Any effective hotel loyalty strategy today starts with personalization, and often requires a broad directional shift to place the customer at the center of every transaction. When looking to improve guest interactions, hotel operators often approach it from two different directions: service (front end) and data systems (back end).
Suppose technology and service were more closely aligned? That is to say, system connections were reliable, inexpensive and fast, and software knew where to go to find the right data and serve the right marketing messages at the right time. All this would enable the hotel to offer each guest a truly personalized experience pre- through post-stay with less manual work.
I’ll go out on a limb and say we’re not quite there yet.
A recent survey by Experience Hotels, a CRM supplier, pointed out many of the current flaws in the process. In a later interview, Duetto’s Senior Manager of Managed Services Gabriela Guevara corroborated many of those flaws and suggested ways hotels can work to overcome them.
Understanding the guests
Experience Hotels’ analysis of 108,000 reservations, mainly to independents or small chains in larger European cities, suggested that, in order to deliver excellent guest service, hotels need to understand their guests and communicate with them early, as in immediately after booking.
Of the 26% of bookings that were from business travelers, almost half of them booked using private email addresses (Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, etc.), making it more difficult to discern whether the booking was for leisure or business. In addition, 30% of the profiles in the hotel’s PMS lacked guest email addresses.
So how can a hotel recognize the guest right at booking?
“That’s the Pandora’s Box that everyone is trying to open,” Guevara said. “The only way is through a loyalty program when you enter your status.
“It’s hit or miss with Booking.com and Expedia — I can only tell geographically where the reservation came from,” she continued. “On your brand website you can tag it with Google Tag Manager to understand the booking pattern. You can get the IP address, what kind of device they used, etc. It’s really important that your marketing team sets up those parameters on the back end so you have these Google Analytics tools.”
Understanding guests’ needs
The survey results showed 42% of hotel bookers want restaurant recommendations before arriving at the hotel, and 25% wanted instructions on how to get to the hotel.
Experience Hotels says despite all the recommendations apps that exist, and despite Google Maps and the multitude of navigation apps, guests still would like human recommendations from the hotel.
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Guevara said determining exactly what guests are looking for before arrival remains a challenge.
“Through Facebook we are trying to get a little bit more on the demographics of a guest — what they look at, where they shop, where they eat — we like to get as much information as we can,” she said. “That way we can see what is attracting them to our hotels. Is it a price point? An amenity? A local event?”
Treat returning guests differently, Guevara suggested. In this case, you want to use the information you already have — past guest preferences — to serve up a tailored offer.
“If you know he always books a king bed, why would you even show him a double bed? Take out the clutter,” she said. “For millennials, simpler is better; we don’t have the patience in this fast-moving world to sort through 50 package options. Give me the best offers: two or three options, tops. The goal is to minimize that abandonment.”
Guevara said airlines are getting closer than hotels, already storing your preferences on aisle or window, for example.
Understand guest behavior
As we’ve noted before, pre-arrival cancellations are on the rise. Experience Hotels suggests in many cases guests are booking multiple hotels early and then cancelling last minute for the hotel they liked best. Results showed Booking.com, which advertises “free cancellation,” had a cancellation rate of up to 57%, Expedia 26% and the hotel website at 14%.
Cancellation rates tend to go down 30% when implementing a good pre-arrival email, Experience said.
On the flipside (when your guests do show up), it’s important to present both upsell and upgrade options at the right time. Again, Guevara looks to the airline industry for best practices.
“Just like airlines that ask you before your trip: ‘Hey, do you want Comfort Plus? You can have it for $20 more or $150 more for Business Class.’ Most of the time you’ve already forgotten what you originally paid.”
While that’s more of a large-funnel approach, Guevara said hotels should also implement a more in-person approach by training front-desk staff to identify and engage the customer. Most important, she said, is ensuring you’re tracking upgrades — who bought what and when — because incremental revenue can add up.