Overview: Qualitative Marketing Research & How it Benefits Your Hotel

By Johnna Freud Qualitative Research Moderator, Saul Cohen & Associates | October 28, 2008

This article is the first in a series about qualitative marketing research. It provides a basic overview about this methodology, especially for those in the hospitality industry who are not fully acquainted with it.

What is Qualitative Marketing Research?

Qualitative marketing research provides an easy and relatively inexpensive way to gain an in-depth understanding of how and why people think, feel and act the way they do. The primary method used to accomplish these objectives is focus groups. Focus groups comprise small groups of individuals - usually fewer than 12 - who are assembled to participate in an open-ended discussion guided by a trained qualitative research consultant - also called a moderator. In most cases, they are conducted in focus group facilities that enable clients to view them in real time from behind a one-way mirror.

Focus groups are particularly useful to explore consumers' opinions on current offerings or test new ideas. They can provide a setting in which to gain valuable insights into travelers' decision making processes that affect the bottom line of establishments from the smallest bed & breakfast to the largest hotel chain in the world.

When to Use Qualitative Research

We know that people select specific hotels for many different reasons, such as location, price, service, ambiance, and loyalty programs. However, focus groups can provide a forum in which to gain an in-depth understanding, for example, about whether amenities (e.g., airport transportation, business centers, exercise facilities, complimentary breakfast, in-house restaurants and Internet access or WiFi) affect travelers' decisions about where to stay. They can uncover unmet needs, such as amenities that guests would like to have offered, as well as help us to understand the relative importance of these desires.

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Eco-Friendly Practices: Corporate Social Responsibility

The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.