MANATEE -- No matter how much tourists spend on a hotel room, chances are the walls are beige or off-white.
"It's to hide the dirt," said Cihan Cobanoglu, dean of College of Hospitality & Technology Leadership at University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee.
An award-winning study by Vanja Bogicevic, a student pursuing a master's degree at USFSM, could help hoteliers rethink the choices they give guests, perhaps adding a splash of color for the hotel business.
Bogicevic found hoteliers could attract guests of a certain age if they would simply change the color or furniture in the room, using a model based on a Ritz-Carlton Sarasota room with a king bed. Respondents would review photos of one type of room with different colors and types of furnishings and would answer questions about the desirability of the room and their intent to buy.
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"The colors that men picked were usually dark brown, blue, gray while women picked pink, purple, orange and yellow was the neutral color with turquoise," Bogicevic said, adding the custom options showed a higher likelihood of guests buying rooms with the different colors and furniture.
Yet, men were pickier when it came to color, she said, showing that women didn't have as strong of a preference between a masculine color palette and a feminine one.
"Maybe I didn't choose the right color scheme to test that, so there's an idea we could do something similar
in the future," said Bogicevic, who received bachelor's and master's degrees in architecture and urban planning from University of Novi Sad in her native Serbia.
She also found that people 45 and younger preferred contemporary style versus those over 45 who slightly preferred the Tudor-style furniture.
Since completing her study, Bogicevic has seen proof of how color can change her own experience while staying at an Embassy Suites in Tampa.
"When I entered the room and they had this deep blue color, very similar to the one I used, the same type of furniture, and I was like, 'Oh my god, I think I nailed it,'' she said, adding that hotel's business is about 70 percent male.
Her findings earned her Best Paper Asia Pacific Journal of Tourism Research during a conference in January held at the University of Houston. Only four out of more than 280 papers are selected to win, and Bogicevic wants to continue her research to submit her findings on an academic journal.
It's rare for a master's student to receive the award, Cobanoglu said, and is just as special for USF's College of Hospitality, which is only a 10-year-old school. The 2015 awards will be held at the Graduate Education & Graduate Research Conference in Hospitality and Tourism at USF's Tampa campus.
Cobanoglu and Bogicevic earned the award with coauthors Milos Bujisic, her fiancé and doctoral student at the University of Central Florida and Andrew Hale Feinstein, deputy provost of San Jose State University. Bujisic completed the data analysis while Cobanoglu and Feinstein helped guide the students on how to develop the paper.
The report shows not what guests would ask for, but what they would select when presented an option.
"Sometimes people may not say this consciously that the design was good, but the satisfaction this is part of" the unconscious reaction, Cobanoglu said. "That's the beautiful thing about this. We normally, as the regular hospitality researchers, we don't think about that. We think about the service level."
Design and color options
Cobanoglu's specialty is looking at how technology interacts and affects the hotel and room experience. Designs and colors had never been included in such research.
Hoteliers have numerous options, the two said, if they would want to tweak designs or find ways to use the data to increase sales and guest satisfaction through adjusting room design.
One option would be to allow guests to have the option during booking to have the sheets and pillowcases changed to a different color, or have reversible sheets and covers for a quicker changeover.
"If the room has a neutral color, by changing the colors of the details you target that room to the male guest or the female guest," she said.
But getting someone to purchase is all about subconscious decisions, Cobanoglu said.
"The color and the design is really making a difference in how people perceive that hotel and the satisfaction as a result of that," he said.
Another option is the renovation route. For example, Wyndam hotels has redesigned rooms to focus on female business travelers, Cobanoglu said. A budget hotel would be more likely to wait until their renovation cycle is up, usually 10 to 12 years, to implement different colors and designs, he added.
Cobanoglu is intrigued by how technology could play a part in this theory for years ahead. Perhaps the lighting technology could be used in Microsoft's Home of the Future allowing people to change the colors using electronic panes.
"In the future I believe when you walk into the hotel room, based on your preferences, the colors of the wall may be changed," he said.
While the study used a luxury hotel room for selection, Cobanoglu doesn't think it would make a difference in budget or midline hotels.
"It doesn't matter what kind of price you're paying, what you expect from a hotel is always the same -- you want a clean room where you can put heads on the bed," he said.
While some of these changes might be years to come in your next hotel booking, Bogicevic plans to do more research and enter the architecture industry with her work visa for a firm that specializes in hospitality and health care design. She also hopes to pursue a doctorate in marketing and consumer sciences, possibly at USF.