Our study is available from the Center for Hospitality Research at the School of Hotel Administration in the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business.

Because would-be hotel guests typically rely on online reviews, the industry can benefit from understanding how guests develop their ratings, and what dominant themes emerge from the text.

Our research shows that operational consistency is critical in a hotel’s overall rating; avoiding operational kinks is more important than looking for the occasional “wow” factor. Descriptions related to quality service and positive interactions with staff are prominent themes in reviews of consistently high-rated hotels, we found.

Hotels that received inconsistent review scores in our study scored much lower in the overall ratings. Needless to say, frequent complaints about a specific area, such as bathroom or breakfast, point to issues that require immediate attention.

The descriptive words identified in the online reviews express the consumers’ desire for consistent delivery of basic hotel service offerings combined with favorable interactions with the staff and a sense of well-being. As potential guests peruse the online reviews, descriptions related to these two aspects could have an impact on their booking decisions and expectations.

Top-rated reviews included such words as friendlyhelpfulexcellent, and beautiful, while words that appeared only in the low-rated reviews included didn’tbathroomfrontdesk, and price, suggesting issues that resulted in those lower ratings.

The bottom line is that hoteliers should focus on the operational areas that speak volumes about service and rooms, such as appropriately friendly service throughout the property, as well as the quality of beds and ensuring a good night’s sleep for the guest. Our study shows that the traditional lodging service that delivers a good night’s sleep in a clean, well-functioning room, along with providing a good breakfast, remains central to customer satisfaction.

Data for our study was provided by Preferred Hotels and Resorts, the world’s largest independent hotel brand, representing more than 650 luxury hotels, resorts, and residences in 85 countries across the globe.

Jie Zhang is an assistant professor of service operations management at the Gustavson School of BusinessUniversity of VictoriaRohit Verma is dean of external relations for the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, executive director of the Cornell Institute for Healthy Futures, and Singapore Tourism Board Distinguished Professor in Asian Hospitality Management at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration.