Our anticipated use of certain hotel amenities is often greater than our actual use, according to the findings of a new study from the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration’s Center for Hospitality Research.

More often than not, researchers found, guests expect to use certain amenities such as an alarm clock, spa, and in-room dining than they actually do use them. And for other amenities, such as lobby seating, valet parking, and concierge service, guests tend to underestimate their use.

To calculate anticipated versus actual use of amenities, researchers gathered data from a total of 724 guests who stayed at 33 different hotels in the U.S., operated by six different hotel brands that are all owned by the same undisclosed hotel company. The six brands included one upscale hotel brand, two upper upscale brands, and three luxury hotel brands.

The study examined a total of 50 different hotel amenities, which could be loosely divided into in-room amenities (bottled water, Internet access, a safe) and hotel-service amenities (valet parking, bellhops, a concierge desk), as well as into amenities that serve utilitarian purposes (such as a safe or a working desk), versus those that are more hedonic (such as a spa or a bar) in nature. Researchers also looked at whether there were differences in anticipated versus actual use of certain amenities among females and males, and among business and leisure travelers.

An Amenity Rubric for Hoteliers

At a time when the U.S. lodging industry is expecting a record amount of total capital expenditures in 2018 — $7.05 billion versus $6.85 billion in 2017, according to a new report from hotel industry consultant and adjunct professor with the New York University School of Professional Studies Jonathan M. Tisch Center for Hospitality & Tourism, Bjorn Hanson — knowing which hotel amenities offer the most return on investment is invaluable for hoteliers.

Hanson’s report defines capital expenditures as “costs incurred with the purchase and installation of capital assets to maintain and enhance hotels” such as wall covering, carpeting, redesigned lobby spaces, and equipment to increase high-speed Internet capacity.

Rising costs, more generally, related to construction and labor costs, are also why many new hotel developments and brands are increasingly being built on the concepts of offering limited or select services to hotel guests to maximize economic efficiencies.

For hoteliers wondering how to apply the research to their own properties, one of the Cornell report’s authors said that each hotel will have different needs in terms of offering the right amenities to guests.

Chekitan S. Dev, professor of marketing at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration in the SC Johnson College of Business, suggested hoteliers consider the following:

1. What amenities do your guests want and are not getting? Dev suggests “dividing the sample by first timers and repeaters to see if there is a difference, to identify the gaps in your offerings that might help acquire and retain customers.” He said that research showed how “free Wi-Fi helps bring in guests and bottled water brings guests back,” for instance.

2. Examine the actual use of your amenities. Dev suggested “dividing the sample by high and low value customers, to help determine the ROI [return on investment] on the amenities you do offer.” He added, “While the spa in our sample had low usage, if it is critical for high-value guests it may be worth keeping.”

3. How satisfied are guests with the amenities that you do offer? And could there be other reasons why they are not using that particular amenity? “For example, I had a client who opened the pool from 9 to 5 to limit the employee time to one working shift but had many business travelers [staying at the hotel] and was surprised why the pool was not being used,” Dev noted.

4. Figure out what your competitors are doing with their amenities to see if you “are over or under offering” certain amenities. “For example, rooftop bars and restaurants in urban locations are the ‘hot’ new amenity and may be worth looking into if you have the space to make this a reality,” Dev said.

5. Can a particular amenity be outsourced? One example Dev gave was that of the Hilton New York Midtown, which famously decreased its room service in New York City “because there are many local options for food delivery.”

Quick Takeaways

Guests generally, by about 20 percent on average, overpredicted their use of hotel amenities regardless of their purpose of stay (business or leisure), gender, or the type of hotel brand in which they were staying.

The one amenity that guests overpredicted their use of was internet access, both while in room (by 43 percent) and in the lobby (36 percent). Researchers, however, suspect this may have more to do with the fact that smartphones and tablets today often have their own Wi-Fi hotspots.

Guests were generally correct in their expectations of using in-room amenities such as a closet, packaged toiletries in the bathroom, a TV, task lighting, a desk, a folio under the door at check-out, and a hair dryer.

Guests overpredicted their use of early check-in (by 24 percent), automatic check-in (by 90 percent), and free Wi-Fi in the lobby (by 36 percent), as well as the use of wake-up calls (by 40 percent), and use of the spa (by 50 percent).

Guests underpredicted their use of valet parking by 64 percent, the bellhop by 50 percent, lobby seating by 56 percent, and concierge service by 35 percent.

Hoteliers should weigh the investment of fitness centers and/or in-room fitness equipment carefully. An earlier study from the same researchers found that 46 percent of guests intend to work out during their hotel stay, but only 22 percent actually wind up using the hotel fitness center.

In this newest study, 14 percent of guests thought they would use in-room fitness equipment, but only 1 percent actually did, suggesting possibly that in-room fitness concepts like those being employed by select Hilton and Westin properties, or IHG’s Even hotels, are not necessarily being utilized.

Researchers wrote: “This finding suggests that further study to gauge the effects of in-room fitness equipment on initial choice or repeat visit decisions might warranted,” They also suggested, however, that if this type of amenity becomes more common, some hotels may eventually consider eliminating their fitness centers and supplying in-room equipment instead.

There wasn’t a big difference in use of amenities between men and women, with the exception of the in-room hairdryer.

The hotel swimming pool, not surprisingly, is most used by leisure guests compared to business guests. Nearly two out of five leisure guests used the pool. Only 6 percent of business guests used the pool, versus the 21 percent who anticipated that they would.

Just because guests in this study may have overpredicted their actual use of certain amenities, hoteliers shouldn’t be quick to eliminate them, especially those that are familiar to hotel guests, researchers noted.

Photo Credit: In-room dining service is one hotel guest amenity that people often expect to use more than they actually do according to a new report. Red Huber / Orlando Sentinel/MCT