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Report Finds New Guest Preferences in the Wake of Covid

Cleanliness, price, flexibility and sustainability top the list of hotel guest preferences.

The positive recovery of hotels in the United States will likely continue in 2023, according to “A New Era for U.S. Hotels,” the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) 2023 State of the Hotel Industry Report.

Now that COVID is more manageable and a majority of Americans are vaccinated against the virus and its variations, hotel bookings have recovered to near pre-pandemic levels, says the report. But that doesn’t mean certain aftereffects of the pandemic don’t still present hurdles.

“America’s hotels are poised to begin a new era in operations — one where challenges such as staffing shortages and economic factors, including inflation and borrowing costs, replace COVID as top concerns,” says the AHLA report.

The AHLA identified 2022 as the year of the “new traveler.” Digital nomads and guests combining business with leisure (bleisure travelers) changed guest expectations.

“U.S. hoteliers rose to the challenge of catering to these consumers’ changing travel habits and preferences, and over the course of the year, demand nearly recovered to pre-pandemic levels,” says the AHLA report. In 2023, hotels must meet guests’ new demands for cleanliness, price and other factors.

How to appeal to today’s hotel guests

The AHLA report takes its findings from a survey by the organization’s partner Ecolab. In November 2022, Ecolab surveyed 527 consumers about which factors determine hotels they choose to book — and what they expect once they check in.

Here are the main factors that influence guests’ hotel choices, according to the AHLA report.

1. Price

Affordability is still the top factor that influences guests’ hotel choices. Around 57% of those surveyed say that room price determines the hotels they book. That percentage hasn’t yet recovered to the pre-pandemic level of 67%.

“This suggests that consumers might be slightly less price-conscious or that they value additional amenities or practices from a property,” says the report. “Even [so], a majority (54%) of consumers want to receive discount or loyalty program offers from their favorite lodging establishments.”

2. Enhanced cleaning

Enhanced cleaning regimens are the second big influencer of guest bookings. Yet guests are no longer looking for face masks or temperature and health check requirements.

“Nearly half of respondents (45%) said overall cleanliness and safety protocols influence their choice to stay in a hotel,” says the AHLA report.” This is up from pre-COVID (37%) and a decrease from 2020 (62%). Guests remain most concerned about ensuring the property and guest rooms are clean.

3. Flexible reservations

Reservation flexibility is even more important now than during or before the pandemic. Before COVID, fewer than 10% of consumers ranked reservation flexibility as one of the top factors when booking a hotel. For 2023, that percentage doubles to nearly 20%, according to the AHLA report.

4. Sustainability

Consumers also value sustainable practices when choosing a hotel. For example, stocking rooms with washable glasses instead of plastic cups eliminates plastic waste. Giving guests the option of skipping daily housekeeping and linen changes is another example of hotel sustainability practices.

“11% of consumers consider environmentally friendly practices to be in the top three factors influencing their choice to stay in a hotel. Prior to the pandemic, only 5% prioritized this,” according to the report. The AHLA is optimistic about the hospitality industry in 2023 for hotels that pay attention to the above factors.

“With a continued focus on the right cleaning practices, paired with increased flexibility and the right loyalty programs, hotels can expect to meet consumers’ top concerns and needs when choosing and staying in a hotel,” says the report.

To learn more findings from the report, visit the AHLA 2023 State of the Hotel Industry Report.