of a Hotel Mystery Shopper
Americans stay at hotels as mystery shoppers, giving
companies inside scoops on their services.
By Kathryn O'Shea-Evans
Try finding a hotel mystery shopper willing to dish on
one of their stays. Ask them to reveal the dirt on the
unkempt suite, the coquette of a concierge, or the wilted
flower that sullied the room service tray. You can't.
According to the Mystery Shopping Providers Association
there are some 30,000 of them in the United States, hired
by luxury hotel brands to check-in anonymously and judge
mercilessly. But like a CIA agent or the rare hair
stylist who'll keep your secrets - gossip is not in the
mystery shopper's after-hours repertoire. Even if they
don't name names, everything they unearth is strictly
Perhaps it's to be expected in an industry where
everyone, from the booking agent to the bellhop, is
famously discreet. If loose lips sink ships, a
too-revealing mystery shopper could certainly submerge an
hotelier or two. Thankfully, Stephanie Perrone Goldstein,
vice president of sales & marketing for the New
York-based Coyle Hospitality (whose clients include
Starwood Hotels and Resorts and Mandarin Oriental Hotel
Group), produced a nine-year veteran willing to answer a
The catch: we would speak by phone, with Goldstein
playing watchdog, and the mystery shopper would remain
nameless and description-less -- more incognito than
Brangelina on holiday.
Even by phone, the woman radiated confidence. She'd
completed over 500 mystery shops in luxury hotels on four
continents and her voice came through the wires sternly,
as if she'd been in upper management a day too long. She
works as an independent contractor (paid by the job).
What she looks for at each hotel varies from client to
client - some brands maintain a checklist of ten things
to look for upon arrival, others more than 80.
"I pack a measuring tape, because a few hotels want
me to get down to the nitty-gritty," she says.
"Is the radius of light emitted from the lamp exact?
Is the paint on the walls in a particular palette?"
Occasionally, she'll check in as the most obnoxious breed
of hotel guest: the road-weary whiner.
"I'll call the front desk and say the room smells
like smoke even when it doesn't, just to see how they'll
respond," she says. Fake-outs are staged and
executed thoroughly; she'll go as far as to empty the
batteries from the remote and grumble about the fritzy
T.V., or unhook the chain from the toilet to time how
long it takes the staff to fix it. It's an exacting art.
After she checks out, her report is written up,
fact-checked by Coyle, and delivered back to the client
in a matter of weeks.
"My goal, honestly, is to get hotels to provide the
highest possible level of service," she says.
"When I return to these properties personally - and
I do, if they're great - I get such satisfaction seeing
In the era of Yelp and TripAdvisor, when travelers can
report anything at all to the Googling masses,
trustworthy accounts are more important than ever to
hoteliers. Coyle isn't alone in providing unbiased
evaluations to luxury brands that clamor for it.
Zachary Conen, senior vice president of sales and
marketing at LRA Worldwide, a mystery shopping firm based
in Pennsylvania, says they maintain a stable of 120 full
time consultants who travel 42 weeks out of the year.
They too are tight-lipped, but happy to tell you their
standards, which alter depending on the client. Is there
a seasonally appropriate fruit at the front desk? Did you
get a call from the concierge within thirty minutes of
The concept of sending in a ringer to report back is
nothing new. Mystery shopping began in the 1930s with
three men touring the country, staking out Woolworth's
and Kresge's (now Kmart) department stores. It gained
traction during the civil rights era, when the government
hired black and white "customers" to
investigate the compliance and the prolific lack thereof,
to desegregation laws in restaurants and corner stores
alike. Today it's a $1.6 billion-a-year production - a
large chunk of which is travel-based.
"In the late 1980s, Hilton was among the first
luxury hotel brands to utilize the service," says
Mike Bare, co-owner and president of Bare International
and one of the original founders of the MSPA. Three
decades later, it's common practice among hotel brands
around the world.
Essentially, they're hiring people to complain so you
never have to. And in the thoughtfulness- driven economy
of high-end hotels, that might be the most considerate
act of all.
Interested in becoming a Hotel Secret Shopper?
MysteryShoppersAmerica.com can get you started today. We
specialize in connecting new shoppers with mystery
shopping jobs throughout the country. Through our
extensive network of hundreds of mystery shopping
companies, youll have plenty of great shopping jobs
to choose from every day!
To become a hotel secret shopper, visit our registration
page. You'll learn about our secret shopping companies,
what kind of shopping jobs are available and how much you
can make. No previous experience is required.
Click here to Become a
Hotel Mystery Shopper