As we've investigated hotels across the globe, we've found that oftentimes, it's the little things that can make the biggest impact on a stay, from the toiletries to the gym passes to the free snacks. So we compiled a list of 10 basic practices that significantly improve customer experience -- and that hoteliers can implement quickly and relatively cheaply. Oyster visits properties in-person, and evaluates how every feature stacks up against the competition, from the rooms to the pools to the restaurants -- and the following details are an important part of our holistic assessment.
If you don't have the budget for any big projects this year -- say, replacing the mattresses or carpets -- maybe there's room for some of these smaller improvements instead. Of course, not every tip will work for every hotel, and hoteliers will know which of the below might work best for their property.
Already on top of these tips? You can bet Oyster will give you kudos for it in your review.
1. Kid-friendly extras
Traveling families have a lot of special needs -- ranging from cribs for the room, to electrical socket protectors, to video games. One Ocean Resort Hotel & Spa in Jacksonville offers infant amenities such as cribs, bottle warmers, and baby suntan lotion, while the High Tech Petit Palace Arenal in Madrid offers free loaner strollers and family-friendly rooms with bunk beds. A welcome gifts for kids is also great -- especially when it's something that will keep the little ones occupied during the check-in process, such as a coloring book. Bottom Line: Hotels may not be able to offer every little thing a family might need, but showing them you haven't forgotten their little ones will go a long way to making their stay.
2. Distinct categories for their tiniest rooms
We appreciate it when a hotel puts its tiniest rooms into a clearly branded category and charges less for them. (When tiny rooms get lumped into the same category with larger rooms, the unlucky guests who get assigned to them feel tricked!) The Jane Hotel in New York City proudly advertises its 50-square-foot Standard Cabin rooms, which go for $99, and the Berns Hotel in Stockholm has branded its room categories Extra Small, Small, Medium, Large, and Extra Large. Bottom Line: Smart branding can turn flaws to your advantage.
3. Free passes to off-site features
For many small boutique properties, it's difficult to offer features such as a fitness center or spa on-site. But if nearby hotels are offering these features, it's important to find a way to compete. The luxurious Mercer Hotel in New York City, for example, lacks both an on-site gym and spa, but offers guests free passes to Equinox two blocks away, which has both. Bottom Line: On-site features are always best, but free passes help compensate.
4. Brand-name toiletries
Many hotel-brand toiletries aren't very good, and guests know this. They pack their own shampoo and conditioner so they can avoid having starchy hair in the morning. When a traveler researches a hotel and sees it carries toiletries she knows, it's a big help at the packing phase. Check out some of our favorite brands, and which hotels are carrying them. Bottom Line: When a hotel carries a known brand, such as Molton Brown or L'Occitane,guests can feel comfortable leaving their unwieldy toiletry bottles at home.
5. Lots of TV channels
If you're going to spend the dough to upgrade to nice high-definition flat-screen TVs, make sure to offer a good range of channels to go with them. The Redbury at Hollywood and Vine in Los Angeles goes above and beyond, offering not only a great range of channels, but DVD players and DVR as well. Bottom Line: Having a fancy TV isn't worth much if there's nothing to watch!
Coffeemakers aren't an optional amenity (though a few hotels seem to think they are). Some smart hotels offer not only coffeemakers, but fancy coffeemakers, such as Nespresso machines. As we learned from Anthony Melchiorri on Hotel Impossible, 78 percent of travelers expect a coffeemaker in their guestroom. So not having them means making 78 percent of your guests unhappy. Bottom Line: Decaffeinated guests are unhappy guests.
7. Free Wi-Fi
What's $10 extra bucks, right? As it turns out, that extra fee could end up costing you more than it earns: It's one of the most common things guests complain about, and could lose you return customers. A study showed that 86 percent of guests expect free Wi-Fi, so paying steep Wi-Fi charges at checkout could put a damper on a guest's entire hotel experience. Bottom Line: If you have to up your nightly rate to make up the Wi-Fi cost, so be it -- most guests will prefer to pay more up front than feel like they're getting nickel-and-dimed at the end.
8. Free snacks and drinks
Guests love free food and drinks just as much as they hate paying for Wi-Fi. Evening wine and hors d'oeuvres hours, such as the ones offered by the Kimpton Hotels chain, are always popular, and there are plenty of other great ways to provide foodie freebies. Bottom Line: The way to a guest's heart is through her stomach.
9. Zero hidden fees
We know we already talked about Wi-Fi -- but some hotels take hidden fees to a whole different level, charging for things such as toothpaste, lotion, and even coffee pods. (Having coffeemakers and then charging for the coffee might be worse than not having coffeemakers at all.) Resort fees are also no fun; as with Wi-Fi, most guests would prefer these fees to be lumped into the nightly rate. Bottom Line: The best hotels make guests feel like guests -- and don't nickel-and-dime.
10. Room service
Many hotels consider room service a worthwhile investment: As we learned on Hotel Impossible, hotels with full room service can charge up to 10 percent more for their nightly rates -- and make revenue from the food. Don't have a restaurant at your hotel? Not a problem. For travel-weary guests, room service is important, and we appreciate it when hotels find creative ways to provide it, even without a kitchen on the premises. A number of hotels, such as the Courtyard Seattle Bellevue/Downtown, arrange delivery from nearby restaurants, while others offer options such as cheese and fruit platters in lieu of cooked meals. And if neither of those substitutes are available, a really great minibar usually makes us pretty happy. Bottom Line: Any kind of room service is better than none at all.