Reactions to overbooking depend on how remedy is couched

May 27, 2003

The trick to cajoling guests to return to an overbooked hotel may lie in the impression that getting an upgraded room for their trouble is standard practice, rather than sheer chance, Penn State researchers say.

John W. O'Neill and Anna S. Mattila, both assistant professors in the School of Hotel, Restaurant and Recreation Management, recently surveyed 613 hotel guests from 30 countries and found that if they thought that overbooking was rare but getting a better room due to it was common at an individual hotel, they would most likely visit the same place again after being bumped from their intended room. O'Neill's and Mattila's article on the project will appear this fall in the Journal of Hospitality and Leisure Marketing.

"Our goal was to examine whether the way in which overbooking information is communicated to the guest influences their satisfaction with the hotel," O'Neill says. "This is important in the lodging industry because dissatisfied guests are likely to spread bad news about a hotel to many more people. It's a fine line to tread - most lodging managers need to overbook to a certain extent due to no-shows and cancellations."

On a five-point scale, with 5 being the most positive response, participants in the study were asked to think of a hotel that they had stayed at during the past year, and then to rate their likelihood of returning to it if one of several different fictitious overbooking scenarios had occurred.

In response to a scenario that gave the impression that overbooking was rare, and that getting a suite at the same price as a less classy room for their hassle was typical, the guests rated their intent to return at 4.26 on average, versus 3.74 in a scenario that suggested that the upgrade was unlikely to be repeated.

When other scenarios painted overbooking as a common dilemma at the hotel, the responses averaged 3.76 for intent to return if the upgrade was supposedly de rigueur, versus 2.96 when it was hard to come by.

"We also found that hotel guests are likely to be more satisfied with the upgraded guestroom itself when they think that's what they'll get every time overbooking occurs," Mattila says. "Ultimately, however, most hotel guests seem to be indicating that had they truly desired to have an upgraded guest room, they probably would have been willing to pay for it."

Penn State

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