Keys to secret shopping at a hotel

Here are some factors to considering when looking at a hotel from a mystery shopping perspective.

To the outside eye, a hotel seems like the perfect place to be a mystery shopper. Hotel employees must go above and beyond the norm to impress customers, are accustomed to being asked specific questions about their work and are comfortable with the fact they are always being evaluated.

But there are some complications with reviewing hotels. It is not as easy as it seems, especially because more and more hotels are on the lookout for secret shoppers. Here are some factors to considering when looking at a hotel from a mystery shopping perspective:

Loyalty counts
Many travelers will only visit hotels where they receive perks for being loyal customers. There's a multitude of factors that go into why a certain hotel chain is chosen over another. According to J.D. Power's 2015 Hotel Satisfaction report, the top reason travelers pick a specific loyalty program is maintenance and management of their rewards accounts. Nearly a quarter of the customers polled - 23 percent - picked that as their most important factor, beating out other topics such as variety of benefits and customer service at the hotel, the latter of which only received 5 percent of the votes.

This data plays a role in secret shopping, because it shows where hotel chains must focus their efforts. With so many regular customers concerned with how their perks are managed, hotels have specific staff members whose sole job it is look over those things.

To give a hotel a full review that hits on factors both the business and its customers care about, a mystery shopper must inquire about loyalty benefits. That includes investigating what types of perks there are, when those perks can be used, what is the annual cost of membership and so on. Finding out which hotel chain treats their returning clients the best plays such an important role in determining how well the business is doing as a whole.

Location, location, location
Along with the opportunity to earn membership points, hotels can also differentiate themselves from their competition though convenience. Being close to landmarks, travel hubs and business centers is a terrific way for a hotel to stand out. It is also an element a mystery shopper should investigate when looking into a hotel.

While a shopper will not grade the hotel on where it is based, its location can play a major factor in the final review of the business. Hotels close to an airport, for example, should have shuttle busses available and travel information easily available to customers. A secret shopper should inquire about these things and make it a part of their review. The same goes with the helpfulness of staff members, who should be of assistance if a customer asks for directions or recommendations of what to do in the area nearby the hotel.

Don't miss the obvious
When reviewing a hotel, it is easy to get caught up investigating the small things and specific details. Don't forget what's right in front of you, either. Like with any secret shopping location, a hotel should be reviewed for its cleanliness, the attention to detail it pays to customers and how employees interact with every visitor who passes through.

According to the 2014 Lodging Industry Profile, a study done by the American Hotel and Lodging Association, the average hotel room rate per night in 2013 was $110.35. That number has gone up every year since the study began in 2003 and will likely continue to do so. Given that cost, a customer should have certain expectations that must be met by the hotel.

As a mystery shopper. don't be intimidated to ask questions to ensure those expectations are reached. Even if you are not a frequent visitor like some other guests may be, find out if a hotel has any perks, such as a pool or free breakfast. Learn when during the year the hotel is at its busiest or when there is the most room available.

Determining these things will help you blend in as a customer while staying at the hotel and also come in handy when you check out and have to write up a report.