The latest hospitality survey by J.D. Power and Associates documents what many hotel travelers already know: Customer satisfaction with the nation’s hotels is slipping — substantially. The latest satisfaction score is down 28 points from its high in 2007. Those numbers can add up to bad first impressions for visitors to any city and cause business travelers to cringe. But local industry pundits and guests to the Capital Region say Sacramento’s hotels are bucking the trend, and that could be an important factor as the city attempts to rebrand itself as a quality tourist destination.
Nationwide, the highest reported levels of hotel dissatisfaction were found in the categories of check-in/check-out, food and beverage, and hotel services, which include everything from room service to Internet access. Also, satisfaction with hotel facilities and guest rooms are at or near their lowest levels since 2006.
While the industry picture may appear bleak, it’s important to note that data for the annual survey is collected from national chains throughout North America. Regional information isn’t broken out, so getting a read on Sacramento’s hospitality industry requires going to customers themselves.
“We take internal surveys of all the meeting planners who hold events here, just as all the hotels take internal guest surveys, and we’re doing very well,” says Steve Hammond, president and CEO of the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Scott Vandenberg, general manager of the Hyatt Regency Sacramento agrees, saying he was surprised by the J.D. Power results.
“Their findings are the opposite of what we’re seeing here,” he says. “Our guest satisfaction rates are actually up 2.8 percent.”
Certainly, internal surveys may be viewed with some skepticism, but the independent comments online at review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor confirm that, for the most part, visitors are happy with what they’re finding here. Among the biggest kudos are high praise for attentive staff, friendly service, location and comfortable rooms. Parking, however, is frequently mentioned as difficult or expensive.
“It’s very important to be very efficient in the first 15 minutes of a guest’s arrival,” Vandenberg says. “Prompt service in the front drive, expedited luggage service — with a smile of course — and a smooth check in. If things start off right in the first 10 to 15 minutes and the guest feels pampered and welcomed, it really sets the tone for the rest of their stay.”
Savvy customers in today’s economy have learned to expect high value for their money, particularly through freebies and perks. Technology lies at the center of those expectations, and according to J.D. Power, one of today’s biggest demands is for Internet access that’s both fast and free. If either is lacking, it’s almost automatically noted as a negative.
“People are moving into mobile connectivity at double-digit rates; they need to stay connected. Whether it’s the business or the leisure traveler, the demand is almost the same,” says David Attaway, CEO of Placer Valley Tourism.
Kent Peterson, general manager of the Sacramento Marriott Rancho Cordova, points out that there really is no free Internet.
“Rest assured, the cost of providing Internet access is built into that hotel bill somewhere,” he says. “People who don’t need access are subsidizing the cost, for those that do, so we offer it as an á la carte option. You only pay for it if you use it.”
Notably, the Marriott Rancho Cordova doesn’t appear to be getting punished for charging for Internet. It’s been lauded on Yelp for spacious rooms, friendly and accommodating service, great food and free parking. The negatives mentioned were largely beyond the property’s control — noise and a lack of entertainment options nearby. Charging for WiFi was rarely mentioned.
Linda Modersohn of San Rafael says her family’s stay at the hotel was excellent. Her husband uses a wheelchair, and their first consideration is an accessible room with availability of the travel accessories they need. As frequent travelers, they are often amazed at the problems they run into at hotels, but the Marriott was an exception.
“The room was exactly what we expected and better,” Modersohn says. “The service was quick, and although it was a very full weekend because of a racing event, we had everything we needed quickly. We were very pleased.”
The Citizen Hotel in downtown Sacramento also gets good online reviews, with compliments on the service, elegance, comfortable beds, its restaurant and property location.
“We strive to offer the most personalized service possible,” says Brent Larkin, the hotel’s general manager. “We really try to get to know our guests, and we have a lot of returning guests that appreciate us knowing what they expect when they walk in. What sets us in a good position is we have people that always recognize our guests and give that home-away-from-home feeling when they come in.”
Magali Le Bouder of San Ramon, who hosted a conference at The Citizen Hotel, says she will remember the hotel because of its uniqueness.
“It’s the whole experience, the whole feel to it,” Le Bouder says. “It’s something I really enjoy.” She also emphasizes that the restaurant and the catering for her event were impeccable.
One consistent problem for several local reviewers, however, is noise — from the street, from events and from adjoining rooms. For what it’s worth, that’s a complaint Sacramento hotels have in common with almost every other hotel in North America.
Despite Sacramento’s generally good reputation among travelers, managers all agree there’s room for improvement.
“Sacramento has always been a tough sell,” Larkin says. “We’ve always been known as a pit stop between San Francisco and Tahoe. Other than old town and the gold country, there aren’t many reasons for leisure travelers to come here. We need to better crystallize our identity and focus on what we’re going to be in the future.”
Sacramento’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau faces that reality daily, and the local hospitality industry gives it high marks for its successful work in bringing conventions and events to town. The area’s growing reputation as a food mecca and plans for a future convention and theater district along the east end of K Street, could help. For now, that may be enough of a start.
“Our city is doing a great job with adding restaurants and entertainment venues and cultural things that really enhance a visitor’s experience,” Vandenberg says. “I think from an industry standpoint, our city’s done a fine job in continually trying to improve. And of course these amenities are also nice for the local residents to enjoy. We’re becoming a much more attractive city, so from a hotel business standpoint, that’s very nice to see.”
Bill Romanelli contributed to this report.
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