Are mountain resort guest satisfaction scores distracting managers from significant innovation opportunities and threats?
300 U.S. mountain resorts became boiled frogs in recent decades. Hundreds more are at significant risk.
Surviving resorts benefit, at least temporarily. Annual U.S. skier visits, which has been static while the population grew 20%, is concentrated among fewer resorts. There’s a tinge of complacency in press releases touting the industry’s “stability” and resort guest satisfaction.
Mountain resort guest satisfaction scores rarely predict growth paths. The scores provide diagnostics. They don’t prescribe innovations that sustain competitiveness. They don’t inform responses to external forces that are inexorably eroding the mountain resort guest experience. Fourteen of these forces are described below.
Is your resort at risk of getting cooked? These three questions will help you assess your situation.
Q.1) If guest visits weren’t meeting projections, you’re management team would most likely (choose all that apply)…
- A) Reallocate marketing dollars to the most effective tactics
- B) Create more promotional events
- C) Look for drops in your mountain resort guest satisfaction scores for clues about what’s going on
- D) Refresh your understanding of the guest experience
What about option D, refresh your understanding of the guest experience? Do you believe option D has more fuzzy outcomes than A, B, or C? Option D casts a big net to understand all influences on guest behavior.
On the other hand, options A, B and C don’t detect all of the influences. And, they can delay refreshing your understanding of the guest experience by weeks or months.
Q.2) Is a mountain resort guest satisfaction survey the primary means by which you’re detecting influences on guest behavior?
Satisfaction studies are great for tracking specific measures of service quality. These services deliver only part of the total experience that influences guest loyalty.
Guest behavior is influenced by more than what happens at your resort. The whole guest experience includes conscious and unconscious events, expectations and frustrations that happen before, during and after they deal with you. Guests’ experiences are influenced by the contexts of guests’ lives, not just what happens when they arrive at your destination.
Consider how opportunities (or urgent needs) for innovation are propelled by events in guests’ lives, such as changes in,
- household structures, singlehood, divorce and the rise of single heads of households
- competitors’ offerings
- consumers’ increasing access to global vacation options
- shifts in values from material to experiential
- how social groups coalesce differently in different cohorts
- ethnicity and customs
- adoption of new technologies and apps
- corporate cultures and work-life balance
- monetary exchange rates
- travel costs in time and money
- generational spending power
- stock and bond market performance
- disease outbreaks and control (e.g., Zika virus)
- payment preferences
We’ve seen all of these influences at play. Some of these influences are inspiring innovations at hotels and resorts as we speak.
Can your guest satisfaction survey detect all of these shifts? If not, that’s not a failure of your survey. Remember, satisfaction surveys only measure aspects of service quality at your resort. That’s because guests will spend only a minute or two providing honest answers.
Mountain resort guest satisfaction surveys have another important limitation: selection bias. The only the guests completing satisfaction surveys are the ones who show up. Satisfaction scores can remain “high” while guest visits decline. You need other ways to learn what’s influencing guest experiences and behavior.
Q.3 When would your management team consider researching and revamping the guest experience? Check all that apply.
- a) After marketing efforts fail to produce desired results
- b) After guest visits continue declining
- c) After guest satisfaction finally drops
- d) After all of the above happens
Did you include C, waiting until your guest satisfaction scores drop? For the reasons above, your guest satisfaction scores may never drop, even as guest visits decline. Resorts are refreshing their guest experiences in other ways.
How often do resorts refresh their guest experiences?
We follow up with companies two to three years after refreshing their guest experience. They suggest that the usable shelf life of guest experience insight averages five years.
Most report significant improvements. One saw a 27% increase in sales. Benefits include online and traditional marketing efficiencies, higher-demand products, pricing models that boost repeat visits, revenue and referrals, and streamlined operating costs.
What could be the benefits to your business? The numbers below demonstrate a model for figuring this out.
- Let’s say your resort has historically generated $15 million in sales annually. Every !% change in sales represents $150,000.
- If your sales fall short 5% over the next five years on average, you’re out $3.75 million.
- Most guest experience studies costs about $40,000. That’s about 1% of $3.75 million of revenue you could have earned. You’d have better cash flow, less revenue to make up and less pressure from your board.
Is it worth it? Only you can decide. Awareness of the limits of guest satisfaction surveys and some simple math can keep you out of hot water.
Our special report on guest satisfaction. It’s been downloaded more than 300 times. It expands on ideas in this blog post. For a complimentary download, just click on the cover page.
Vacation Behavior provides differentiating perspectives to tourism marketers differentiating their brands. Here are some related blog posts about influencing more guests to visit your destination.