Why the Rave Reviews?

What guests mentioned most about their best stays and why

In this first installment of our Best Experiences research, we will explore what 5,000 guests recalled most when describing their ‘best experiences’ at hotels across all market segments.

Before we go further, let’s revisit why we did this study and what it means. We wanted to know specifically what caused rave reviews that will ultimately lead to fantastic word of mouth and repeat business. It is important to keep in mind that our data does not reveal what makes a hotel good or bad. Rather, the study looks at what made a stay particularly memorable, giving hoteliers an edge in securing a favorable place in their guests’ social networking. We asked:

  1. 1) What hotel provided you with the best experience in the last year?
  2. 2) Why?

Coyle took the answers to the ‘Why’ question and started first by breaking down the findings into three broad categories:

Product–guestroom and property attributes
People–service and engagement
Price–value

The responses were then broken down into more specific categories (more on that later). The table below shows the overall results for the three main categories and major subsets.



Surprises: While we know that everyone wants a good value for the price, very few travelers mentioned the value or cost as a main reason for why the stay was so noteworthy. Why? Maybe it is assumed that the value was good because the stay was great. Maybe it is difficult to economically quantify a great experience, unlike a terrific bargain on a purchased good. Either way, when guests recall a fantastic experience, the price paid was rarely part of what they expressed.

People and Product were mentioned almost equally at 83% and 85% of the time, indicating that guests are recalling staff attributes and property attributes with equal vigor. That makes sense, a great hotel stay is after all about being in a different place, and the environs would naturally shape perspective in an emotional way.

Within Product, property attributes and guestroom attributes were cited almost equally at 57% and 61% respectively. We learned in subsequent research that design and décor were cited more often in Lifestyle hotels. Interestingly, Service and Engagement were mentioned at similar percentages, in their support of People.

So what is more important, People or Product? For now, it is a toss-up, but let’s just say that the amount of money spent on the memorable experience was the bench warmer in this game.

Digging Deeper

The following table shows the most mentioned People and Product attributes that contributed to these memorable stays.



What is most interesting about the table above is the ‘Clean Guestroom’, ‘Staff is Helpful/Capable’ and ‘Staff is Friendly’ separate themselves from the rest of the group by a significant margin. Let’s remember that these three attributes are basic–they are expected, yet they are recalled most often. It defies logic that a traveler would be impressed, and therefore talk, about a clean guestroom, but there it is. Guestroom cleanliness, the most widely discussed ‘Product’ attribute, was often mentioned very briefly, and then followed by specific attributes, such as the bed/bedding or the spaciousness.

Cleanliness is Universal

Interestingly, ‘Guestroom Cleanliness’ was one of the only attributes to be mentioned most frequently in all segments from Economy to Luxury. As you move up the scale however, cleanliness gets mentioned less, supporting the theory that in the Upscale or Luxury purchase, guests are looking for and expecting things other than cleanliness to ‘make the stay’. We reason that at the upscale and luxury level, guest will more likely punish a hotel for bad cleanliness than laud them for good cleanliness.

The table below illustrates the frequency of ‘Guestroom Cleanliness’ mentions across hotel segments.



Additional ‘product’ elements that made the top ten were:

Additional ‘product’ elements that made the top ten were:

  • Bed/Bedding (18%)
  • Property Upkeep & Cleanliness (16%)
  • Décor/Ambiance/Atmosphere/Architecture (11%)
  • Room Size (10%)

As mentioned, the Décor/Ambiance attribute was mentioned more frequently by respondents staying in the upper and Lifestyle segments. While 16% of Luxury and 14% of Upscale best experiences described the property architecture or décor, the attribute was only mentioned in 5% and 7% of Economy and Midscale best experiences respectively. It would be interesting to know how and Bed/Bedding would have rated in the guests’ minds before hotels put billions into marketing their beds.

Hoteliers reading the table above might not be heartened by what they see. Many of the attributes are capital intensive and very subjective. If hotels were able to concentrate on what they can change, then guestroom cleanliness would be paramount followed by property upkeep. With that said, the expectations about Décor and Ambience are likely to be driven by what the website portrays. Also in the Economy and Midscale segments, it can be argued that there is a significant amount of product familiarity and similarity, muting the opportunity to surprise and delight in the lower price segments. It is hard to have memorable design attributes when a chain hotel is made to look exactly like the others in the brand for consistency.

Power to the People

Additional ‘people’ elements that were in the top ten include:

  • Efficiency/Promptness
  • Courtesy/Professionalism/Respectfulness
  • Attentiveness/Availability/Approachability

Again, what is most interesting is that capability and friendliness separated themselves from the rest of the pack. Hotels would be wise to review their value proposition and think seriously about what guests expect their staff to be ‘capable’ of. Our study showed that at the luxury level, Concierges mattered a great deal, as did Spa, likely because luxury travelers expect these staff members to demonstrate high levels of skill in their actions (capability). At the economy and Midscale hotels, the data suggested that more fungible tasks–like a quick and seamless check-in and check-out–were part-and-parcel of the best experiences recalled at these hotels. When discussing this data, our researchers began to think of these attributes as ‘What the Staff Does’.

The other top people category was friendliness. We think of this as ‘How the Staff Does it’ and these attributes held significant importance through all categories. Smiles, professionalism, and courtesy again seem so basic, yet these terms were recalled in such significant numbers, one cannot help but wonder how frequently these things are in place during unremarkable stays. That should give the hotelier hope, because these things can be managed without huge capital expenditures. The evidence strongly suggests the potential for differentiation, especially in the economy and Midscale segments where design and décor were not recalled as prominently.

Hotels or hotel companies wishing to learn more about how their particular brand or segment fared should contact Katie Ho at research@coylehospitality.com.

Upcoming studies are:

  • Beds and Bathrooms – How function forms the guest experience
  • Service vs. Engagement – Is it what they do or how they do it?
  • Guestroom – The main drivers of satisfaction
  • Price – What attributes really make guests feel value
  • Food & Beverage – Bars & Breakfasts

In addition, expect to see where the rubber hits the road as we reveal the common and differentiating attributes of the following commonly categorized hotel segments:

  • Economy
  • Extended Stay
  • Midscale
  • Upscale & Lifestyle
  • Luxury
  • Casinos

If you would like to receive any of these reports when they are published, please sign up for sQoreboard, Coyle’s news & research mailing list at: Coyle sQoreboard

More data from the survey can be found at Coyle’s website at: www.coylehospitality.com/research

About Coyle Hospitality Group

Coyle Hospitality Group is a market leader providing mystery shopping and brand quality assurance services exclusively to hotels, restaurants and spas worldwide. Since 1996, Coyle has completed over 30,000 quality evaluations exclusively for hospitality clients. For more information please visit www.coylehospitality.com or call (212) 629-2083.

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