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UX Research Projects

Contextual Inquiry: Luxury Hotel

I assisted and conducted a contextual inquiry at 2 luxury hotels in order to segment target hotel guests (users) and differentiate service design strategy.

<My Role>

Research Assistant, Corporate Planning Associate (team of 6)


I was the product researcher that was responsible for developing a new product. But as part of the new product ideation, I initiated this diary study as a generative user research study with an existing product.

<Background, Problem and Goals>

Two hotel properties under the same brand, owner and proximity were facing cannibalization, where they were competing against each other for the same target users (hotel guests). In order to address this problem, the hotel management wanted to strategically differentiate the two hotels by segmenting their target users, and defining their services. And so the research team conducted a contextual inquiry to gain a robust understanding of the users’ natural interactions and behaviors in the respective hotel spaces. Study results were later developed into personas that defined key target users and informed hotel service strategy.

hotel map.png
<Challenges and Limitations>

Due to the private nature of hotel spaces, contextual inquiries were conducted only in public spaces (hotel lobby and restaurants). Follow-up in-depth interviews and detailed surveys were conducted to further study users in the private spaces (hotel rooms, banquet halls, VIP lounge etc). Hotel employees working closely to users in respective spaces were also invited to participate in a workshop to contribute their insights.

<Research Questions>

In what way do the hotel guests’ needs differ in each respective hotel?

- How do they perceive the image/reputation of the hotel?

What hotel service do they value most?

- What is their main purpose of visiting the hotel?

- How do they usually spend their time at the hotel (customer journey)?


In what way do the hotel spaces’ ambience differ and how does this impact the image/reputation of the respective hotels?

- How busy, noisy or quiet is the space?
- How does this affect the way users interact with each other in the hotel services? 

- How is the space designed?

- What effect does the current hotel ambience have, if any, on the service/perceived

  1. Observed hotel guests’ behavior in respective hotel spaces.

  2. Conducted interviews and surveys

  3. Created an affinity map

  4. Facilitated workshops with hotel employees that worked in the respective spaces (work closely with hotel guests)


*10 participants per group


  • 10 hotel guests from hotel A lobby

  • 10 hotel guests from hotel A buffet restaurant

  • 10 hotel guests from hotel A lounge

  • 10 hotel guests from hotel B lobby

  • 10 hotel guests from hotel B buffet restaurant

  • 10 hotel guests from hotel B lounge


Hotel A: Grand InterContinental Seoul Parnas

Hotel B: InterContinental Hotel Seoul COEX

<Key Insights> *Below are some of the many insights derived from this contextual inquiry. 

Current image/reputation of the hotels

both_customer awareness.png

How hotel guests perceive the 2 hotels.

Grand_current image.png

How hotel guests perceive hotel A (Grand InterContinental Seoul Parnas).

COEX_ current image 1.png

The problem with hotel B (InterContinental Seoul COEX).

How hotel guests perceive hotel B (InterContinental Seoul COEX).


The two hotels should refine their hotel images to different directions. Hotel A (Grand InterContinental) should aim to be more "classic" and hotel B (InterContinental COEX) should aim to be more "contemporary and trendy".

As-is Hotel Concept

To-be Hotel Concept

both_positioning map.png

As-is vs. To-be positioning mapping of the 2 hotels.

<Competitor Analysis>

To further differentiate the 2 hotels from other competing local luxury hotels in Seoul, hotel A (Grand InterContinental) and hotel B (InterContinental COEX) were mapped on the image positioning map below.

Positioning mapping from a competitor analysis study.


1) Differentiated Hotel Concepts 
2) Improved Service Quality and Customer Satisfaction Scores.

By strategically differentiating the two hotels' concepts, segmenting the target users, and defining services accordingly, the national-wide ranking of hotel service quality and customer satisfaction has increased over the years.

NCSI (National Customer Satisfaction Index)

Strategizing hotel services with cross-functional teams according to newly defined hotel concepts increased the national-wide customer satisfaction ranking by 7 percentage points from 2012 to 2015 (National Customer Satisfaction Index (NCSI).

NCSI trend.png


KS-SQI (Korean Standard Service Quality Index)

Service standards established according to UX research results contributed to the increased service quality by 2.7 percentage points from 2011 to 2012 (Korean Standard Service Quality Index (KS-SQI); ranked #1 hotel in the country).






*Ranked #1 hotel in Korea


Assisting in the design of and participating in the actual contextual inquiry was extensive work. There were lots of qualitative research data that required lots of time and resources to be collected, organized and analyzed. In the context of the hotel space, conducting contextual inquiries was difficult due to the private nature of hotel spaces. Also, different areas of the hotel varied vastly, which required a comprehensive study. 

If I had the opportunity to redo this study, I think it will be interesting to run ideation workshops with loyal hotel guests as well.

As I walk away from the study, I learned more about the users in the hotel space. Hotel room guests valued the hotel brand more over anything else, and so I didn't think differentiation was necessary. Anything additional to the hotel brand didn’t matter to them. As long as services met brand expectations, they were satisfied. What’s more important is their associated business account and availability. In addition, majority of F&B guests were local users (with the exception of the breakfast buffet restaurants) who considered hotel concepts and services to be important. The age group of current local hotel guests at hotel A is a bit older than hotel B. Hotel A has a more classic and luxurious reputation, whereas hotel B is considered more modern. This showed that the hotel brand solely doesn't determine the age segment, and instead addiyional factors contributed to the makeup of the actual users.

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