In the past few years, we’ve witnessed incredible advances to the hotel experience as properties leverage trends like personalization, wellness programs and local partnerships, to name four. But with all of these trends aimed at improving the onsite guest experience, there’s a huge missed opportunity –enhancing the level of interaction before the guest arrives.
As travel becomes increasingly aspirational – even for business segments where bleisure is common practice – the average person has immersed himself or herself in exciting and exceptional experiences from around the world well before any money is exchanged through what can be called the ‘sense of discovery,’ to couple it with the onsite term of ‘sense of place’.
And indeed, this sense of discovery is often half the fun! While social media, travel blogs and word-of-mouth dominate the research phase for this, hotels can and should look to improve in the ‘pre-arrival experience’ – from the time someone books to physically arriving on property, as well as from the moment a person discovers your hotel brand to the actual reservation.
Every hotelier knows that tech-enabled personalization is crucial to the success of one’s brand. In reality, though, these customized experiences are very difficult to put in place, often requiring complex software integrations, significant CapEx and a fully trained team – both at the supervisor and frontline levels – to properly act upon any insights or recommendations gleaned from a unified CRM.
The nauseating pain point here is that travelers expect hotels to make their time on property personal and meaningful, irrespective of the resources necessary on the company’s part. Luckily, pre-arrival represents one area of the customer journey where you can make significant inroads inexpensively and relatively quickly towards genuine guest experience personalization.
In an interesting psychological study from last spring by Professor Helen Chun at Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, it was found that savoring an upcoming experience heightens the actual enjoyment of that experience both when it’s rendered as well as when it’s recalled. Hence, any attempts to heighten the interactivity during this stage may subconsciously work to deepen one’s affinity or trust with your brand as well as boost overall satisfaction.
Importantly, there’s also the potential for additional revenue via incremental merchandising or amenity purchases and room upgrades.
Building your pre-arrival experience
Inserting your brand into the travel conversation from the start requires a concerted effort from your social media, public relations and website development team. Key here is to demonstrate to guests the full range of activities and amenities available if they reserve a room at your property.
But alas, customers may not peruse every option while they are in a ‘sense of discovery’ mood. Concurrent to your efforts to get them to book, the gap that needs to be filled exists from the instant a guest’s credit card information is verified to the moment of arrival onsite. Shamefully, most hotels only send out a booking confirmation via email during this stage. Some may call in the week prior to doublecheck. This should be your opportunity to engage, to learn and offer customized enhancements for the upcoming stay.
Just look to how airlines have built an almost entirely new vertical out of selling individual seats after a customer buys a ticket. Not only are these specific selections a source for extra revenue beyond randomly assigning seats, but the interfaces of these platforms afford airlines the chance to present their premium-tier product to a captive audience.
Now imagine the possibilities for hotels which are inherently far more diversified strata than airplane seats. How cool would it be to browse through a property’s inventory and select your exact room? Guests could choose one on a high floor for a better view or the one farthest from the elevator for maximal quiet, and the hotel could even charge for such a privilege if it so desires. Moreover, any guest selections through these platforms will inform the hotelier on individual preferences for the upcoming stay along with any other future trips taken by said guest.
Experience economy opportunities
The phrase ‘experience economy’ comes in full force whenever we discuss initiatives that hope to profit from intensified personalization of a place or activity. Several hospitality companies are already on their way to fruitful gains in the pre-arrival space.
Unveiled for its North American collection consisting of over 2,200 properties, the Best Western Virtual Reality Experience allows consumers to view 3-D videos and interactive tours of each hotel’s top amenities and room types. Similarly, Hilton is rolling out new detailed room selection functionality for its Honors loyalty app. Even Arne Sorenson has touched on this for subject for Marriott International as a means to migrate prospective guests away from the OTAs through what is being called ‘attribute-based selling’.
Don’t think that this technology is solely for the whales of the industry, though. A fascinating company based out of Atlanta called Koridor offers hotels a PMS-integrated platform that lets guests view 3-D tours and dollhouse views of all available rooms as they select one or even choose to upgrade on the spot. Likewise, GLH Hotels, a midsized U.K. owner-operator, commissioned a web agency to build a proprietary Hotel Room Chooser bolt-on product for its booking engine. In short, pre-arrival enhancements are accessible for nearly any budget.
So, as people are looking for heightened experiential offerings, and as the big chains and software innovators pave the way, the time is right for you to boost your pre-arrival to deliver the best possible guest experience and therein realize better profits.