Hotels under the flag of Bethesda-based Marriott International remain among the premier lodging options in the nation despite an industrywide dip in customer satisfaction, according to new market data.
Hotel guest satisfaction fell 1.3% across the board in 2018, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index travel report published Tuesday.
A 1% drop for Marriott and a 2% drop for Hilton brought the two companies even as the top-rated hotel groups, the index said.
Only Rockville-based Choice Hotels International and InterContinental Hotels Group, whose brands include Holiday Inn and Kimpton, experienced increases in customer satisfaction ratings in the latest study.
Marriott and McLean, Virginia-based Hilton have jockeyed for the No. 1 position among all major hotel companies for the 25 years ACSI began has compiled satisfaction data.
“It’s really about the quality of the site’s experience,” ACSI Managing Director David VanAmburg said. “The rooms, the cleanliness of the rooms, the quality of the other amenities at the hotel, such as food, pools and exercise rooms. Marriott, along with Hilton, has long shown in our data a leadership position in those areas.”
ACSI measures and analyzes customer satisfaction across more than 400 companies and 10 economic sectors. Scores are given from 0 to 100 based on surveys from customers. ACSI does its hotel research based on what it deems to be the largest chains, usually determined by most properties, while top brands are self-identified through the guest reviews.
JW Marriott leads among hotel brands in customer satisfaction, joined by fellow Marriott brands Fairfield Inn & Suites (third) and Marriott Hotels (fifth) in the top five. The 15 highest-rated brands are all classified as luxury, upscale or upper midscale, with Best Western in 16th as the first midscale entry on the list.
Hilton’s brands include Waldorf Astoria, DoubleTree, Embassy Suites and Hampton Inn.
VanAmburg said luxury-style hotel brands typically top the list given their purpose and clientele.
“When you stay at a JW Marriott or … one of the luxury-type hotels, you’re paying a lot more money and you’re there for a reason,” VanAmburg said. “You’re there to experience that set of amenities and all that goes into being that kind of higher-end hotel. When you stay at a Motel 6 or an Econo Lodge or a Days Inn, you’re staying there for a reason too.”
Marriott announced last week its Fairfield brand would be opening its 1,000th location, joining Courtyard at the four-figure milestone. Fairfield has plans to increase its presence in Asia and Latin America in the next two years, while the brand is anticipated to grow by 36% in the next three years in the United States.
Fairfield is the top upper midscale brand in in customer satisfaction, one point away from JW Marriott for the top overall spot.
“Fairfield is a brand that has great appeal to our franchisees and also resonates with travelers who seek a comfortable, uncomplicated and consistent experience – wherever they travel,” said Eric Jacobs, Marriott chief development officer for North America lodging, in a statement.
Marriott has properties in 130 countries and territories, and announced in March plans to open more than 1,700 hotels around the world in the next three years. The company opened The St. Regis Hong Kong two weeks ago, marking its 7,000th property.
Online hospitality brokers such as Airbnb represent the stiffest competition to the dominance of Marriott and Hilton, and are likely the main reason for the overall drop in customer satisfaction, according to the ACSI report.
With guests having more options than ever before, traditional companies are “showing signs of strain.”
Daniel Guttentag, an assistant professor of hospitality management at the College of Charleston School of Business, said the shift toward online options is an indicator of societal changes around expectations of lodging. Internet reviews and mobile devices have vastly increased the amount of information available to consumers, decreasing the reliance on well-known brands and encouraging guests to want more out of their stays.
“They want more of an experience,” Guttentag said. “They want that lodging to not just be in the background of their vacation, they want it to be something more experiential. They want it to have the local flavor.”
Guttentag added that while online brokers typically target the midrange consumer, companies like Airbnb are expanding into luxury-focused offerings. The Airbnb Plus service provides only the highest-rated homes, which have been visited in person to ensure quality.
Marriott has targeted the typical Airbnb crowd by launching brands such as the Moxy hotel in the District, with a modern design and open spaces geared toward younger guests.
Given the company’s diverse portfolio and track record of success, Guttentag expects Marriott’s dominance to continue despite the emergence of alternatives.
“Always when you scale there could be questions, but I would personally speculate that Marriott does have the ingredients to continue to be successful,” Guttentag said. “I don’t see any reason to assume any time in the near future they’re going to be knocked off that pedestal.”
Charlie Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org