What is guest experience in hotels?
Optimised guest experience in hotels is about ensuring your guest feels welcomed, satisfied, enriched, and that they got value for their money. It’s important that the guest experience feels authentic and unique to every individual, so that it creates a lasting memory for the customer. This includes the entire customer journey, from researching and booking all the way through to post-stay.
Much is discussed in regards to guest experience in today’s travel world, but often the guest experience and hotelier experience are inextricably linked. Both inspire and feed each other through demand, expectation, and satisfaction. In contemporary society, hotels are facing complex distribution, pricing, and guest contentment challenges – and that’s before COVID-19 hit!
It sees them fighting to balance their own business needs with the increasing and dynamic nature of travel technology, and the savvy, resourceful attitudes of travellers. As a result, hotels need to be led by traveller behaviour. The majority rules. Early adopters are typically well-educated, have high incomes, and are willing to take risks. Hotels are realising they need to be in many places at once, with constant visibility being a cornerstone of booking success.
When it comes to pleasing guests, ‘personalisation’ is as buzzed as a word can get, but for good reason; there’s no excuse not to be taking a more focused approach to customer interaction. However, optimising the guest experience and ensuring guest expectations are met is a constantly evolving challenge for hoteliers. With a veritable banquet of options at their fingertips, travellers are demanding more than ever before. It makes life harder for hotels, but also gives them a greater opportunity to deliver an experience guests will never forget. The collection and use of customer data will allow a hotel to effectively personalise their service for guests.
This blog will delve into how you can perfect the guest experience at your property, including post-COVID.
Table of contents
Hotel experience expectations: Guests want tech-savvy operators
A new breed of tech-savvy travellers has emerged in recent years, and they expect hotels to be keeping up with technology. Even older generations are now well-versed in the use of social media and mobile devices, two things that are vital considerations for hoteliers. This means mobile-friendly websites, easy navigation, and a quick and simple booking process. Even while gaining inspiration to travel, people are using mobile technology to browse Facebook or Instagram, so a constant presence is needed from hotels.
Recognised as one of the most critical aspects for hotels, the guest experience starts prior to their check-in; it begins during their research for accomodation and also continues post-stay, with technology being a driver throughout the entire journey. Your guests may have found you through one of your online travel agents listings or directly on your own website and it’s at this point that your responsibility for their experience with your hotel starts. Once they’ve decided on a destination, their excitement will propel them into searching and booking a hotel. Guests expect this process to be fast and simple with payment systems that are accessible via mobile.
Mobile has become increasingly important. Consumers are finding more ways to solve their own enquiries. One of the methods they use is by downloading apps. When it comes to booking your hotel, they expect to be able to easily check their details and interact with your hotel instantly through an app rather than by email, phone, or web browser. If you don’t have an app, guests may decide to book elsewhere.
Hotel customer service in the COVID-19 era
There’s no doubting that COVID-19 has changed customer service forever. The way that hospitality businesses operate and deliver experiences will undergo a raft of edits and adaptations to form a new normal in the long term. But changes have to happen now, and quickly. Failure will result in a business that isn’t operating at all.
On top of complying to any government and industry instated requirements, hotels will need to look closely at what travellers might be coming to their area, what they’re looking for, and what services can be provided to them.
Take into account:
- Flexible booking policies
Many guests will be hesitant to book too far in advance and also may be forced to cancel reservations at short notice. The waiving or relaxing of cancellation fees is widespread across the industry for hotels, OTAs, and airlines. It will help to ensure vital guest satisfaction and future loyalty by offering empathy through flexibility.
- Cleanliness and hygiene
Travellers will naturally be health conscious when they travel in the immediate future so you need to make assurances that your hotel is undertaking best practice in this area. Assess which areas of your property need improvement and increased precautions.
- Shared spaces (lobby, bar, restaurant, pool etc)
Overcrowding should be avoided at all costs as many guests will be concerned about this – and it will likely be illegal. Again, assurances will need to be made that you have this under control. Intensify cleaning procedures, especially in high touch areas like these.
- Contactless check-in, room entry, room service etc
These are requests that travellers have been leaning towards for some time prior to the pandemic, but will become much more of a demand now. Not only will it save the guest time and inconvenience, it will now make them feel safer. Hotels should access industry specific apps to help with check-in and room functionality.
- Wellness services and amenities
The psychological effects of a global event like this shouldn’t be understated. Travellers will be looking for body and soul restoration, to feel healthy, clean, and normal again. Many will be eager to escape the surroundings they have just spent in lockdown to find calmer experiences.
- Surge in adventure/active holidays
Being cooped up for weeks and months on end will have travellers craving adventure, exploration, and fun new experiences. Hotels should look at what packages they can offer for this group. It’s the perfect time to connect with local companies to broaden your offering.
- Local health facilities
Even when all the restrictions have dissipated, the fear won’t. Guests will be making sure local health services are close to where they are staying and are reliable, to ensure the safety of themselves, family, friends, and colleagues.
To aid guests, update information on your website, including room descriptions and use guest messaging apps to make communication easier and more personalised.
It’s important to put together a solid, proactive action plan that redefines the guest journey if you’re going to come out on top after the dust settles. The businesses that innovate and recognise the opportunities available to them will be the ones that succeed.
Hotel guest experience advice for hoteliers
To help get things off on the right foot, there are plenty of important tasks you can perform before your guests even finalise their booking or arrive for their stay. You want your guests to be in a good state of mind before they stay with you – anticipating their trip with excitement. This won’t happen if they have a bad experience on your website or with your booking process.
Here are some tips.
Assess your website experience
- Integration – Seamless integration between your website and online booking tool is a must if you want guests to have a user-friendly experience and convert strongly.
- Rates and availability – Your rates need to be up-to-date and clearly displayed. Keep your packages simple and connect to OTAs to increase your distribution.
- Mobile capability – More than 50% of travellers are booking their hotel using a smartphone. Your website must be optimised for these devices and you should also add links for maps so travellers can find your hotel while they’re out and about.
- Design – The design of your website is one of the biggest advertisements for your hotel to travellers. Guests want a clear picture of what it’s like to stay at your hotel. It’s important to include high-quality images and clear, legible text to position your hotel in the best light possible.
- Navigation – Ideally your website won’t be too many pages deep with simple headings, and a ‘book now’ button that is the first thing visitors see when they land on your homepage.
Manage your hotel’s online reviews and reputation
Travellers put a huge focus on reading online reviews before they make a booking. Sites like TripAdvisor are extremely popular so you need to have a verified and positive presence on these sites. Address all comments, negative or positive, in a considerate and timely manner. By showing that you’ve taken constructive criticism, your visitors will feel assured that their concerns are your top priority. Encourage guests to post about their experiences online, or ask if you can share their comments. By taking a proactive approach, your reputation will remain positive.
Think creatively with your packages
Guests won’t purchase a package just because you tell them it’s a great deal. You need to offer them value for money and something that will excite or interest them personally. Packages can apply to both leisure and business travellers as a pleasure and convenience respectively. Your hotel can only benefit from selling packages as guests who purchase them are less likely to cancel their booking. Ideally you want a package that will please every guest but at the same time, if you have too many it will dilute the impact. Three great packages are better than 10 mediocre ones.
Use other businesses to enrich your packages
Combining your services with that of another tourist attraction in the area is a surefire way to add value to your packages. It also gives you a lot of flexibility on what you can offer guests. Tickets to zoos, tours, theme parks, museums are always popular, as are restaurant vouchers. Even concerts or one-off events can be leveraged as short-term packages. This way you can cater for many different guests, those interested in adventure and those more excited by shopping or fine dining. Keep in mind that the situation with COVID-19 can change quickly so you need to update packages accordingly.
Promote one-stop shopping
Savvy travellers will look at your packages and wonder exactly what kind of deal they’re getting. Unless you and your business partner agree to offer discounted prices it’s likely the combined price of a room and a tour package will be similar to the components purchased separately. This is why you need to advertise the convenience and quality of what you’re offering, rather than spruiking the cost.
Be creative with your choices
Guests might become rather bored if they see yet another ‘romance’ package. Try incorporating more interesting content into your packages and their names. For instance a ‘bucket list’ package might include a selection of passes or discounts to the absolute must-sees of the local area. This will be an attractive option for guests because it’s likely they are already interested in visiting those landmarks.
For business travellers, always focus on convenience such as a package delivering breakfast to their room, free dry cleaning, and transport services.
Use your own property to add value
While most packages include a room and some type of external activity, you can make your packages even more enticing by adding your own service to the mix such as spa-treatments, a bar tab, or private dining experience. Guests will want to experience your amenities and they’ll be more likely to pay to do so if it’s included in a package.
Cater for speciality markets
Never ignore families. Often it’s the children you’re appealing to most because parents will be looking for activities that will occupy the kids. The same principle applies if you’re a pet-friendly hotel. You must also consider guests with disabilities and people with specific occupations that you can give personalised packages to.
When your guests do arrive and stay you need to consider how you engage with them to create a great lasting impression. Being approachable and easy to communicate with throughout the entire journey will be much appreciated by guests. Hotels must become more open to conversation. Communication with guests needs to be multifaceted if your hotel is going to please everyone. Use social media and other communication modes – text messages, WhatsApp, phone calls and more to create a rapport which grows into a relationship. This is just another opportunity for you to offer value adds and upsell the experiences.
To make guests feel at home:
- Introduce them to local and cultural experiences – Attract leisure travellers by including local culture and authentic experiences. You should offer plenty of information and value on nearby attractions, classes, and restaurants celebrating regional culture
- Work on fostering personal connections – Prioritise the creation of social spaces and designate specific times for social events so guests can interact with each other. This will also allow guests and staff to interact more, building closer relationships and hopefully creating loyalty. During COVID-19 you may need to be prepared to host more frequent social events to accommodate a smaller number of guests who want to gather together.
More ideas to enhance hotel guest experience
Some obvious goals when serving guests are to make things easier, faster, more personal, and more satisfying. These days much of what you’re trying to achieve can be approached with a technological solution.
Consider the following examples.
Internet of Things
The connection and integration between different technologies and devices has been hotly anticipated by most industries, and it provides huge opportunities for hotels. For a guest, walking into a ‘smart’ room where they can immediately sync and exchange data with every electronic device from their phone is the new height of convenience and efficiency. This is what the Internet of Things (IoT) offers, with experts estimating around 30 billion objects making up the network in 2020. Already, IoT products like LED lighting, automated curtains, temperature control, virtual concierge, smart TVs, and more are changing the way guests navigate their hotel stay. Sensors are already hugely popular, replacing buttons, handles, or other traditional mechanisms to enter rooms or operate devices. Mobile phones are an extension of this, eliminating a lot of physical interaction at the hotel.
Technology is often blamed for stifling human interaction and, in particular, the art of meaningful conversation. So it’s no surprise, then, that some of the technology industry’s best-loved platforms have historically centred around chatting.
Chatbots are designed specifically to stimulate intelligent conversation with human users, and have become the norm in the hotel industry. Texting and messaging will very soon become the simple and central entry point for the entire customer service ecosystem since it’s quick, private and easy to use.
Apps can make life simpler for both your hotel and your guests in a number of ways:
- You can immediately enter into conversation through an app, allowing guests to clarify details or make requests while you can offer guests special deals and promotions or ask for feedback. An app also allows integration with other communication channels like social media or push notifications. This means guests will never miss an update and can always access information on the go.
- Integrating your guest loyalty program into your mobile app will allow guests to more easily collect points, earn rewards, and claim their benefits. You could even ask guests to build a more comprehensive profile in the app to gain more points. With more data, you can get to know more guests on a personal level and provide a greater level of service to them.
- By integrating your booking system with your app, your customer can literally do all their shopping in one place. They can book, confirm, request changes, purchase extras, receive and send messages – all within the app. This creates a faster and less confusing experience for travellers.
- On an app you can curate a personal guide for your guests telling them about all the features of your hotel, what attractions are close by, and where they should go to shop and eat. They could even make bookings for spa sessions at the hotel while they’re out. Guests are always looking for convenience on a trip, so helpful suggestions go a long way.
- Even though apps are becoming increasingly popular, there are still many hospitality businesses that haven’t adopted them. Having your own app will immediately put you ahead of other hotels in the eyes of guests and allow you to capture bookings you otherwise wouldn’t have.
- Many mobile communication apps have the capability to translate communications back and forth. So if a guest sends a message in their native Spanish, your hotel will receive it in English and translate your reply back to Spanish. This ensures there’s never any misinterpretation of requests or enquiries.
While a mobile app is a great idea for your hotel to implement, it can be hard to incentivise guests to download one for every property they visit. The best strategy is to get as many return customers as possible and unlock unique rewards through your app.
A shopping cart experience
Purchasing has evolved to be one of the simplest yet diverse things a person can do in the modern world. It’s all too easy to fill up a virtual shopping cart with the movement of a single finger, but there has also never been more options for buyers to choose from. This system has been built upon the desires of consumers. When you think about shoppers in general, a range of options and freedom of choice are highest on their list of demands. But is there a hotel shopping cart experience? The short answer is no.
In reality, the process of purchasing a hotel room has been a very limited one. Customisation is kept to a minimum to make it easier for the hotel to manage their guests. Many hotels offer very similar packages or extras in distinct bundles that leave guests frustrated they can’t mix and match features.
Above all else, travellers want control. If someone is going to travel a long distance, most often overseas, to stay somewhere it’s only fair they’re in charge of their entire experience. But with a ‘set-menu’ of choices when booking a hotel, the likelihood of them being 100% satisfied with their stay is rather slim.
What if travellers are simply offered the choices that correspond to their desires? For instance guests could book in as little or as much detail as they want, including:
- Dropping a balcony into their cart
- Select a room on a low, mid, or high level
- Choices about what should be stocked in the mini-bar
- Specific bathroom amenities
- A pillow bar to choose from or even soft, medium, or firm mattresses if you can manage it
Enhance guest experience with… experiences!
Here are some tips for offering experiences to your hotel’s guests – whether you’re located near well-known mainstream landmarks or some hidden gems off the beaten track:
Research, research, research
A quick Google search for ‘things to do’ in your town or city will reveal the key attractions that drive your guests to the area. Try to support the promotion of those activities and ask your hotel’s staff for their own favourites from the list. You could organise a research trip for your team so that your staff can recommend experiences more personally. The more you research, the more knowledgeable you will be and therefore more valuable to your guests as they seek inspiration and expertise.
Go it alone and create your own
You don’t have to be located in one of the destinations where TripAdvisor or Airbnb list their top experiences. If your property isn’t in a tourism hotspot, create your own experiences which you can sell as add ons during the checkout phase on your website. You could have a tea brewing expert on site, wine expert, cheesemaker or perhaps you have a semi-pro photographer among your hotel’s staff. Delve into their skills that go beyond traditional hospitality and experiment with different offerings showcasing the diversity you have on offer. Research similar experiences to get your price point.
Sell smart using an intuitive booking engine
Your direct booking engine or online reservation system should empower customers to explore extras such as guest experiences. Many guests at the booking stage will have done some early research around the destination and will be familiar with some of the more popular activities on offer. Use this familiarity to your advantage and create add on packages within your online booking engine. It’s a quick revenue win and gives guests one less thing to book at a later stage – convenience and price are a key consideration here.
Hotel customer service tips
Every industry has its own definition for customer service excellence but in the hotel industry in can come down to three factors:
1. Detail – True attention to detail can’t be found in a manual. It can, however, be inspired by great working conditions and a genuine desire to help people.
2. Personalisation – Birthdays, anniversaries, and other special occasions are great opportunities to personalise a guest’s experience. But there are plenty of ways to customize their visit every day, you just have to look for them.
3. Creativity – Customers have expectations for what most hotels will and won’t do. Identify them. Then make it a habit to go above and beyond in interesting and delightful ways.
Here are some more tips to ensure you deliver the best customer service at your hotel:
- Hire the right personalities for customer-facing roles
- Surprise your guests with presents and appreciation
- Go out of your way to please guests
- Survey your guests so you can serve them better
- Be available always
- Communicate effectively and regularly
- Empower hotel employees to take initiative
- Serve with a smile
- Listen and respond to customer needs
Some of these tips might seem obvious but it’s one thing to listen to customers, and quite another to show them you are listening and make a difference to their experience they can see and feel.
Achieving guest satisfaction in hotels: The online experience
As stated previously, the experience a guest has with your property begins the moment they find your property online, via your website, social media, or on an OTA. It’s vital that you consider what impressions they’ll be forming during this research phase – you need to win them over here and good online experience is the way to do it!
Here are some ideas on how to attract your guests and make sure they don’t abandon you online.
Think like your customer
Put yourself in your customers’ shoes and think about which of your property’s attributes attract guests the most. It may be great price, location, room types, specific services, particular amenities; whatever they compliment most during online or offline feedback.
Now consider if you’re showcasing these attributes to the fullest extent via your website. This analysis will help you to optimise your online positioning. Taking into consideration your best selling points, you can define the best way to put your property out there with a greater impact on your current and potential customers. Travellers want an accurate picture of what they’re getting for their money.
Be relevant to travellers’ goals
Focus on your website’s utility-value and on the content you offer. Your website’s main goal is to generate bookings for your property, so you must consider if you’re offering all the information your guests need prior to making a reservation. A good start is to be very clear and objective about the accomodation structure and amenities, as well as about the terms and conditions for payments and cancellations.
Make your website more appealing with high quality photographs from the rooms and common areas of your property.
Be pleasant and approachable
Aesthetics matter! Especially when talking about websites. Think carefully about your design and whether it’s robust or minimalist. It’s important to have a website which your customers are happy to spend time on, without feeling bothered by convoluted, long-scroll pages. Intuitively, when navigating on a website for the first time, we tend to know more or less where everything should be. For example, we know that on most websites the logo is also a link to the homepage, because we are all used to common online conventions.
When unsure about your design, rely on these conventions to make the customer feel more comfortable. A clear and obvious logo, contact information, navigation menu, social media icons and booking search options are the standard etiquette for any hotelier website header.
Remember: You are not your customer
Thinking like customers is essential, yet within the minutiae of everyday duties it is easy to lose perspective. You probably know everything you need to about your website, so a simple task like finding information or making a reservation becomes very intuitive. It’s not the same for visitors.
When possible, try to run usability tests. Ask a friend, colleague or trusted customer who is not familiar with your website to complete a given task and to guide you through the process talking out loud. With this simple exercise you should be able to identify the main challenges that your guests face, from poor load speed to varying navigation difficulties.
Hospitality vs customer service: Lessons for hoteliers
There’s plenty of discussion online about the distinction between service and hospitality and most of it points towards there being a clear difference. Service gets things done, while hospitality delights and brings experience to life.
While in some cases it can be subtle, sometimes it means the world to a guest. Using check-in as an example, your customer service might include asking for names and identification, and directing the guest to their room. Your hospitality will include a warm greeting and some questions to get to know the guest better. These conversations can uncover a lot of vital knowledge you can use to further enhance the experience of your guest – something that wouldn’t have been possible by simply dotting i’s and crossing t’s.
The snowball effect can be huge for your property. When you show your customers you care enough to give them something extra it can win you a repeat customer for life, ensuring valuable revenue for your business. Additionally, going the extra mile and providing hospitality will likely generate strong customer reviews and referrals, making it easier to attract new customers and win more bookings.
Another way of boiling it down is to describe service as transactional, while hospitality is sincere and interactive. Understanding this can change the way you run your hotel and it will change the way guests experience your hotel too – all for the better!