The hotel amenities travelers want, versus the ones they think they do

The coffee is free—but will you drink it?
The coffee is free—but will you drink it?
Image: Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji
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Much like the airlines that have done away with free checked bags and seat selection, some hotels are in the midst of the great process of unbundling.

The rise of affordable luxury means that hotel amenities that were once de riguer—think a nightly turn-down service and a chocolate on the pillow—are giving way to a newer, leaner suite of offerings that more accurately reflect the modern traveler’s needs.

After all, if a lean luxury traveler just wants a bed with nice linens and seamless online check-in, why spend money to keep room service and a front desk running 24/7? However, it turns out that parsing what the traveler actually wants versus want they say they want can prove tricky, according to a new study from Cornell University’s Center for Hospitality Research.

The study looked at 50 hotel and in-room amenities offered by one hospitality company across six of its brands (33 properties in all). The 724 guests polled were found to underestimate how much they would use some amenities, while overestimating the importance of others.

Interestingly, among the amenities travelers said they definitely wanted, but didn’t actually use, was wifi. Survey respondents overestimated their use of in-room wifi by 43% and lobby wifi by 36%. (The study’s authors posited that was due to travelers hot-spotting on their own devices.) Other amenities in this category were in-room wakeup calls (both a phone call from the front desk and plain old alarm clocks); hotel restaurant service (overestimated by more than 30%), and after-hours room service (by 73%).

And what about the amenities travelers thought they could live without, but actually used? The authors noted there were less that fell into this category, but they included valet parking, seating in the lobby, bellhop and concierge services, access to a business center, and miniature-sized toiletries in the bathroom.

There was also a difference between types of travelers. Leisure travelers tended to predict they’d use more amenities when compared to business travelers. But when it came to use of the crown jewel of hotel amenities—a swimming pool—the findings were the reverse. “While half of the leisure guests predicted they would use a pool, only 21% of business guests said they would do so. In the end, a mere 6% of business guests reported actually using the pool, while nearly 40% of leisure travelers took a swim.”

The quest to strike the right balance of amenities—not too much that you’re throwing money down the drain, and not so few that your guests leave underwhelmed—is a challenging one for hoteliers. After all, even if a minority of guests are using your business center, those guests might just be you most loyal customers. As the study’s authors point out, “amenities clearly figure into a guest’s initial decision to book a hotel room, and (perhaps even more consequentially) whether to return to that hotel.”