Hotel Online  Special Report
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 Hotel Groups Ranked on How They Treat Online Customers in Q2 2007; 
Website Functionality Improves as Hotels Look to Drive
Increased Direct Bookings 
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IPSWICH, Mass., April 23, 2007--The Customer Respect Group, an international research and consulting firm that focuses on how corporations treat their online customers, today released findings from its Second Quarter 2007 Online Customer Respect Study of the Hotel Industry.

The study evaluated the top 14 hotel group websites using a common set of criteria; it is the only study to bring objective measurement to the analysis of online performance from a customer’s perspective. A directly comparable Customer Respect Index (CRI™) is provided for each company. The Customer Respect Index is a qualitative and quantitative in-depth analysis and independent benchmark of a customer’s experience when interacting via the Internet.

Customer Respect Methodology

The CRI is composed of six sub-indices that factor into three meta-concepts identified by customers as their critical concerns when using websites:

  • Site Usability – How usable is the site to a wide range of users? This includes Simplicity (ease of use) and Attitude (accessibility).
  • Communication – How willing is the company to engage in a one-on-one communication to answer specific questions? This includes Responsiveness (quality of email replies – both speed and helpfulness -- response tone and other communication methods).
  • Trust – Can this site be trusted with your personal data? This includes Transparency (clarity and comprehensiveness of privacy policies), Principles (respect for data privacy, cookie explanations) and Privacy (respect for data privacy, clarity and comprehensiveness of privacy policies).
Report Summary

The average score for the hotel industry at 5.8 on the 10-point scale is below the average computed from a cross-industry sample of 500 business-to-consumer orientated websites. This score for this report represents a slight drop over the previous 12 months.

The key area of failing is in overall site usability, where the industry scores 5.8 on the 10 point simplicity sub-index (compared to the cross-industry average of 6.9.); the industry scored 4.7 (compared to 5.5) on the accessibility sub-index; accessibility looks at support for non-traditional users (visual and/or mobility disabilities). Two sites were judged to be of a standard worthy of an Excellent rating: Grand Hyatt and Marriott International.

The most improved website and now the top site was Grand Hyatt. Specific improvements were noted with the Best Western site that has clearly upgraded responsiveness and its communications with online customers.

Overall, functionality provided by many of the sites has improved and is impressive. In addition to basic booking and reservation modification services (available on all sites reviewed), many sites allow users to complete more difficult tasks online. As examples, half allowed users to book accessible (disabled facilities) rooms using the standard booking engine. Twenty one percent of sites allowed users to book group travel directly online.

Findings also reveal that 80 percent of sites provide a ‘best-rate’ guarantee on rooms booked directly on their website. As a method of encouraging loyalty, these guarantees aim to discourage users browsing though numerous travel sites where they may be ‘tempted’ by other hotels or special offers.

Select Findings

Hotel sites failed to impress on a number of key usability factors that may well create frustration for users, especially those infrequent travellers tempted by the “best rate” offers. Although all sites provided a room booking search engine (find a hotel by location, etc.), only 29 percent provide a keyword search function that allow users to search the site’s content. Overall, self-service features and navigation aids were lacking in hotel sites, which might leave a user unable to locate key information.

Another factor affecting the simplicity score was an increased desire to use more screen space often to show special offers, price guarantees and hotel reservation engines. While over 90 percent of cross-industry sites support 800x600 resolution monitors, this dropped to 65 percent for hotel sites, requiring left/right scrolling or possibly missed information.

The hotel industry did not fare any better with the inclusiveness of its sites. Careful use of colors was an area of weakness with low contrast colors used at some point for text in 79 percent of the sites. Navigation bars and buttons fared the same with 71 percent of sites using some low-contrast colors (vs. 56 percent for cross-industry averages). Color contrast affects a very large number of site users including color blind, elderly and visually impaired users.

Online Communications Struggling to Maintain Gains

Disappointingly, the responsiveness score, previously a strength for surveyed hotels, showed a drop since the previous study, with the average score down from 6.4 to 5.7 on the 10-point scale. Responsiveness indicates the strength of email and other communications methods designed to engage and response to customer questions.

Just over 12 percent of emails were ignored, an increase over last year; to be fair, more sites are now offering the facility. Across all industries, about 18 percent of emails are ignored. The quality of responses dropped this year with just 57 percent judged very helpful, down from 75 percent. The third critical test of responsiveness is speed: how long does the user have to wait for a response. In this study, 57 percent were returned within the day, up marginally from 54 percent a year ago, with the average wait time improving slightly to 17.5 hours against 19.5 hours.

Improving Data Protection

As an industry, data sharing with third parties has been reduced in the past 12 months from 33 percent of sites that engaged in the practice a year ago to 14 percent now. In the report, one-half of the hotel groups were found to not share personal data even within their own group. So while 21 percent still swap or share data with business partners and within the travel industry, this can be quite wide ranging. The trend is positive, especially from the business-class end of the market.

The top scoring hotel sites in the study were: 
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Hotel Group
Customer Respect Index Rating
Global Hyatt 7.3  
Marriott International 7.1  
InterContinental Hotels   6.0  
Starwood Hotels 5.9  
Wyndham Hotels 5.7  
Hotel Group Average  5.8  
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About The Customer Respect Group (www.customerrespect.com) 
The Customer Respect Group is an international research and consulting firm that uses its Customer Respect Index (CRI™) to help companies improve their treatment of customers online. It provides leadership in the objective and scientific measurement of a customer’s online experience. Many of the largest U.S. companies have already adopted the CRI methodology to improve online customer satisfaction and loyalty. The Customer Respect Group is headquartered in metropolitan Boston. For additional information, visit www.customerrespect.com, call 978-380-6128 or e-mail info@customerrespect.com

All companies and products listed herein are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective holders. 

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Contact:

The Customer Respect Group
Terry Golesworthy
US (978) 412 0019
terry@customerrespect.com 
www.customerrespect.com

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Also See: Budgeting for a Robust Internet Marketing Strategy in 2007; A Best Practices Guide to Aid in Developing the 2007 Hotel Online Marketing Budget / Max Starkov and Jason Price / September 2006
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