Skip to main content

Hotel customer journey: The complete guide

  Posted in Resources  Last updated 3/06/2024

What is a hotel customer journey?

A hotel customer journey maps the entire experience of a guest, from the initial spark of interest to the post-stay engagement. Customer journeys are crucial for successful hotels, as they reveal the key touchpoints that drive a guest’s decision to book – or not book – with their business.

Table of contents

Where do hotel customers begin their booking journey?

More than half of travellers begin their planning with more than one destination in mind, and even in the week leading to a booking decision there are still multiple destinations under consideration.

This makes it clear that choosing a destination is a time-consuming process for a traveller and one that draws on many different resources. Without a predetermined destination, your hotel has plenty of chances along the way to influence the choice a traveller ultimately makes.

Customer journey insights with SiteMinder

Gain access to deep analytics on your guest’s behaviour at every major touchpoint in their booking journey with SiteMinder.

Learn more

International vs domestic travel

An Expedia study found distinct differences between the three regions in this regard. Americans were twice as likely to search for domestic destinations, while UK and Canadian travellers were twice as likely to set out for international trips.

The data also made it clear travellers have multiple regions across the world in mind when planning their trip – with Europe the most popular ranking in the top three for American, UK, and Canadian travellers.

Thanks to new opportunities and infrastructure, some smaller locations are seeing a huge rise in online search interest. Domestically in the US, for example, the top five growing destinations are:

  1. Fort Washington
  2. Gatlinburg
  3. Washington, DC
  4. Colorado Springs
  5. Detroit

While internationally, Cuba’s fresh accessibility has made a big impact:

  1. Havana (Cuba)
  2. Sodankylä (Finland)
  3. Varadero (Cuba)
  4. Lisbon (Portugal)
  5. Thera (Greece)

How do hotel customers make their destination selection?

In the seven weeks leading up to a booking, travellers log 140 visits to travel sites. That’s an average of 20 per week – demonstrating the intensity with which travellers plan their trips.

Online travel agents capture more traffic than other sites, accounting for around 33% of visits across all travellers in the study. Hotel sites were next with 17% of the share.

This represents a huge opportunity for hotels to put themselves front and centre to capture bookings. Making sure your OTA profile is optimised and managing your online reviews are two vital tasks you need to perform.

You also need to build a website that is functional for all devices and incorporates engaging and relevant content for travellers. This way your SEO will be improved and travellers will find you when doing their online research.

What are the biggest influences on choosing a destination?

While OTAs may take the lion’s share of website traffic, family and friends exert an equal amount of influence on traveller decision-making.

Expedia says that 18%  of UK bookers, 14% of US bookers and 19% of Canadian bookers report that friends and family influence their decision.

These numbers are on par with OTAs, while search engines ranked as the third-biggest influence, with UK travellers at 11% saying search engine results could sway them.

Image representing the hotel customer journey

The different stages of the hotel customer journey

One of the trickiest parts of creating a customer journey strategy is figuring out precisely what the different stages are. Every traveller is slightly different, and it’s rare for any of them to follow the same precise steps and stages on their way towards finding, selecting, booking, enjoying and (hopefully) returning to your hotel. 

Potential guests will go forwards, backwards, reconsider, reconsider again, change their mind, adjust their booking – it’s hard to keep up. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some consistencies across the process that you can leverage to deliver a better and more profitable booking experience.

Hotel customers will often touch on similar points, sometimes called “micro-moments”, most notably by Google, which breaks it down into its well known Dreaming, Planning, Booking, Experiencing, and Sharing stages of the travel journey. These micro-moments are defined as a moment in time when a searcher relies on their smartphone or tablet device to answer a particular, immediate need.

What happens during these micro-moments ultimately impacts all the decisions that the traveller will make during their online booking journey. So as a hotelier, how do you influence travellers during these powerful yet fleeting moments?

This gives you plenty of detail to work with. However, there are even more touchpoints in and around these key stages identified by Google that you can use to influence travellers.

In a world that now runs predominantly online, there are very few moments in time where you can’t have an impact on your customer’s behaviour.

Let’s see how you can influence your revenue potential at each stage…

1. Dreaming stage

If we’re focusing on leisure travel, the dreaming stage of a trip is all about fantasising. When travellers first begin their search, a fifth have no defined destination in mind, preferring to use search engines to inspire them.

The guest knows they want to take a break or go on an adventure but have no idea where or when yet.

They will jump all around the internet during this stage including:

  • Browsing travel pages on Instagram.
  • Looking at photos from friends and family.
  • Chatting with people on Facebook.
  • Reading travel blogs.
  • Entering countless queries on Google.
  • Watching videos on YouTube.

They want all possibilities on the table because it’s exciting to dream about where travel might take them. Gradually they will start to get a firmer idea of what they want out of their next trip.

Key tactics for dreaming stage

While you may not be able to unlock direct revenue at this stage, you can certainly start to put your brand front and centre of a traveller’s mind with the right approach.

Social media and destination marketing tactics are recommended here. In particular, you should:

  • Use your Instagram account to post the most breathtaking images of your property and the local area, making sure to use the most popular travel related hashtags.
  • Encourage all guests to tag your property in any photos they post on Facebook or Instagram.
  • Publish videos on YouTube that have a global flavour or the potential to go viral – what’s something unique about your property or destination that people will find fascinating.
  • Ensure your hotel is affiliated with travel associations and travel boards for your area.
  • Interact with your online community and encourage sharing – perhaps with giveaways or competitions.
  • Make sure your website focuses on improving your ranking for specific phrases, such as “best time to visit the United Kingdom” or “honeymoon packages in Jamaica”.
  • Publish blogs about your destination and your property. Make sure they are informative, relevant and accurate.
  • Prioritise visual content. More than 54% of leisure travellers report that photographs and videos have an influence over where they decide to go.

Basically, you want to make as much ‘noise’ as you can online to capture the attention of dreaming travellers, however this is not a point where you want to spend too much time or budget.

2. Planning stage

By now the traveller has decided on a destination but they now have to obsess over finding the perfect hotel to stay at. It must deliver what they need from an experience perspective but also deliver value for money.

They’ll be visiting a LOT of websites in their search, including online travel agents, metasearch channels, review sites, and hotel websites. This can be a very messy part of purchasing, as Google outlines in this study.

Keeping their options open will still be a priority but they will be looking to create a shortlist of options to book so they can make their final decision by comparing features, location, price and more which we’ll discuss later.

Key tactics for planning stage

Your potential guests will be on the hunt for information in this phase of their trip. They want answers, and they want content that is clear, concise and accurate. This is where you can win or lose a valuable booking.

Remember this is an exciting time for them, as they anticipate the enjoyment of upcoming travel. However the hotel is only one part of the trip they have to organise so they don’t want to be bogged down or frustrated during their research.

You should focus on SEO opportunities, your OTA profile, and your website content here by:

  • Making sure your hotel information is available and up-to-date on public listings such as Google My Business.
  • Increasing discoverability and providing key information with a blog on your website.
  • Treating your OTA profile as if it was your own website, with all the details and high quality imagery a guest might need.
  • Ensuring key pages on your website are easily accessible–this includes image galleries, room types and features, address and contact details, amenities, and local activities.
  • Listing your property on Metasearch channels such as Google Hotel Ads and Trivago.
  • Knowing where your customers are coming from via country mix and channel mix reports, so you can target your messaging more effectively.
  • Your website should have a responsive design that adapts to mobile platforms, and offers simple mobile booking options.
  • Transform your website into a local guide. Provide information about transportation, local restaurants, shopping options, excursions and day-trips.

Think about the most frequently asked questions a traveller might have about your hotel or your destination and make sure you have content that answers them.

3. Select stage

This is the first of the ‘non-Google’ stages that you must pay attention to. In the Select stage, guests have settled on a particular destination, but they are now creating a shortlist of the accommodation they plan to book with. This stage is just as frenetic as the previous ones: the average traveller can visit over 20 different travel websites before they finally make a booking decision. 

This is where your website has to be strong. Build a website that is functional, SEO-friendly, and optimised for all devices. You should also ask yourself how compelling your images are and how engaging your content is. Another factor, which is just as important, is your presence on OTAs. Work hard to perfect your profile and manage online reviews.

The best way to think of this stage is imagining that your hotel is one of a dozen or so favourited listings, with your customer flitting between them and sorting them into buckets of “yes” and “no”. How will you stay in the “yes” bucket? Will you beat the competition on price? Will you present a more interesting experience? Will you have better reviews? Or will your website or listing simply provide more information that your guests want to know?

4. Booking stage

The booking stage is where it gets serious. The traveller has their shortlist and it’s just a matter of making their final booking decision.

Guests will be prioritising value for money and the promise of memorable experiences, as well as superior convenience and customer service.

They’ll be open to increasing their spend if you can convince them it’s worth it. Not only is it about how attractive the hotel offering is, but also how easy the booking process itself is.

Key tactics for the booking stage

During the booking stage you have to balance a perfect booking process with boosting the value of every reservation.

An effective online booking engine is paramount here, Ideally, guests will be able to make a booking within a couple of clicks and have the options to to pick and choose extras and packages that appeal to them. Your booking engine should also integrate seamlessly with your website and channel manager for improved functionality and data collection.

Even if a guest has chosen you it can all go pear shaped if they encounter friction on your website or within your booking engine so make sure your tech stack is optimised. This includes business intelligence tools that make you aware of competitor rates, so you can price your offers ‘just right’. On top of that, it’s key to be able to make payment processes seamless to give a greater chance of securing the booking.

When it comes to increasing revenue you can try:

  • Offering add-ons such as airport transport or express check-in.
  • Selling extras such as food and wine options on arrival, additional bar fridge items, extra creature comforts in-room, and bonus amenities such as bike hire.
  • Encouraging room upgrades – sell the extra value not the total cost. For example, ‘for only $50 more’ instead of ‘for $400’.
  • Creating packages that include access to on or off-site amenities and partnered attractions – value added for the guest and extra cash in your pocket.
  • Selling VIP experiences for an extra fee – this might include off menu cocktails made especially for the guest, or private use of certain amenities.
  • Add a PCI Compliance badge near your booking button so guests know that their transaction will be secure. You can learn more about PCI compliance here.

This the perfect chance to take advantage of a guest’s excitement and enhance their experience with special offers.

Make sure that the booking experience is seamless. Do not redirect your guests to another website, or force them to wait for a confirmation. Allow them to book directly with you and provide them with automatic confirmation of their booking.

To increase your bookings and generate more revenue using micro moments customer journey, you need to make it as simple as possible for guests to book directly with you on mobile devices.

SiteMinder’s website builder allows you to create a search engine optimised website. And paired with SiteMinder’s booking engine, you’ll be in the best position to accept direct online bookings to attract and convert travellers online.

5. Preparation stage

Once the booking is made, the traveller is then focused on planning for their time away by buying items they may need, organising house or pet sitters, sorting what they need to pack, and booking annual leave from work.

Anticipation is high in this stage and spirits are high. Capitalise on this by communicating with them regularly.

Key tactics for the preparing stage

You need to keep the good times rolling by communicating with guests. This is where you need to strengthen the relationship between guests and your brand, and follow-up on revenue opportunities.

  • Send pre-stay emails to reiterate the available extras, add-ons, and deals available to guests
  • Remind guests of the amenities and attractions they can book or buy tickets to
  • Let them know a superior room has become available if they want to pay a little extra
  • Leverage any events happening at the time they may be interested in
  • Mention again the small fees they can pay to enhance the luxury and convenience of their stay
  • Use your hotel app or email to message them and offer additional services, provide information on amenities in your hotel, or advise them on things to do in the local area
  • If you don’t use any marketing automation software, your booking engine can take care of this pre-stay communication

Now that all the hard stuff is out of the way, guests will have more time to pay attention to value-added offers.

6. Experience stage

Well the guest has arrived and is looking to enjoy their trip to its fullest. They’ll be playing close attention to all parts of your hotel.

Customer service and cleanliness are the most crucial aspects to get right as it’s what the guest will remember and is vital for ensuring they leave you with a smile on their face.

If this is satisfying for the guest, they’ll be more likely to spend and you can earn ancillary revenue.

Key tactics for the experiencing stage

Some ways you can encourage guests to spend during their stay include:

  • Sell other hotel products like soap, utensils, towels etc – especially if your hotel has a unique sense of style.
  • Keep in mind a third of guests are willing to pay more for personalised experiences – so gather data on your guests and identify what you can offer that’s special for them
  • Let guests know your restaurant meals can be delivered to rooms for an extra fee
  • Similarly, allow guests to upgrade specific items, such as comfier pillows, towels, robes, and slippers
  • Offer guests an extra night at a discounted rate – and win extra revenue through your amenities or food and beverage services

Remember to always listen to your guests and treat them like the individuals they are – paying close attention to their preferences.

7. Sharing stage

The reason it’s so important for you to keep guests happy is that the more they’re enjoying themselves, the more likely it is they’ll share their experiences. A huge 97% of millennials say they share pictures while travelling (on channels like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat).

Guests may share details and photos of their trip all the way through, but especially as it draws to a close and after they’ve left.

They’ll be looking to reminisce and keep the (hopefully) positive emotions alive.

Key tactics for the sharing stage

How guests share feedback and where they share it can have a long term impact on your revenue potential so it’s important that guests are not only pleased but motivated to talk about their experiences with family, friends, and other travellers.

What you can do:

  • Give guests a reason to tag you in photos by setting up perfect selfie scenes
  • Ask guests if you can tag them and publish photos you take on the property during social events
  • Encourage guests to check in on social media with giveaways like a free drink
  • Follow-up with guests post-stay asking them to leave a review on sites like TripAdvisor or Google
  • Offer guests a reward on their next stay for referring other travellers to your property
  • Offer incentives or loyalty rewards

You should consider internal guest surveys so you can pre-empt any issues in the future and continue to work to make the guest experience even better in the future, to please returning guests, and encourage new ones to recommend your hotel.

8. Return stage

The best hotels know that once you have a relationship with a guest, it should never end. While loyalty may be fading, many travellers will still return to the same hotel if they enjoyed their stay. A returning guest is always cheaper to acquire than a new one and if you can make it happen, it means you’re providing exceptional service. 

This will naturally mean your reviews will improve and engagement on social media will increase.

Use tools like email marketing, remarketing, and compelling loyalty programs to remind guests of the great time they had at your hotel and make them offers to return that they can’t refuse.

It’s important to remember that with each passing moment, a strong digital presence is becoming more important.

Among digital users in the UK, 75% consume travel content, spending an average of 2.4 billion minutes per month on travel content collectively. That represents a 44% increase year-over-year. It’s never been so prudent for hotels to push forward with their marketing and distribution strategies to make sure they’re not missing opportunities on search engines, OTAs, social media, or their own website.

Customer journey map hotel example

1. Dreaming Stage

Emma’s journey begins with her dreaming of a relaxing beach holiday. She’s captivated by vibrant images and enticing descriptions of coastal retreats on Instagram, sparking her desire for a seaside escape.

2. Planning Stage

Motivated, Emma starts researching destinations. She browses travel blogs and TripAdvisor, seeking the perfect spot. Her attention is drawn to the Blue Horizon Hotel, thanks to its stellar reviews and stunning beachfront location. However, she spots a few other options that are also interesting, and begins making a list.

3. Select Stage

Comparing various options, Emma is impressed by Blue Horizon’s spa facilities and family-friendly amenities. Its standout features, like the ocean-view rooms and dining options, edge out the competition.

4. Booking Stage

Emma decides on Blue Horizon and books a room through their user-friendly website. The clear pricing, room options, and easy navigation make her booking experience smooth and hassle-free. Were it a hassle or non-responsive, she might have booked somewhere else.

5. Preparation Stage

After booking, Emma receives a detailed confirmation email with a local guide and tips for her stay. She spots a recommendation that she hadn’t considered herself, and adds a few odds and ends to her suitcase so she can better enjoy her time away. The hotel’s proactive communication helps her plan activities and enhances her anticipation.

6. Experience Stage

Upon arrival, Emma is greeted warmly by the hotel staff and shown to her room, which is even better than she thought. The hotel exceeds her expectations with impeccable service, a beautifully maintained room, and personalised experiences, like a surprise beach dinner.

7. Sharing Stage

After a delightful stay, Emma shares photos and positive reviews on social media and TripAdvisor. She praises the hotel’s exceptional service and unique experiences, influencing others in their dreaming stage.

8. Return Stage

Post-stay, Emma receives a thank-you email from Blue Horizon, inviting her to join their loyalty program for future discounts. This thoughtful gesture, combined with her memorable stay, makes her keen to return, bringing her journey full circle.

The role of tech stack in the hotel customer journey 

Your ability to be seen everywhere travellers are spending their time online is crucial for being able to reach every stage of the guest journey. Using features such as a channel manager, booking engine, and payments solution especially will enable you to target and sell much more effectively – and an optimised website is crucial for conversion, ensuring visitors don’t abandon before they book. To do this with the level of efficiency, control, and simplicity that we see in ecommerce giants such as Amazon, you need a solution that meets all your administrative needs, as well the needs of your guests, in one central location – such as via a hotel commerce platform like SiteMinder.

Just as important as the solutions themselves, is the ability to integrate and manage them all from one single location and the ability to access and integrate with an ecosystem of hotel technologies that matters to your property and situation. This gives you full control over your operations, the ability to easily adapt and makes it easier to roll out your strategy, capture insights, make smarter decisions, and save valuable time.

Centralising your tech stack via a hotel commerce platform like SiteMinder offers you greater freedom and clarity, simplifying the work you shouldn’t have to worry about so you can focus on your property and your guests.

Emotional journey mapping

When figuring out the best way to build or boost your guest satisfaction in your hotel, following your guests on an emotional level is a crucial step. Despite emotions being known as a relative aspect, an emotional journey map provides a clear understanding and data of your guests’ feelings throughout their stay. Learn how to upgrade your customer journey map with this innovative technique.

What is an emotional journey map?

The emotional journey map is a UX research technique to visualise and map customers’ emotional experiences through their interactions during various actions of their stay.

It is an extension of the usual experience journey map that visualises the process that the guest goes through to accomplish a goal, but an emotional journey map gives this some more closure.

Simply said, it allows you to know how your guest feels at each touchpoint with you during their whole hotel experience.

The emotion can be represented by a graph from moments of frustration to delight or by adding pictograms or emoticons to the specific steps of the journey.

The goal of emotional journey mapping is to understand customers’ emotions and improve the quality of your guest experience, providing consistency and a smooth experience at all touchpoints on the journey.

Why do you need an emotional journey map?

An emotional journey map allows you to add another objective dimension to your customer journey map to see the emotions your customer goes through at every stage of the experience. This can help your team to make sense of and have a visual aid of the systems and learn to improve the quality of your guests’ touchpoints. An emotional map will increase your customer satisfaction, positive feedback and reviews, bookings and revenue.

It helps your hotel team to understand and empathise with the emotional highs and lows guests experience throughout their stay. By visualising these emotional states, your team can pinpoint areas where guest satisfaction may be at risk and proactively address them.

How to create an emotional journey map

1. Create a user persona

To get started with creating the map we need a user. User persona will represent an average guest or one type of guest (if you would like to create a map for each customer group) of your property. Each user has different expectations and needs so it is good to be comprehensive and create multiple maps to understand different personas present on your property.

  • Draw a simple picture of your user.
  • Give them a name.
  • Make sure to specify who the user is.
  • Use the standard user story format: As a… I need… so I can

Example: As a young 32-year-old mother of 3 children I need a hotel that has child care and entertainment facilities so I can relax and rest after a long work year without always taking care of the kids.

2. Create a scenario

Going forward, we need to create a scenario that addresses their expectations and what they need to accomplish their end goal. The scenario could be about experiences with events, processes or objects. Use scenarios that are likely to happen or have already happened in your hotel.

3. Goals and tasks

Now it’s time to identify the goals and the tasks. Each journey has different goals with separate tasks.

A goal is a higher-level action the user needs to complete. For example, in this case, the mother wants to relax and rest from a long work year.

A task is a lower-level action the user needs to achieve the end goal. For example, in this case, a mother needs to find a hotel with childcare or entertainment opportunities.

Therefore, from the example above, the mother has to complete the task of finding the right hotel to reach the goal of a relaxing holiday.


  • The customer journey is to go on a vacation with children.
  • The goal is to relax and not worry about the children 24/7.

Solution: In addition to entertainment facilities, have a person who keeps an eye on the children, so the parents don’t have to at all times.

4. Research and interviews

To deeply understand your guests, employ contextual inquiry research complemented by in-depth customer interviews. This approach is designed to gather real data by exploring the guests’ world, their context, and their experiences with your hotel. 

Focus your questions on uncovering the emotions tied to their experiences at every touchpoint, stage, and interaction during their journey with your establishment. 

Active listening is key here, not just to the answers provided, but also to how guests express themselves — the words and tone they use to describe their experiences can be revealing and offer additional insights.

5. Making sense of the data

Once you’ve gathered a wealth of information from your guests, it’s time to organise and make sense of it. 

Utilise affinity clustering to sort the gathered data — customer discussions, emotions, feelings, thoughts, and actions — based on their similarity, relevance, and importance. By working through the data in teams, patterns will start to emerge. 

Group these conversations into clusters according to the stages of the customer journey, the steps involved, and the thoughts and feelings experienced during each interaction. This process will highlight emerging themes and help in identifying the emotions of your customers throughout their journey.

6. Put a graph together

Taking the evaluation points derived from your data, connect them to form a cohesive line graph. This graph should narratively illustrate the emotional journey of each persona created, with different colours used to distinguish between them. 

Incorporate emoticons and an emotion graph to visually represent the highs and lows of a customer’s journey, from beginning to end. 

Add actual words, sayings, and expressions used by customers, providing a more authentic and complete perspective of their experience.

7. Make improvements

Finally, analyse the journey map to pinpoint areas for improvement. By evaluating both the highs and lows, you gain valuable insights into the entire customer journey. 

Use this analysis to identify specific opportunities to enhance guest interactions with your property. The goal is to refine and elevate the overall customer experience, turning even the smallest touchpoints into memorable and positive aspects of their stay.

By Dean Elphick

Dean is the Senior Content Marketing Specialist of SiteMinder, the leading technology provider delivering hoteliers unbeatable revenue results. Dean has made writing and creating content his passion for the entirety of his professional life, which includes more than six years at SiteMinder. Through content, Dean aims to provide education, inspiration, assistance and value for accommodation businesses looking to improve the way they run their operations achieve their goals.

Unlock the full revenue potential of your hotel

Watch demo

Thanks for sharing

Sign up to our blog and receive regular updates on the content you're into

Send this to a friend