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Investment creating “massive” divide in hotel customer satisfaction levels

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31st Oct 2014
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Research from consumer watchdog, Which? has revealed a major gap in customer satisfaction levels among some of the UK’s leading hotel chains.

The study, based on collaboration with nearly 6,000 of Which? members’ hotel stays, rated 29 chains across nine categories related to customer service, value and quality. The results placed Sofitel, which has just three hotels in the UK but is included in the study, as the best hotel chain.

Perhaps the most intriguing results came from the low-cost hotel sector, which ranked Premier Inn as the second best hotel chain overall but found Travelodge, Premier Inn’s closest rival, as one of the worst chains; displaying the great discrepancy between the experience like-for-like hotel groups were currently offering customers.

The study rated fellow budget hotel chain, Britannia as the worst for customer satisfaction of all those ranked, with respondents commenting on “run down” hotels that are “well past their best”. While Sofitel was given an overall satisfaction level of 83%, Britannia scored a lowly 33% with customers.

The great divide   

Commenting on the results of the study, hotel sector analyst and senior vice president of JLL, Will Duffey suggests the gap between like-for-like hotel customer satisfaction levels is often driven by investment levels across the chains:

“The hotel sector took a real nosedive on the back of the 2008 recession, and it’s really lagged behind the rest of the economy since. A number of hotel chains struggling in the Which? report are doing so because of a lack of capex funding in comparison to their nearest rivals.”  

In terms of Travelodge’s position in relation to rival Premier Inn, Duffey expects a change in fortunes as the fruits of a recent £57m modernisation programme start to pay off.    

“Whitbread (owner of Premier Inn) –  they’ve spend big on customer experience and it’s certainly paid off. Their offering is arguably similar to Travelodge’s, but Premier Inns really focus on the key elements required, such as always providing food offerings in their hotels – not every Travelodge currently does that.

“Certainly in the case of Travelodge and Britannia, they have struggled because of either their ownership structure or the fact that the money just hasn’t been there for them to spend on their hotels. However, with the industry bouncing back in recent months, the game plan for a number of these groups will be to spend big money to compete with its rivals. If you look at Travelodge, their current owners are in the process of investing big on the current process but this might not be seen (in the customers’ eyes) for a while yet.”

Duffey sympathises with Britannia, which lacks the financial clout of other rivals such as Premier Inn and Travelodge, and suggests that much of the damage to smaller hotel chains was now being done online, before a customer had even had a chance to stay with a hotel:

“Looking at someone like Britannia, their online reservation systems aren’t perhaps as sophisticated as their near rivals because they don’t have the same capital to spend on them. If you went online to search Britannia hotels, you might choose a brand that you recognise or go for someone on pricing points, but someone like Britannia just doesn’t have the quantum of hotels that, say Whitbread has, and that inevitably hurts them as they can’t free up as much finance to improve customer experience.”

The study also threw up a few surprises at the luxury end of the hotel market as well as the budget end, with Hampton by Hilton (a sub-division of franchised Hilton hotels) outperforming its world-renowned owner, Hilton.

Hampton hotels were rated fourth on the list, while Hilton hotels ranked seventeenth.     

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