Who Owns the Guest? Easy - No One

By Scott Weiler Vice President of Marketing & Communications, Sonesta International Hotels Corporation | June 25, 2017

The OTA that was used for the booking has the guest’s information ( read: email address! ), and sometimes they’ll share that with the hotel, but not always. ( Okay, maybe not even most of the time. ) The hotel ( or chain ) needs that precious information about the guest to remind or entice them to come back and stay again, and again, and again. Should they get it? Who actually owns the guest?

No one does, obviously, but I would also suggest that no one even “owns” the email address. Both marketing teams have the privilege to engage and communicate with customers of their service ( so, in this case both OTA and hotel share that role ). And they may do so only as long as the customer allows them - so they each better market to that guest very wisely. Offers should be highly relevant; requests for information or insights better be of benefit to the customer, at least in the long run. And if you’re the hotel and you did not get a guest’s email address and other info from the OTA that booked the stay, then do your job and give the guest enough reasons when they check in that they will WANT to share it with you. Don’t forget, they may have used OTA.com to book, but they are staying with you and you’re providing the experience.

Before we get too deep into this topic, what’s so important about getting guest information? As a hotelier, it’s all about driving repeat guest stays, or loyalty to my brand or hotel. There are 3 basic phases that have different objectives: pre-stay, stay, and post-stay. Pre-stay is any and every touchpoint with a prospective guest that happens before they arrive at the hotel. From a social media post, to booking, to hopping on the plane – each is important. But for new guest information collection, it really starts with the booking. The goal there is to be quick and easy for the guest, but to come away with at least an email address. The goals during the stay are ( 1 ) get the minimum information for the guests that you were missed during booking, and then ( 2 ) start collecting more preferences and other deeper insight that will help with future relationship building. A decent CRM ( customer relationship management ) system is critical to operationalize this. And then the deeper insight building continues in the post-stay phase.

Back to the OTA. Here at Sonesta, we try to think of the OTAs as our least expensive acquisition model – as long as we are successful in redirecting the customer from the OTA to our site directly in the future. Hotels or management companies that are focused only on the short term transactional expense, or even initial value, are missing at least half of the real picture. It is certainly true that the initial value of an OTA booking to a hotel is probably not going to be one of your best ( although it won’t be the worst, either ). This is mainly due to the commission paid, but even that figure may not be as bad as you think. If you can think of that as a one- time expense for acquiring a new guest, and compare that commission expense to the expense of other marketing or advertising options you have to attract a new guest to give you a try, the OTA return on initial investment might not be as “bad” as you think. Of course, the longer term ( or subsequent ) value is really where the controllers can get excited ( along with GMs and the corporate corner offices ).

Let’s focus on that. A guest stays at a hotel for the first time. Regardless of the means of the introduction, the stay experience will be the primary determining factor of the hotel even having a chance to win that guest’s business next time there is an opportunity or need to stay in the vicinity. This is the true beginning of the relationship. The first date, if you will. Just like a hotel stay, any one of a thousand things can go wrong and potentially end the relationship before it even gets started. ( Although anticipating and resolving those pitfalls is very manageable, but that is a topic for another day. ) But if the hotel at least delivers what they promise, or what the guest expects, then they’ve got a fighting chance to earn future stays. But only if there is a way to contact the guest in the future.

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Coming up in January 2018...

Mobile Technology: Relentless Innovation

Technology has become a crucial component in attracting and retaining hotel guests, and the need to enhance a guest’s technology experience is driving a relentless pace of innovation. To meet and exceed guest expectations, 54% of hotels will spend more on technology in 2018, and mobile solutions in particular will top the list of capital investments. Many hotels are integrating mobile booking, mobile keys, mobile payments and mobile check-in into their operations. Other hotels are emphasizing the in-room experience, boosting bandwidth and upgrading flat screen TVs to more easily interface with guest mobile devices. And though not yet mainstream, there are many exciting technology developments on the near horizon. The Internet of Things (loT) is taking form in some places, and can be found in guest room control systems, voice activation systems, and in wearable sensors that can be used for access and payment options. Virtual reality headsets are available at some hotels so guests can enjoy virtual trips to exotic locations or if off-property, preview conference facilities and guest rooms. How long will it be before a hotel employs a fleet of robots for room service, or utilizes a hologram as a concierge, or installs gesture-controlled walls that feature interactive digital displays? Some hotels are already using augmented reality for translation services, or interactive wall maps, or even virtual décor. This pace of innovation is challenging property owners and brands to stay on top of the latest technology trends while still addressing current projects. The January Hotel Business Review will explore what some hotels are doing to maximize their opportunities in the mobile technology space.