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).
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