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

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By Christopher Elliott

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 hotel 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 hotel guests really want apart from the obvious like new hotel designs — 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.

Hotel guests want the obvious, e.g. a room with power and WiFi

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.”

Don’t force hotel guests to join loyalty programs

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.

“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.

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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 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!”

Hotel guests need hair dryers and in working order

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.

• 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.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Panamá City.

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