Hotels’ Web service rated - East Valley Tribune: Business

Hotels’ Web service rated

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Posted: Monday, April 30, 2007 4:21 am | Updated: 5:41 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

At the Hyatt Regency Resort Scottsdale about 15 percent to 20 percent of reservations come through the Internet, a hotel spokeswoman said. The number is low compared to the industry norm, but apparently those who do book the local property’s rooms online have an easy time of it.

The Scottsdale resort’s parent, Global Hyatt, spent 18 months and lots of time with customer focus groups designing and fine-tuning its Web site, said Ann Lane, resort spokeswoman.

Last year, nearly four out of 10 reservations at major-brand hotels were booked online.

That’s up more than 8 percent from 2005, according to Travel-Click’s most recent study of central reservations systems.

And it shows why hotel companies need to pay close attention to the customer-friendliness of their Web sites, said George Cohen, spokesman for the Customer Respect Group, an international research and consulting firm that analyzes the online faces of various industries.

The Customer Respect Group just released an analysis of hotel companies’ online operations from a customer’s perspective.

The news was not great. Only two of the 14 biggest brands — Global Hyatt and Marriott International — scored higher than seven out of 10, or “excellent” performance.

The hotel industry average was 5.8 points out of 10, not a stellar score for the increasingly popular method of buying travel — as well as just about every- thing else.

Other industries that the research group monitors, from retail to car rental firms, even airlines, fare much better at being Web-friendly.

Only life insurance companies earned worse overall scores than hotels in serving online customers, according to the report.

The researchers rated the hotel brands’ Web-based operations on five criteria — ease of use, responsiveness, support for users with visual disabilities, clear explanations about if or how the site shares personal information and provisions for customers to opt out of sharing personal information.

The two areas where hotels scored much worse than other industries are in accessibility for visually impaired customers, which might include use of pale colors or tiny text, and ease of use.

Global Hyatt scored top marks — 8.3 out of 10 — for ease of use. Marriott International — at 7.5 — was best in accessibility for disabled customers. InterContinental Hotels was best, with a 9.1 score, at allowing customers to easily opt out of information sharing, and both Hyatt and Marriott also scored high on that aspect.

Phoenix-based Best Western International scored an overall 4.7, the lowest grade of all 14 brands.

One overall hotel industrywide disappointment, according to the report, was responsiveness, which slipped from an average 6.4 to 5.7 a year ago.

Responsiveness would include how fast an e-mailed question was answered, and how helpful the response was judged, Cohen said. In the study, 57 percent of the responses to researchers’ queries were returned within a day, and the average wait time was 17.5 hours. That’s better than last years’ 54 percent within a day and an average wait time of 19.5 hours.

But the helpfulness of the responses as judged by the researchers was 57 percent, down from 75 percent a year ago.

“The industry, surprisingly has not adopted ‘instant help’ or online chat, a facility seen especially in the retail industry,” the report states. Holiday Inn, an InterContinental brand, does provide instant communication, and the Customer Respect Group said it expects more brands will be adding the feature within the next year.

The report concludes that the hotel company Web sites, which compete with the much more customer-friendly Web travel resellers such as Travelocity and Expedia, only earn a B grade and need to work on overall usability and responsiveness to keep customers coming back.

Lane said she’s not surprised. Hyatt’s site got an A while most of the competition earned a B or worse.

“A lot of study and thought went into it. Hyatt wanted to create a sense of immediacy and ease of use,” Lane said. “The purpose of the Web site is to drive revenue, but if it’s a hassle to use, people are not going there.”

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