The User Experience of Hotels

The principles of user experience are now quite widely known, yet still lacking in some of the most obvious places.

Any customer service-oriented business is also in the user experience business. Bars, restaurants and other hospitality-based enterprises should be especially aware of this. Organizations who engage with customers over extended periods of time – airlines, for example – have even more reason to develop and deploy rock-solid user experiences. But, almost universally, they do not.

Why not is a mystery. The basic principles of user experience are very simple: understand who your customers are; know what they want to do (or what you want them to do); and design pathways to make those things easy. A simple plan, but in the real world, somewhere between theory and execution, it all goes off the rails.

Hotels make for excellent case studies in this area. Whenever I travel and visit a hotel, I assess the user experience, because I can’t help it. Somewhat pessimistically, I don’t expect the UX to measure up, and I am usually right. The question is, by how much will it fall short?

Common Missteps

Some of the UX flaws I commonly encounter in hotels:

  • Ambient light leaks. Hotel designers know by now that blackout curtains are a must for guests arriving at odd times. But when a room is very dark, the LED on the thermostat is as bright as a small sun. Often found colluding with other, similar offenders, like flashing smoke detector lights, red TV standby LEDs or overly-aggressive alarm clock digits.
  • Bathroom placement. As part of the relentless drive toward optimization, hotel architects – who clearly never sleep in the buildings they design – sometimes put the toilet an arms-length or two from the pillow, with naught but a flimsy sliding partition between them. Especially delightful when you share a bed with someone.
  • Soundproofing. Is it fun being woken at 3am by drunk people falling out of the elevator? It is not. Bonus: early morning garbage collection.
  • Elevators. If you want to exit to the street, should you press G, L, M or 1? Must the doors really close on a 10-second delay? Do you know what a placebo button is? Bonus – these:

Yes, you know what they mean. But under the pressure of someone rushing for the closing doors, will you press the right one?

  • Fingerprints. Crime scene data on the bathroom fixtures is not the personal touch I had in mind.
  • Wifi that costs. I can’t even. Bonus: have to register first.
  • Room service detritus. People leave half-eaten food on dirty plates outside their doors, where it languishes overnight or until housekeeping else notices it. Prevalent in even the most upscale hotels. I have no idea what the solution is.

Who gets it right?

All of the time: No one.
Most of the time: Four Seasons, Anantara, Le Germain.
Some of the time: Marriott, boutiques.
None of the time: Everyone else.

Categories: UX