Photo by Ginger Burner

Survey Shows Bad Hotels Make Guests Cry

Vacation is supposed to be a fun time, a chance to get away from your everyday problems. And hotels are the cocoons that travelers return to, their homes away from home. A good hotel experience can make a vacation, and a bad one can break it. A recent Qualtrics survey reveals just what usually goes wrong and how guests react to missed expectations. While the survey is about hotels in general and not Las Vegas in particular, those who work in our city’s hospitality industry should heed its results.

This year, for the first time, research and experience company Qualtrics queried more than 1,000 hotel guests to find out what worked and what didn’t during their hotel stays. Perhaps seeing the glass as half empty, the results were issued in the Hotel Pain Index.

The first lesson that comes through is that housekeepers might be the most important hotel employees. Cleanliness is the first thing that 45 percent of guests notice when they walk into a room for the first time. Room size mattered much less, with only 20 percent noticing that immediately. Bed quality and the view, two major selling points, tied for the immediate attention of 5 percent of guests.


When things go wrong, they go really wrong: 13 percent of guests said that a hotel stay has driven them to tears.


By the same token, room cleanliness was by far the highest-rated response when guests were asked what was most likely to cause a positive experience at a hotel. Cleanliness got 76 percent of respondents’ votes, followed by Wi-Fi at 65 percent, a quiet room at 63 percent, free breakfast at 62 percent and free parking at 57 percent. Suffice to say that free breakfast has never been a hallmark of the Las Vegas experience, and free parking… well, you’ve heard plenty about that on the Strip.

So what brings the pain? Guests said that a dirty room (66 percent), unfriendly employees (57 percent) and an uncomfortable bed (56 percent) were the most likely culprits to cause a bad hotel experience. Just over half of guests cited “unexpected fees” as a problem causer, followed by “loud neighbors.”

The good news for hotels is that the top thing guests are looking for—a clean room—is well within their grasp. Given adequate staffing and support, there is no defensible reason that every room sold to the public cannot be tidy. It may be a commentary on industry practices that something most of us would consider a baseline—cleanliness—is that critical of a factor in guest happiness. People are checking into a lot of rooms they consider dirty.

Likewise, “unfriendly employees” can be avoided, chiefly by training and paying them well. Most people don’t start their day planning to be cranky, but overwork and stress have a way of stifling friendliness. Investing in employees might be the best way for hotels to raise customer satisfaction.


When asked if they check out thinking they overpaid for their stay, 82 percent said yes, with five-star guests four times more likely to claim that they always overpay.


When things go wrong, they go really wrong: 13 percent of guests said that a hotel stay has driven them to tears. High expectations and high room rates apparently bring big drama, as 34 percent of respondents who stay at five-star hotels claiming that they have cried because of hotel problems. Almost a quarter of those surveyed said that their bad experience led to a fight with their spouse or partner, with 18 percent saying it ruined their entire vacation.

So are five-star hotel rooms really so filthy, noisy and unfriendly that more than a third of the time it ends in tears? Probably not. Nine percent of those surveyed claimed that they were disturbed during their hotel stay by a room that wasn’t dirty or too close to the ice machine, but haunted. Unless they were staying with Pacman or Hamlet, it’s exceedingly unlikely that they were actually plagued by ghosts. On the other hand, the Ghostbusters did get their first gig from the Sedgewick Hotel, so you never know.

Seriously, though, guest perceptions are vital in hospitality. This makes it troubling that survey respondents do not, generally, feel they are getting value. When asked if they check out thinking they overpaid for their stay, 82 percent said yes, with five-star guests four times more likely to claim that they always overpay.

While the perfect hotel—immaculately clean, soundproofed walls, glowing employees, super-comfortable beds, free of spectral anomalies—might not exist outside of guests’ expectations, the Qualtrics Hotel Pain Index provides a reminder for those in hospitality that many times, it’s the simple things that matter most. Give people a clean room without hidden fees or add-ons, staffed by helpful employees, and they may come back again. Unless ghosts mess it all up. 

David G. Schwartz is the director of UNLV’s Center for Gaming Research.

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