A major new survey of visitors to London reveals shifting market dynamics and benchmarks guest expectations in the competitive London hotel market. There are winners and losers in all categories, but Marriott Hotels outperforms its rival brands, topping the visitor satisfaction scores for room satisfaction, friendliness of staff and cleanliness.
In an exclusive, Hotel Industry Magazine is publishing the survey results conducted by our Data Centre partner, LJ Research Hotel Monitor – a market research firm specialising in the travel, tourism and hospitality industry.
2012 findings from the LJ Research Hotel Monitor reveal that visitors to London are, by and large, satisfied with the hotels they stay in. Marriott hotels were particularly strong performers whilst Travelodge was most likely to disappoint its guests.
Most recent findings also suggest that brands and review websites may not be as important to visitors’ decision making as traditionally thought. Taken as a whole, findings suggest that London hotels know their customers but low guest satisfaction scores in terms of value-for-money are likely to pose a threat for London’s hotels in the future.
In 2012, LJ Research surveyed over 5,000 visitors to London who stayed in hotels or serviced apartments. LJ Research examined visitors’ opinions on their accommodation, their satisfaction levels and how these varied between different hotel chains. Findings allow for hotel chains to see how they are perceived externally and to evaluate their services against competing brands and independent hotels.
Influences and Choosing Accommodation
‘Good Public Transport Links’ proved to be the most influential factor in deciding on accommodation, with 42% of visitors to London giving this as a reason for staying where they did. Being close to the bright lights of the city centre was also appealing – 33% of respondents credited this as a motivation on their hotel choice. Perhaps surprisingly, given the frequent discussions surrounding the importance of TripAdvisor and similar review sites, ‘Review of Accommodation’ (15%) and ‘Personal Recommendation’ (6%) had not influenced visitors’ decisions so heavily.
Many independent hoteliers are currently considering joining a brand so that their hotel is globally recognised which, they assume, will increase customer awareness and loyalty. Findings from the LJ Hotel Monitor suggest that only 4% of visitors selected their accommodation due to its branding (‘Always try to use this hotel chain’). However, this figure was significantly higher amongst guests of certain global brands: out of the respondents staying at Marriott, 34% listed the hotel chain as an influential factor. This is followed by Ibis (13%), Novotel (12%) and Holiday Inn Express (12%). In stark contrast, guests at Millennium and Thistle hotels were barely influenced by this (0.9% and 1.1%, respectively). Visitors from the UK and North America were the most likely to be influenced by the appeal of the brand, 7% and 6%, respectively.
Meeting Guests’ Expectations
Overall, 31% of visitors were pleasantly surprised by their accommodation (i.e. their expectations were exceeded), 53% experienced what they expected, and 16% were disappointed with their accommodation. Visitors from South America were most likely to be pleased with their accommodation with 59% saying it had exceeded their expectations. Visitors from Europe and Africa and the Middle East seemed more difficult to satisfy – 18% said their hotel was worse than expected. As a hotel group, Guoman (who operate The Grosvenor Hotel, The Royal Horseguards, The Tower Hotel, the Charing Cross Hotel, and The Cumberland Hotel) exceeded expectations most frequently (45%); whilst, at the other end of the scale, only 25% of Travelodge guests said their accommodation was better than expected.
Rating the Experience: Generally a Good Picture
Visitors were asked to rate a number of important factors about their accommodation on a ten-point scale with 10 being ‘very good’ and 1 being ‘very poor’. The areas they were asked to rate were cleanliness, room satisfaction, friendliness of staff and value for money.
Overall cleanliness in the hotels was rated at 8.4 demonstrating a high standard throughout. Hilton, Marriott, Premier Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Ibis, Park Plaza, Novotel, Holiday Inn, Thistle, Intercontinental, Millennium and Guoman all exceeded this average with the Marriott being rated the highest (9.3) whilst Travelodge fell to the bottom of the list (7.4).
Another aspect the hotels scored highly in was friendliness of staff; the overall mean rating was 8.3, which 10 hotel chains managed to exceed; the top 3 being Marriott (9.2), Premier Inn (9.0) and Hilton (9.0).
On a more negative note, the mean room satisfaction score was 7.9, which being below 8.0 suggests a cause for concern. Three hotel chains fell below par, Best Western (7.5), Comfort Inn (7.3) and Travelodge (6.9). Marriott once again excelled itself, with a rating of 9.1, closely followed by Hilton, Premier Inn and Intercontinental, all of whom scored above 8.7.
When respondents were asked to rate the value for money of their accommodation, the ratings were consistently lower than the previous three aspects. The mean for all visitors was 7.8, with 11 hotel chains scoring higher than this. Premier Inn was rated the best value for money, scoring 8.6, which was closely followed by Marriott (8.5) and Intercontinental (8.4). Interestingly, the lower the hotel’s star-rating, the less satisfied guests were in terms of value for money; guests at 1-2 star hotels rated them 7.2, 3 stars scored 7.5, 4 stars were at 8.1 and those staying in 5 star accommodation attributed an average score of 8.3.
Observations: London Hotels are Hitting the Mark – But at What Cost?
The findings show that generally London hotels know their customers and are hitting the right marks – high standards across the industry allow for London’s tourism trade to be recognised as a global leader. The underlying concern, especially in these financially tough times, is that customers may think that they are not getting what they paid for, which may have an impact on London’s reputation as a desirable destination, both for business and leisure.
Serviced apartments tended to score more highly than hotels; respondents’ reactions to them in this survey show why: guests staying in serviced apartments were both generally more satisfied with their rooms (8.1 vs 7.9) and also deemed them good value for money (8.0 vs 7.8). In the competition of ‘getting what you pay for’, it seems that serviced apartments are the choice of the price-savvy traveller, a trend that might interest hoteliers looking to expand into that market (indeed international hotel chains are launching new products in this area).
The comparison between the independent hotels and the leading brands is a tough one to make as both high-end boutique hotels and low-budget operators are merged in the category of independent hotels. However, visitors’ feedback suggests that the top branded hotels will provide a higher level of satisfaction in several areas. Not only do Hilton, Marriott, Premier Inn, Holiday Inn Express and Ibis all notably outperform independent hotels in exceeding expected quality (independent 25%, brands 37%), they also consistently scored higher across the board in the study. Independent hotels scored highest on the friendliness of their staff (8.0) but this still fell short of branded hotels (8.8). This might make hoteliers consider the idea of becoming part of a brand more seriously – although most visitors do not claim brand loyalty to be a significant factor in destination selection, the standardisation of rooms, customer service and training mean that the experience is generally a better and more reliable one; which will keep customers coming back.
This study demonstrated that the Marriot hotels are particularly strong performers. This is demonstrated in consistently high scores and having a loyal following; furthermore, nearly 40% of Marriott guests said that their accommodation exceeded their expectations. Hot on their heels were Hilton and Millennium hotels, again achieving high scores in all areas.
Taking the average of the 4 areas respondents rated, Marriott scored 9.1, Hilton 8.8 and Millennium 8.7. Travelodge, one of the biggest names in global budget travel, fell short at every hurdle, even value for money, with an overall mean of 7.2. Whilst they may target different audiences to the higher-end chain hotels, they might need to take a leaf out of their book and provide better facilities and services, particularly the quality of rooms, which only scored 6.9.
It seems safe to conclude that generally, the London hotel industry is ticking the right boxes, giving customers what they expect, and even more noticeably, what they want. The underlying concern is the financial aspect – if low-priced accommodation we would refer to as ‘budget’ are scoring lower on ‘value for money’ than their 5 star counterparts, it raises the question: does the budget hotel have a long term viable future in the London market? And, if not, is this what London wants?
“The London hotel market, being one of the largest in Europe, is extremely important to the UK’s tourism industry,” explained LJ Research research director, Sean Morgan. “For many visitors coming in to the UK it is their first touch-point and hence can have a significant impact on their overall experience especially important given the city acts as a gateway to the rest of the UK.”
“Most recent trends are positive news for the UK tourism industry with London visitors mostly satisfied with the service they receive; however, satisfaction scores for some critical aspects such as cleanliness, “satisfaction with room”, “friendliness of staff”, and “value for money” are lower in London compared to other cities in the UK. This may discourage London visitors from visiting other destinations in the UK.”
“It is, of course, very interesting to note the differences between hotel chains. Marriott hotels in particular seem to have been extraordinarily successful in training their staff and investing in their product to offer a great experience. The highest level of brand loyalty among respondents is testament to the service and experience provided by this hotel group.”