After two years of declines, J.D. Power and Associates reported Wednesday that hotel guests are not only happier about their visits—they are the most satisfied in seven years.
"The fact that guest satisfaction has turned a corner is great news for an industry that has struggled to sufficiently meet guest expectations in the past few years," said Rick Garlick, global travel and hospitality practice lead at J.D. Power. "Many hotel chains are finally benefiting from the long-term investments they have been making to improve their properties in terms of staffing, rooms and facilities."
For the report, J.D. Power segments the hotel industry into categories by luxury tiers, length of stay and level of expected service. Among this year's top brands are Marriott's Ritz-Carlton (luxury), Kimpton Hotels (upper upscale), Hyatt Place (upscale), IHG's Holiday Inn (midscale full service), Drury Hotels (midscale), Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham (economy/budget), Hilton's Homewood Suites (upper extended stay) and Marriott's TownePlace Suites (extended stay).
(Related: How to travel like an industry insider)
The better service has been helped by a comeback in travel revenue, said Stuart Greif, J.D. Power's vice president of diversified industries. "The pie has been growing which has helped fuel profits," he told CNBC's "It's a Trip" in an interview. "Once the hotel companies had more profits they could reinvest it to make the hotel experience better—being better competitively as well as innovations that can take the guest experience even higher."
One of the biggest contributors to high marks in satisfaction was more frequent face-to-face positive encounters with hotel staff outside the registration desk.
However, the survey found that it is not all peachy for hotels. The top complaint was Internet service: 31 percent of guests surveyed reported an issue with their online service, and this dissatisfaction was reflected in the overall ratings.
Satisfaction was also lower for hotel guests who chose their accommodations based solely on price, although online booking sites are now helping engaged consumers to tease out the best deals, both for price and quality.
What's next for the hotel industry? Greif expects to see an increased use of technology during a normal hotel stay, with features like check-in and other services conducted through tablet computers. This would replace the need for a guest to wait in line at check-in or make a phone call to request service.
"As hoteliers experiment with automated methods of check-in and check-out, that tends to reduce the number of human touch points. It is important that they use the additional staff time gained to offer a warmer, more personalized experience for their guests," said Ramez Faza, senior manager of the global travel and hospitality practice at J.D. Power. "Hotels should never underestimate the power of the human element."
For hotel guests, J.D. Power offers the following tips:
1. Make the hotel work for you. Contact the hotel ahead of time and ask for suggestions for things to do; have them book restaurant reservations; and get all the directions you need before you arrive.
2. If you are a frequent guest, know the name of the front office manager and communicate ahead of your arrival to ensure they are aware of your visit. Loyalty still goes a long way.
3. If you have special requests, call the hotel directly, talk to the front office manager, or email them with your needs. They are usually willing to work with you when given ample time. Don't wait until you arrive to make complicated requests.
4. Don't assume all hotels are alike. Take advantage of all the information available to make an informed choice. If you know what you are getting ahead of time, you are less likely to be disappointed with your stay.