Authentic Personalized Guest Engagement in an Automated World

By Shayne Paddock Vice President of Product Development & Innovation, TravelClick | April 16, 2017

In the past year I've traveled to New York City on several business trips usually staying at the same hotel every time. I did that in part to learn how the hotel would interact with me on each repeat stay. Would they treat me differently? Would they recognize me on my fourth stay? Would they remember my name? Each time the reservation staff warmly greeted me but always asked "Have you stayed with us before". Upon arriving in my room there would always be a hand written letter from the GM welcoming me to the hotel. That seems like a nice touch, but the gesture was quickly lost when the letter opened with "Whether this is your first stay or you're a returning guest…". Did I mention that I'm also a loyalty member of this hotel? It is difficult to offer a guest personalized service if you don't even know their name! If the future of hotel staff is robotic I hope we are not all greeted upon arrival with "Welcome Valued Guest"

So how does a hotel arm themselves with as much information about their arriving guests? Often times the answer is to simply just ask them. A guest wants to engage with a hotel before, during, and after their stay. They have many micro transactions with the property but are they being captured in a meaningful way?

Loyalty programs don't have to be big monolithic points based programs. Today's traveler wants and expects to be rewarded right away. Create simple signups where the guest enters their name and address, mobile number, email address, birthday, or anniversary. In exchange offer them a welcome drink upon arrival, free or faster WIFI, or early check-in. Now you know quite a bit about that guest before they even step foot on your property. Use that information in creative ways.

During the booking process your guests actually give you more information than you might think. Information such as, which pages of the website did they view, which rooms did they explore in the booking engine, what profile information did they provide when finalizing the reservation. All of that information can be used later on in the guest journey to customize their stay. If a guest has spent a lot of time browsing the golf section of your website why not offer them a golf package when they make it to your booking engine.

If you can identify one of your best guests coming back for the 8th time this year why not the offer them the same Junior Suite they've booked every other time instead of the Standard Room being their first option. Instead of just offering the next level up for an upgrade offer why not offer them the Superior Suite with a breakfast package that they showed interest in and is available. A week before their beach vacation send them a pre-arrival survey asking if they can make their getaway even more special. It's at that time you can find out birthdays, anniversaries, upsell that romantic package, or book that couples' massage.

Hotels that really impressed me in the last year were those that proactively reached out to me before my arrival. I was impressed by those that sent a text message the day of my arrival asking me when I planned on arriving and if I had any special requests before I got there. They enabled me to have a back and forth dialog with somebody on property without having to pick-up the phone. In the future I'll be able to use the mobile messaging channel of my choice. While texting is convenient when traveling domestically, roaming charges can really add up when traveling abroad. In Asia it's often cheaper to subscribe to a small data plan or jump on the hotel WIFI to chat with friends and family back home with channels like Facebook Messenger or Skype. Being able to do the same to communicate with the hotel will become commonplace. This type of guest engagement made it easy to ask the hotel simple questions pre-stay and while on property. While packing I could quickly ask the hotel how late the gym or pool was open to see if I would be able to squeeze a workout in after work.

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Coming up in June 2019...

Sales & Marketing: Selling Experiences

There are innumerable strategies that Hotel Sales and Marketing Directors employ to find, engage and entice guests to their property, and those strategies are constantly evolving. A breakthrough technology, pioneering platform, or even a simple algorithm update can cause new trends to emerge and upend the best laid plans. Sales and marketing departments must remain agile so they can adapt to the ever changing digital landscape. As an example, the popularity of virtual reality is on the rise, as 360 interactive technologies become more mainstream. Chatbots and artificial intelligence are also poised to become the next big things, as they take guest personalization to a whole new level. But one sales and marketing trend that is currently resulting in major benefits for hotels is experiential marketing - the effort to deliver an experience to potential guests. Mainly this is accomplished through the creative use of video and images, and by utilizing what has become known as User Generated Content. By sharing actual personal content (videos and pictures) from satisfied guests who have experienced the delights of a property, prospective guests can more easily imagine themselves having the same experience. Similarly, Hotel Generated Content is equally important. Hotels are more than beds and effective video presentations can tell a compelling story - a story about what makes the hotel appealing and unique. A video walk-through of rooms is essential, as are video tours in different areas of a hotel. The goal is to highlight what makes the property exceptional, but also to show real people having real fun - an experience that prospective guests can have too. The June Hotel Business Review will report on some of these issues and strategies, and examine how some sales and marketing professionals are integrating them into their operations.