By James Cannon
As hoteliers re-open their doors and look forward to delivering outstanding hospitality almost as much as guests look forward to receiving it, the key question now is how can hoteliers curate an end-to-end guest journey which delivers a personalized experience and at the same time drives both top- and bottom-line growth?
There is a widespread recognition that the hospitality landscape has undergone a seismic shift since March 2020. Everything from how hotels operate, the forms of digital communication and interaction which seem to have become ubiquitous almost overnight, the personnel working in our hotels and, of course, the guest’s expectations, have all undergone significant and permanent change.
With this in mind, understanding how and where the guest journey has evolved will also be vitally important in the weeks and months ahead. To drive a positive impact on revenues means hoteliers need a solid understanding of what the engagement and sales opportunities are at each stage of the journey and how they can make the most of those opportunities to enhance the guest experience, build loyalty, increase conversion and grow attachment of ancillary products and services.
Here we outline some of the key stages and some of the sales and marketing opportunities and strategies hoteliers should consider.
Before booking, while the focus for most trips will be leisure and local, many guests will take the time to research local areas and consider the experience of the whole trip, beyond just the room. As restrictions ease and the opportunity to travel again is realized, there is a great deal of pent-up demand not just to get away, but to make that trip as valuable and experience-led as possible. Bearing this in mind, hoteliers should consider inspiring and enticing guests across all their available marketing channels (newsletter, website, social media) with details of other activities that might be available to enhance the overall stay experience– local attractions, activities and tours, for example. For an even more personalized communications strategy, hoteliers can utilize guest profiles stored within their PMS to tailor newsletter content and loyalty scheme offers with additional appropriate recommendations for experiences that will appeal and inspire, and could even encourage a longer stay.
Consider: The ROI is often higher on a narrower, more targeted campaign than by adopting a broader-brush approach.
While hoteliers will keep a keen eye across their distribution channels to ensure each and every one is working to maximum effect, many regard direct booking as the one that offers greatest value. It creates the very real and immediate opportunity to not only build direct relations, but also to gather actionable guest data. In turn, hoteliers can use that insight to upsell additional offers/packages to build on the experience. For example, early check-in, late check-out, drinks on arrival, car parking, spa treatments, pet services, children’s activities etc. Such communication whether it be in the form of an email or courtesy call ahead of a guest’s arrival all serve as a hotelier’s shop window and can build revenue before the guest even arrives.
Consider: Guests often have two wallets! The wallet that they use to pay for the stay, and the wallet that they use to pay for experiences, treats and luxuries during their stay. Some people are happy to dip-in to the second wallet at the time of booking, others keep it closed a little while longer. Timing is everything when it comes to upsells.
Whether online or in-person, check-in also provides a valuable opportunity for data capture and getting to know your guest better. Where permissible, guests will often provide key information, for example, their date of birth, the reason for their stay and any special requests. Equipped with this information, hoteliers can then prepare a warm welcome and more informed, bespoke communications for the future. A personalized approach to marketing centered on the individual preferences of the guest is often more effective and productive. If a couple has checked in to celebrate a wedding anniversary for example, that date can be stored and an email inviting them to return and celebrate the following year can be drafted.
Consider: Acquiring a new guest can cost five times as much as retaining a repeat guest; and in the year of the staycation, hotels have a truly unique opportunity to establish the foundations of long-lasting loyalty from countless new visitors.
While on-site/during stay
Throughout the course of their stay, hoteliers can once again make the most of the opportunity to build relations with guests and market as many aspects of the property and service offers as possible while they have a captive audience. A tour of the facilities can provide a great opportunity to showcase what is available, while a courtesy call to the room to confirm they are happy and suggest additional bookings, such as a spa treatment or room service can also work well.
Consider: In-stay is often the most overlooked stage of the guest journey in terms of proactive, personalized communication; and yet this is when the “second wallet” is very much open for business. While guests may not want to be sold to, they are very open to buying.
There are many benefits of online payments, both for the guest and the hotelier in terms of reducing the risk of errors, security and cashflow. For example, secure payment links can enable the guest to manage their payments and pay upfront, which helps minimize no-shows, reduce charge-backs and lost revenue for hoteliers. Across all of these, however, are the underlying themes of trust and loyalty, both of which can support the guest experience and are important hallmarks for encouraging repeat bookings. A guest that feels their payments are being managed safely, securely and conveniently will be more encouraged to return, bringing with it a positive impact for business on the books.
Consider: The past year has seen a rapid shift away from physical to online payments so now, more than ever before, you need to ensure your payment processes are working for you and are relevant to the guest.
Online check-out and departure
Departure is a critical point in the guest journey, and leaving a positive, lasting impression can pay dividends from a sales and marketing perspective. Use this opportunity to share details of future packages, promote upcoming calendar events to encourage guests to book (Mother’s Day Afternoon Tea, Christmas or New Year’s Eve packages), and consider offering incentives which can be funded from the commission savings made from direct bookings.
It is worth bearing in mind that the present leisure guest can also be the future corporate guest, and vice versa, so hoteliers should consider both markets when developing any benefits and packages. Guests love to feel special and offering a benefit that is personal to them is an effective way to achieve this and once again, a great way to build loyalty. Discounts such as 10% off the next stay or 15% off evening meals, for example, can help hoteliers keep their venue and service offer front of mind when the time comes for their guest to book again. Another way to enable guests and non-resident guests to “take the hotel home with them” are gourmet meal kits and takeaways, which have been the cornerstone of revenue for many hoteliers throughout the pandemic. Offering guests the opportunity to recreate a favorite meal or signature dish at home is a great way to enable them to experience the hotel while at home, and once again, keep it front of mind.
Consider: Although you never get a second chance to make a first impression, it is possible to recover from a bad start. In contrast, a last impression is only ever that!
James Cannon is sales and marketing director at hospitality software company Guestline.
This is a contributed piece to Hotel Business, authored by an industry professional. The thoughts expressed are the perspective of the bylined individual.