Cleveland sports fans were up in arms last month about the rating of the country’s top sports cities by The Sporting News, a St. Louis-based national publication that always carried the parenthetical expression “baseball’s bible” after its name. But I’m not one of those who are offended.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big fan of my hometown and its sports teams, but the time I sweat survey results about how well liked or respected my town is by people in other areas passed long ago.
The Sporting News produces this rating annually, and in the past, Cleveland ranked much higher than No. 32. That, of course, begs the question: Why is the methodology and results of the survey held in higher esteem when the results are more to the reader’s liking than they are when the reader’s favorite city is rated low?
These surveys and testimonials from out-of-towners don’t do much for me because the criteria used for such rankings are subjective; and without complete knowledge of the rater’s method for deciding what he or she likes or dislikes, there is little reason to get huffy.
Long-time readers of this column have heard me before on the value of subjective surveys, which brings me to the subject at hand: Consumer Reports’ annual rating of U.S. hotel companies. Like Clevelanders offended by The Sporting News’ ranking, hotel companies that aren’t ranked in the top half of their respective categories by Consumer Reports are crying foul. But why bother?
First of all, this hotel survey isn’t handled the same way Consumer Reports evaluates other products. If one wondered what is the best vacuum cleaner on the market, Consumer Reports employees would use specific criteria to judge vacuum cleaners and come up with a rating of them. It still might be hot air, but at least it’s hot air with a method.
Hotels get no such respect. For this survey, Consumer Reports sent questionnaires to 41,000 readers who might or might not visit more than one hotel a year. Then, the magazine compiled the information it received and presto, it ranked hotel chains based on four price categories. Never mind that among reader complaints were items such as budget-hotel customers reporting that budget hotels had cramped quarters or lacked storage space. What do they expect for $49 a night?
Still, let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.
While I still say it’s folly to judge hotel chains by visits to only some of its hotels by travelers using subjective criteria to rate their appeal, Consumer Reports delivers a larger message.
Many of the nation’s hotel properties aren’t meeting the expectations of its guests and in the process are dragging down their chains and the lodging industry.
I complain about those who surveyed the industry for Consumer Reports because there wasn’t any objective criteria, but that’s the way it is in the real world. Certainly, there can be things wrong with hotel rooms that 100 percent of guests will recognize, but there are even more items to judge in a hotel room that can be done only subjectively. And the subjective judgment of many is that a great number of the nation’s hotel rooms leave much to be desired, regardless of the room price.
Part of the problem is that the hotel industry has failed to educate consumers about what they can expect from a particular-priced hotel. Consequently, many leave feeling shortchanged. An educated consumer can be the lodging industry’s best friend if it delivers what is promised and worst enemy if it fails. The weakest link completely destroys the strength of any chain, and invariably consumers find those weakest links, which causes the brand to suffer.
Subjective or objective criteria aside, the hotel industry has a problem. Disappointed guests will hurt it more than any recession will.