As hoteliers, we think a lot about how to make sure our hotel guests’ experiences are the absolute best they can possibly be. But sometimes it’s worth taking a step back and asking ourselves, what really defines a guest experience, and how do we make that even better?
What is the guest experience?
Guest experience is more than just a tailored hotel term that means customer service, customer experience or guest engagement. The truth is that guest experience involves so many factors that can make or break a stay or a loyal customer for life.
Guest experience doesn’t just begin when a guest walks through your front doors. It’s the first time they’re even aware of your property or your brand. It starts with the brand awareness and their experience with that brand, specifically. And it continues through their entire customer journey, from booking their room to checking in and checking out, and even long after their stay when they’re considering another visit.
Chip Conley, the former founder and CEO of Joie de Vivre Hotels who later helped Airbnb develop its strategy, said that it’s not enough to just get the basics of a stay right:
“What differentiates things is the experience, the intangible stuff… the hotels where we were most effective and most successful were the ones that were delivering on unique intangible experiences that people could never have gotten at Marriott or Hilton.”
Legendary hotelier Ian Schrager, often credited for being one of the pioneers of the boutique hotel movement in the U.S., says an elevated experience has a wow factor. This is something that makes that particular hotel and that particular guest experience stand out from all the rest.
So what does this actually look like? Let’s dive into some examples.
Examples of great guest experiences
Great guest experiences are memorable, often just making things simpler, easier, or more frictionless.
A case in point would be in Marrakesh, Morocco, where you’ll find one of the world’s best rooftop restaurants, Le Foundouk, which turned a major problem into an opportunity for enhancing the guest experience. Jesse Desjardins, a hospitality and experience strategist, described how travelers seeking out this incredible restaurant faced a number of challenges along the way.
“Guests dropped off by taxi would have to navigate the busy and chaotic medina to find the restaurant,” Desjardins explained. “[It was] an impossible task for visitors. Le Foundouk installed guides, wearing traditional Moroccan fez hats, who not only shepherded guests to the restaurant but also gave tours to the arriving and departing guests, turning what was the worst part of the experience into a major highlight.”
At any property, there are times when something can go awry. But it’s how a hotel staff responds to those challenges that can make a big difference in that guest’s experience.
The chocolate wrench
Forbes contributor Micah Solomon wrote about what happened to a guest staying at The Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain. She had an issue with the plumbing in her room and told the front desk before she went to dinner. According to Liam Doyle, the Dove Mountain Gm, when she returned to her room, the plumbing was fixed, and...
“There was a note from Scott in engineering apologizing for the problem, giving his direct phone number in case he could do anything further for them, and including, along with the note, a chocolate wrench. The guest, who sent a thank-you letter to Doyle, concluded that letter with, ‘I laughed through every bite of chocolate.’”
Doyle makes it clear that the chocolate wrench didn’t come from his team. He said: “The engineering department employees took it upon themselves to create this wow moment.”
Sometimes, it’s also just about paying attention to the details, and doing whatever you can to make that particular guest feel warm and welcomed.
Chip Conley recalled one of his most memorable experiences as an Airbnb guest when he was traveling early on in his tenure as an Airbnb employee, where it was his job to help hosts improve their guests’ experiences.
“When I was going to go stay in some hosts’ homes somewhere in the world, they knew who I was. I had done an interview with CNN the prior week. I said, ‘I love Airbnb but I’m also a hotelier at night. Occasionally, I miss room service in my Airbnbs wherever I stay in the world. I love home sharing but sometimes you just want to stay at home and have the food brought to you in your room or in your apartment.’”
A week later, Conley found himself checking into an apartment in Rome next to the Vatican.
“The host, Paolo, when I arrived, he said, ‘We can’t offer you room service, Chip. Here are some menus from some local Italian restaurants that deliver but I can offer you Rumi service.’ He pulled out an Italian book of poetry by the famous Persian poet from 50 or 70 years ago, Rumi, who is the No. 1 selling poet in the U.S. now even though he died 50 or 70 years ago. He said, ‘I can’t offer you room service, but I can offer you Rumi service. This is a book of Rumi poetry in Italian. You’re welcome to take it with you.’
“I was like, ‘You did two things. Number one is you knew based from that CNN interview I did that I do miss room service and you’ve given me some actual menus of the local restaurant that will deliver. You also have done some research on me to know that I love Rumi poetry.’ I’ll never forget that and of course, I talked about that a lot.”
More poetry. Less politics. Rumi for President. pic.twitter.com/7H7FBxWEy0— Chip Conley (@ChipConley) June 8, 2016
How to improve the guest experience at your hotel
1| Identify moments that matter
Having a roadmap lets you pay close attention to the moments that matter most to a guest during his or her stay and can help you visualize how you can make a difference.
Another way to do this is to identify pain points in the guest journey and figure out how to turn them into opportunities to make that guest feel even more special. Think of how the Airbnb host in Rome anticipated Conley’s specific needs and personalized a heartfelt solution that’s stayed in his memories permanently.
Hospitality strategist Desjardins has even come up with his own “Guest Experience Map” that helps hoteliers do this. It invites collaboration and input from team members so that the hotel staff, collectively, can come up with ideas for those moments that matter and finding solutions, too.
2 | Make it easier for a potential guest to find your hotel and book it
The guest’s experience doesn’t begin at check-in. It begins way before that, when that guest is looking for a place to stay, or even in the dreaming stage of planning his or her trip.
As a marketer, your role is to make it easy for guests to find your website and book. There’s nothing worse than finding a hotel you would love to stay at, and then fumbling your way through an online booking process that can be confusing or clunky.
The best hotel websites have a few things in common:
- They use emotion to humanize their brand. Today, people want to engage with companies that are as unique as a real person. For example, nothing elicits real emotion better than content generated by your travelers.
- They make sure the booking panel — also the "Check Availability" or "Book Now" links — are visible at all times. They're also crystal-clear about the benefits, using messages like "best rate guaranteed" or "free Wi-Fi." Finally, they use incentives like loyalty points, room upgrades or free food.
- They add a secondary layer driving interested travelers to book with layered CTAs on visuals. This allows them to drive people to book when they're feeling most inspired.
3 | Make things personal (in the best way)
One tenant of modern hotel marketing is hyper-personalization.
You need different visuals for different segments and experiences that travelers crave. This is super-important for resorts and luxury hotels that serve different clientele — international visitors, business travelers, families, etc. Using these customer segments to further personalize email marketing, customer loyalty programs, and print materials is key.
Another way to personalize the guest experience is to market your hotel by hiring influencers who align with your mission but also speak to those specific customer segments you’re trying to bring into your hotel. Influencer marketing has grown significantly; in 2018, it increased by more than 39%.
4 | Make things frictionless with hotel technology
Having an integrated tech system on the backend can help you deliver on a seamless, integrated experience. That could mean sending personalized messages to your guests when they check-in, or maybe even knowing when to message them right before they arrive.
When your PMS and CRS systems are talking, you also speed up checking in and out, or maybe even allow guests to use their mobile phones as a hotel room key card. Mobile check-in is something 68% of guests say they prefer because it allows them to skip the front desk.
During a guest’s actual stay, being able to send those guests push notifications or messages to alert them to special events or amenities is also something that many people want. Allowing them to opt in to receiving those types of messages — and being able to seamlessly deliver those messages to them can improve their overall stay. In fact, 74% of hotel guests are receptive to customized offers and loyalty programs.
5 | Include UGC in your brand marketing strategy
Lastly, don’t forget about the benefits of user-generated content (UGC). UGC can be used at every stage across a guest’s journey, from the very beginning, when they’re scrolling through Instagram for trip inspiration to planning, booking, during their stay and beyond.
Better yet, engaging guests to post their own content from their stay and sharing it with their friends and family is also a great way to market your resort or hotel. More than 40% of hotels use UGC on their social media accounts, but only 20% are using it on their websites; there are so many more opportunities and ways for you to use UGC in your marketing efforts.
Making hotel guests feel special
It’s important to think of the guest experience as more than just a stay. It’s really everything that goes into a single guest’s journey of finding your property, choosing to book it, staying there, and well after, sharing his or her experiences and, hopefully, making a return visit.
The best guest experiences are those that are truly memorable and distinctive and make a guest feel special — and that’s something you can deliver if you’re proactive about anticipating what those guests will need at all stages.
Image credit: @adventuresofmarson