What do hotel guests really want? The answer may surprise you

What do you really want when you check into a hotel?

The lodging industry thinks it knows. The pollsters do, but too often they ask the wrong questions. One recent survey suggested guests crave more technology. (It was sponsored by Oracle.) Another claimed guests desire free Wi-Fi, breakfast and parking. Well, duh.

In this post-summer vacation period, a lot of us are scratching our heads about our last lodging experience and asking, “What were they thinking?”

And that includes me. I’m still baffled by the “family friendly” hotel I visited in Oregon a few weeks ago, which offered an impressive selection of artisanal teas, but no laundry facilities. Who said, “Add expensive tea, lose the washer” in the guest survey?

To find out what guests really want — and determine why hotels won’t offer it — I asked you, dear readers. Your answers suggest an enduring disconnect between guests and their accommodations. But never fear, I have a workaround.

First, let’s get real. You wouldn’t ask for a room with power, indoor plumbing or a phone line because you assume those are included. It’s the same with wireless Internet and adequate power outlets.

“It’s 2017, and we’re all connected,” says Peter Battaglia, who works for an investment company in Chatham, N.J. “Wi-Fi should not be an add-on or a loyalty perk.”

He and many other guests say there should be plenty of power outlets at waist level next to the beds and desks. Also, a hotel shouldn’t force you to join its loyalty program to access the Internet. Imagine if it asked you to sign up for its loyalty program to use the air conditioning or bathrooms.

Related story:   Drivers want Congress to curb car rental taxes

“For me the most important items are a small fridge, microwave — and tea,” says Kathleen Walls, a frequent traveler and guidebook author who lives in Middleburg, Fla.

This is not an uncommon wish list, yet many rooms are still outfitted with a profit-hungry minibar with pressure-sensitive shelves, instead of a refrigerator. Move an item, it automatically charges your room. There’s no microwave. And they feature a selection of mediocre coffees and a coffeemaker that’s difficult to use and only makes a beverage one tiny cup at a time. If you’re traveling with kids, are on medication, want to bring your own food or prefer tea to coffee, you’re out of luck.

Another area of concern: lights and mirrors. Rooms, and especially bathrooms, are often poorly lit. The magnifying mirror generates an unusual number of complaints. When the light bulbs burn out, they often don’t get replaced.

“Some hotels have them but they are in such weird positions that they are unusable,” says Janet Keeler, a frequent hotel guest and fellow travel writer based in Tampa.

By far the top request is the condition of the room.

“Clean, clean, clean,” says Ellen Hillery, a travel consultant from Medway, Mass. “I want it to be so clean, I don’t even mind if it smells like bleach.”

Fancy amenities such as upgraded bedding, the latest electronics and expensive-looking soaps won’t make guests look the other way when they see something unpleasant.

“Squeaky clean,” clarifies Nicole Landreneau, who works for a Web design company in New Orleans and travels often. “The carpet shouldn’t look like it hasn’t been cleaned since 1912, and bathrooms should have no mildew or mold. No bugs!”

Related story:   Sand, surf, sub-freezing temperatures -- what more could you ask for?

And then there are the hair dryers. So many travelers I interviewed mentioned hair dryers that I could write an entire column on these amenities alone. I will spare you. But Roberta Morgan, a retired nurse from Albany, Ore., makes a point that several hotel guests echoed.

“I don’t just want a working hair dryer,” she says, “I also want wall outlets so that a person can charge all the devices and still use the hair dryer.”

All of which raises one question: Why do hotels continue to tempt their guests with things they don’t want or need?

Are travelers not telling them what they want or are hotels not paying attention? In talking with guests and hotel insiders, it seems the answer may be a little bit of both. But hotel guests only have partial control. We can tell hotels what we want, both with words (sharing our feedback) or deeds (only doing business with hotels we like).

The rest is up to your hotel.

How to be heard by your hotel

• Tell them in person. If you have an issue, letting the property know about it in real time is the best way to fix it. A broken light bulb or an outlet that doesn’t work is often easily replaced or repaired. Do the same for positive feedback on things you like.

• Fill out a guest comment card. Yes, they still exist — and yes, hotel managers still read them. If you don’t see one, ask for one. If they don’t have them, go to your hotel’s website and give it a piece of your mind.

Related story:   What's up with these motion detectors in my hotel room?

• Call the authorities. In the United States, hotels have to answer to a variety of state regulators. If something is seriously wrong, and the property refuses to address the issue, a written complaint to regulators is a great way to make your point.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org.

  • SirWIred

    What do I NOT want? Gigantic piles of *bleep!* *bleep!* *bleep!*-ing *bleep!* decorative pillows that I need to find a place to stash before I can actually sleep in the bed.

  • Alan Gore

    Why do hotels still have alarm clocks? People use their own smartphones with an interface they know, rather than try to scope out the fiddly alarm clock controls. So the alarm clock sits there unused – until it goes off at two am because it never got turned off by the last user.

  • BubbaJoe123

    What do I care about?

    1. Comfy bed.
    2. Hot shower with good pressure.
    3. Lots of outlets.
    4. Good wifi. Better good paid wifi than slow free wifi.
    5. Good gym with sufficient machines and 24/7 or near 24/7 availability.
    6. Good room service (food quality and promptness)

  • Joe Blasi

    Why do some places have HD tv’s but still have analog SD channels?

  • disqus_00YDCZxqDV

    Curtains that meet in the middle. Not many hotels can manage that

  • DChamp56

    I just want a clean, comfortable room.
    Every hotel has enough outlets for me, as I don’t bring every electronic toy on earth to a hotel.
    One thing that’s a pet peeve though, are air conditioners that although they cool the room, they ADD moisture to it!
    I’m not in a hotel room to watch TV, or to be an office, but a nice chair and table is nice.

  • Dutchess

    Agreed, I almost immediately unplug hotel alarm clocks for several reasons. First, I can’t stand blaring LED light in my face at night, second, I don’t trust alarm clocks I’m not familiar with, and third and most importantly, I usually need the precious outlet that the alarm clock is plugged into!

  • James

    Perhaps the most annoying thing to me about hotels is that they always have soft mattresses. I prefer firm/extra-firm mattresses when I sleep, the usual soft mattresses leave me with backaches.

    Worse — the old mattresses that have been used so often they are no longer level.

  • Skeptic

    This is why there’s always a couple of clothespins in my luggage.

  • Skeptic

    How hard is it to bring your own tea? Not heavy, not banned by the TSA. You do need the ability to boil water in order to make it, though. I’d rather have this (e.g. a microwave) than one of those cheapo tray-type coffee makers that makes such horrible coffee no one ever use it. In fact, one of the things I wish hotels did routinely was to describe the kind of in-room beverage equipment they provide. I live in AK so am always getting up 1-4 hours before my normal time when I travel to work meetings in the Lower 48. I need my coffee, in the room, before venturing forth in the middle of the night in my home time zone! I can (and do) bring my own Keurig-type pods, pour-over, or Aeropress equipment, but first I need to know what will be in my room. Even the front desk staff are frequently vague about this, leaving me to search user-posted photos on TripAdviser for images of the coffee makers. It really shouldn’t be that hard.

  • Skeptic

    Because that’s the lousy resolution the cable or satellite TV company the hotel uses provides. This was a big factor in my decision to dump Dish in favor of OTA HD (plus a programmable DVR) at home several years ago, but few hotels are set up to allow OTA viewing. You can get TV antennas for your laptop, but you can’t guarantee good line-of-sight reception in most locations.

  • Kerr

    A trick I read about last week is to use one of the coat hangers that have clips.

  • disqus_00YDCZxqDV

    I’m in a hotel in Cyprus right now and the bed is rock hard. It’s like sleeping on a table. I have added some padding by sleeping on a comforter on top of the spare blanket but it’s still awful.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    Clean, comfortable room with outlets, wifi, and breakfast. That’s why I stay at middle tier hotels mostly, because not only is the room fee more at a five star hotel, but there will be a charge for wifi, breakfast, resort fee, and parking. I’m fortunate that I don’t need a bellhop or valet, I’m able to park myself and bring my bag to the room on my own.

  • tio2girl

    I actually travel with my own little traditional alarm clock because I sleep better if I can see the time in the middle of the night. There are still those of us that use them!

  • tio2girl

    I prop one of the zillion extra pillows to keep the curtains closed. I’ve been known to duct tape curtains closed, too, on road trips.

  • AMA

    I give extra points to a room layout where the toilet is separated from the shower/sinks and has its own door. I also want an empty refrigerator and a microwave.

  • Alan Gore

    A fellow Hampton Inn fan?

  • Travelnut

    Hampton Inn FTW! Overall, they are pretty much my favorite as a balance of amenities and value. I’m a proud Hilton Honors gold member, at least until Dec. 31 when I will sadly go back to being silver.

  • Travelnut

    Re: mirror placement, the last hotel I stayed at (a Doubletree) had the full-size mirror mounted directly in view of the toilet. Either close the door or be prepared to look at yourself sitting on the can.

    What do I want in a hotel? Wifi, multiple convenient electrical outlets, a nice hot shower with good water pressure, a mini fridge (not a minibar), a comfortable chair with a side table, a desk, good lighting, free or reasonable self-parking, a large selection of TV channels, sufficient desk staff for speedy checkout.

    Nice-to-haves: guest washers & dryers, free breakfast, room service, located in a somewhat walkable area.

    Money grabs: valet parking, pick-up laundry service, minibars, resort fees, most hotel breakfasts, room service, in room movies.

    Annoyances: uncomfortable furniture, loud / difficult to control climate control, television remote control difficult to use, television defaults to entice you to pay for movies, housekeepers knocking on the door super early.

  • mcb48204

    This is not a new article. I have read it before. Now that it has been resurrected I can comment on it!

    I want to know what the amenities are before I book. I want them to be in working order. If not, I want a new room. If no other room is available, I want to be walked to a comparable property. If that is not possible, I want a cash discount.

    Please do not price like the airlines.

    I don’t want a base rate for an empty room and add-on fees for parking, a clean room, a clean bed, a working toilet, a working shower, a locking door, locking windows, electricity, water, HVAC, WiFi with a password, courteous and responsive staff. I want any taxes and fees included in the rate quoted.

    I don’t want to be charged for anything after checkout. I am non-smoker. Those $250 post-checkout smoking fees are scary.

  • disqus_00YDCZxqDV

    Question for Travel Industry Insiders: Why do hotel chains always order only 98% of the required curtain material?

  • disqus_00YDCZxqDV

    Good luck with finding a Microwave unless you’re in one of those extended stay places

  • disqus_00YDCZxqDV

    They are a great money earner for the hotel though: Good luck proving you didn’t smoke !

  • Chris_In_NC

    I must have low standards…. I just want a clean room that is fresh smelling with a comfortable bed with a working A/C unit/heater

  • jim6555

    Unplugging the alarm keeps it from going off at the time that a previous guest set to catch an early morning flight. There’s nothing more annoying than being awakened at 3:45 am after you’ve gone to sleep at 1:00 am.

  • jim6555

    I agree with almost all of the items posted. There are two others that I didn’t see.

    I can’t stand having a room with a noisy air conditioning unit. The better hotels have a central air conditioning system, but sometimes, like the time last year that an airline provided a room due to a cancelled flight, you have no choice. The air conditioning would loudly cycle on and off several times each hour.

    My other issue is not having some sort of night lighting. When you wake up from a deep sleep, are disoriented and the room is totally dark, it would be helpful to see a small light that can guide you in the right direction. My solution to this problem is to leave the bathroom light on and almost completely close the bathroom door. I know that doing this wastes the hotel’s electricity, but it assures that I won’t bump into thing and injure myself.

  • Kathryn Carver Binau

    As i write this I am sitting in a hotel attempting to work. the desk chair is “designer” pretty. It does not raise or lower and is not on wheels. Essentially it is useless. The lighting in the room is not suitable for work. The bathroom lighting is pretty- the lights are behind the mirror in a scroll design and assuming you do not want to see yourself, put on make up etc, then it is fine. The people who design hotel rooms must not every stay in them. Or they are only in a hotel room for a romantic night because the rooms are not designed for work. By the way, this is a downtown hotel in a major city, not a resort..

  • AMA


  • LonnieC

    And better lighting….

  • LonnieC

    I like that! Thanks.

  • Carchar

    I actually use the hotel’s alarm clock. First thing I do is make sure that the time is correct and which half of the day it’s in. Same with checking whether the alarm reads a.m or p.m. Right after a time change, like returning to Standard Time, can be especially frustrating, because the hotels have not adjusted for it and guests cannot reset the time themselves.

  • LonnieC

    Agree. Agree. Agree!!! I use an AmEx card and have over 300,000 HHonors points on it. Airline points? No way. HHonors points, you bet. Great service. Clean rooms. Breakfast that’s all I could ask for. Nice, friendly staff, and the fresh-baked cookies….

  • LonnieC

    For years I have tossed a couple of tiny night lights in my bags when we travel. I found excellent ones at Lowes. They’re about 1″ cubes, the prongs fold flat for packing, and they have a standard USB port for charging phones, etc., as well. One plugged into the bathroom outlet is usually all that’s needed. They cost less that $10 each, as I remember. Perhaps you can find them near where you are.

  • joycexyz

    We did that in Alaska in the summertime.

  • joycexyz

    And how about an AC unit that doesn’t roar???

  • joycexyz

    I actually had one like that at a B&B in Connecticut. Made me wonder whether it was really a mattress, or whether they had used an extra foundation. The floor would have been just as good (or bad)!

  • joycexyz

    Always very pleased with Hampton.

  • joycexyz

    So far, I haven’t seen anyone wanting the peek-a-boo bathrooms, or tubs in the room itself instead of in the bathroom. Guess we’re all a bit shy. Hello, all you clever hotel room designers!

  • jim6555

    Thanks. I’ll check out Lowe’s soon.

  • LonnieC

    I’m not in the business, but I checked online and didn’t find what I have at Lowes. However, I searched “GE Usb LED Night Light Charging Station, White 13273” and found them on Amazon. However, the price has gone to about $14+. That’s the best I can do. Good luck.

  • John McDonald

    who wants a room smelling of bleach or some other awful smelling cleaner ? It doesn’t mean the room is clean.

  • John McDonald

    I want wake up calls, not some automated thing you have to spend 15 mins working out. Travelling over different time zones, dumb phones don’t always work out the correct time zone. A real person phoning multiple times, can’t cost that much & they don’t need to be at front desk, they could

  • Maxwell Smart

    real multiple wakeup calls, by real person. When in many times zones sometimes dumb phones don’t get it right & who wants to waste 15 mins trying to work out the automated system. It surely can’t cost much to have someone, not at front desk, calling rooms ? They could do it from India.

  • Travelnut

    HH points = 348,466. :)

  • The Original Joe S

    I try to carry a 100W – equivalent 5000K LED. Have to make sure to retrieve it before leaving.

  • The Original Joe S

    They washed the dry clean-only curtains. Shrinkage…….

  • LonnieC


Get smart. Sign up for the newsletter.