AMES, Iowa – If you’re planning a summer vacation or weekend getaway, when you book your hotel room can make a big difference. As convenient as it may be to make a reservation at the office, a new Iowa State University study found you’ll be happier with your hotel stay if you wait to book your room after business hours.
Wei Zhang, an assistant professor of marketing at Iowa State, and Ajay Kalra, Herbert S. Autrey Professor of Marketing at Rice University, analyzed reservations from a major online hotel site to understand how different factors influence consumer choice. The study, published online by the Journal of Marketing Research, found consumers who made reservations during business hours selected a higher quality hotel, but they were ultimately less satisfied with their choice.
Researchers not only looked at the time of day, but how far in advance the reservation was made as well as the distance the consumer was traveling to his or her destination. The study shows consumers who booked earlier and traveled farther also opted for a higher quality hotel. Those who traveled farther from home were not as happy with their hotel choice, while consumers who booked in advance were more likely to be satisfied.
“If you pre-pay for the vacation well in advance, by the time you travel you tend to be happier and enjoy the vacation,” Zhang said. “As previous theory has demonstrated, the time gap lessens the pain of paying.” It is important to note that the hotel site used in the study required consumers to pay for their rooms at the time the reservation was made.
Zhang says there are several theories that can provide some explanation for consumer behavior and satisfaction.
“There’s the theory that if a person is traveling farther away and booking a hotel for a major trip, he will likely spend more money to stay in a nicer hotel,” Zhang said. “We don’t know what exactly is driving the consumer’s decision process, but there are a variety of theories that can explain it, and we cannot differentiate one from the other.”
What this means for hotel managers
The findings are significant considering the billions spent on leisure travel in the U.S. With the summer travel season approaching, Zhang says hotel managers should take note that there are certain factors they cannot control when it comes to the overall satisfaction of their guests.
“If you have two consumers and one booked a hotel during business hours and one during non-business hours, both consumers get the same quality of service, but one is still less happy,” Zhang said. “That means some portion of satisfaction is outside the control of hotel managers.”
The convenience of travel websites has led more and more consumers to make vacation plans online. However, Zhang says the study’s findings on hotel quality and satisfaction is the same regardless of whether a reservation is made online, by phone or through a travel agent.
The study included data for more than 4,500 consumers, the majority of which made only one hotel reservation. The reservations were made between January 2008 and October 2009 for visits to the most traveled 200 cities.