Providing a great guest experience is the most critical component of running a successful hotel, motel, resort or any other type of lodging property. No matter the size of a property, its location, the efficiency of its staff, or amenities offered, guests will decide whether or not to return to a property based on the overall experience they receive. A great guest experience is also a key factor in ensuring that hotel visitors provide outstanding online reviews and become brand ambassadors long after they depart the property.
In this blog post, we will take a deep dive into what exactly the guest experience is, who is responsible for it and how to improve it at your hotel, resort or other type of lodging property.
In the hospitality industry, the guest experience matters head and shoulders above everything else involved in running a successful hotel and can be thought of as an amalgamation of every interaction a visitor has with a property. Everything from engaging with a property’s website to ordering room service, speaking with front desk staff, adjusting the in-room thermostat and going for a swim in the pool (if your property has those types of amenities) are a part of the guest experience.
Some aspects of the guest experience are easy to control (e.g., ensuring the front desk is well staffed and responsive to guest needs), while others can be more of a challenge (e.g., keeping guests comfortable if/when a local power grid goes down). But with the appropriate amount of forethought and planning, hoteliers can ensure guests have a great experience every time they stay at their property.
However, it’s also important to note that guest experience is directly tied to guest expectations and these have undergone significant shifts in the past few years. What worked yesterday to provide hotel visitors with an outstanding guest experience doesn’t necessarily work today.
Due to a combination of technological advancements, shortening attention spans and the COVID-19 pandemic, most guests expect more personalized and efficient on-property experiences that require less in-person interactions. This is not to say consumers don’t want to engage in-person with hotel staff entirely; they just now wish to do so on their own terms.
For example, a study from Cornell Hospitality found that US guests get “anxious” after waiting three minutes at check-in, and guest satisfaction scores drop by a whopping 50 percent after only a five minute wait. Additionally, a recent Oracle and Skift study, found that 73 percent of travelers are more likely to stay in a hotel that offers self-service technology to minimize staff and other guest contact.
Forward-looking hoteliers that wish to provide the best guest experience possible will take these new expectations into consideration when implementing any processes, workflows and general updates to their properties.
Though the above points categorically apply to all types of hotel guests, it’s important to note that each guest type is different and what counts as an outstanding experience for one may not be true for others. For example, hospitality professionals have long known there are key differences between the preferences of business and leisure travelers. When looking to make improvements to the guest experience, hotel operators should consider the main types of guests their property attracts and adjust accordingly.
The guest experience begins far before a guest ever physically arrives at a property. The first engagement a consumer has with a property that can be included as part of the overall guest experience generally occurs when they book a hotel room. Typically, this can happen either through an online travel agency (OTA) or the property’s website.
At this stage in the guest experience, potential hotel visitors compare prices, read reviews, examine property photos and weigh their options against competitor hotels in the same geographic area.
The booking of a room may also occasionally fall on the shoulders of a travel advisor or agency. Though the actual guest who will be staying at the property is not involved in this process, their experience may be affected depending on how smoothly this transaction goes.
All interactions between a hotel and guest that happen post-booking should be considered a part of the overall guest experience (i.e., pre-check-in communications, on-property arrival, in-stay, etc.).
The guest experience usually comes to a close when a hotel visitor checks out of their room. During this process, it’s important for hoteliers to ascertain any information they can from the guest — in as least an intrusive way as possible — about their stay. This can be performed either at the front desk through a quick chat, or a survey hosted online and accessed via SMS, email or web-based checkout.
The experience guests receive at a property has incredibly important knock-on implications in a variety of areas. Whether it’s a positive or negative experience, guests are likely to remember how their time was spent at a hotel, resort or spa and will take future actions accordingly.
A great customer experience is the basis of word-of-mouth advertising. And word-of-mouth advertising today is more powerful than ever. In fact, Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, is quoted as saying, “It used to be that if you made a customer happy, they would tell five friends. Now, with the megaphone of the internet, whether online customer reviews or social media, they can tell 5,000 friends.”
This sentiment doesn’t just ring true for eCommerce giants like Amazon. It’s equally true for everything from air conditioner repair services, to car rentals to, yes, you guessed it, hotels and other lodging services.
Ensuring guests have a satisfying experience while staying at a property enhances the likelihood they will share that experience with others, and as Jeff Bezos points out, they are more capable of doing it with a vast audience than ever.
However, it’s not just word-of-mouth advertising among groups of friends that guests are likely to spread. Positive hotel experiences generally lead to much higher reviews on platforms like Google and TripAdvisor. In fact, industry research has indicated that a one-star increase in a hotel’s review profile translates to a 5-9 percent increase in revenue. Additional research has also shown that if a TripAdvisor score is improved by 10 percent bookings can be expected to increase by 9-15 percent.
Guests that receive an outstanding hotel experience are also more likely to become loyal consumers that are more than glad to return to the property. Happy guests are much more likely to book directly through a hotel’s website (as opposed to booking through an OTA) or join a loyalty program.
Nearly every member of a hotel’s staff has a role to play in providing a great guest experience. Though some employees will have more direct contact with visitors throughout the guest cycle, it really is a whole of team effort.
Here are a few ways in which the different departments at a property contribute to the overall guest experience:
Now that we have defined what the guest experience is and who is responsible for it, let’s examine what a positive guest experience actually looks like.
Though some elements of a positive guest experience will be property-specific, there are many that will be the same at every type of hotel.
Travel can be tiring and when people finally arrive at their destination they generally would prefer a smiling face to welcome them. A warm and friendly staff is an important element of any guest experience, especially at the front desk. Even when guests are difficult (especially when guests are difficult), it’s important for employees to grin and be as accommodating as possible to the needs of every person who walks through the lobby.
There are very few circumstances under which people enjoy waiting around or standing in line. These circumstances never exist at a hotel or other type of lodging property. It’s imperative that hoteliers and their staff do everything possible to eliminate lines at the front and concierge desks, and reduce any wait times that may exist at other areas of the property (e.g., breakfast buffets).
When consumers book a room at a hotel, they have some basic expectations about the condition of the property. To feel that they have received the best value for money, guest rooms should be clean and the items within them in good working condition (e.g., coffee maker, mini fridge, air conditioning, etc.). Likewise, other areas of the property should be regularly cleaned and maintained.
Most guests also would prefer that their time at a property be as relaxing as possible. Therefore, it’s important to try to keep a property as quiet as is reasonable, especially after sundown.
Unfortunately, there will be occasional issues that come up in the course of running a hotel. However, with prior planning, hotel operators should be able to handle the most common problems and provide quick solutions.
Additionally, it’s also important to remember that guests should be compensated when issues arise. If the air conditioning in a room is broken, it’s a good idea to move the guest to a nicer room (if one is available) and compensate them with some kind of token (e.g., a bottle of wine). This ensures that even negative interactions receive a positive spin and contribute to a great overall guest experience.
The last thing a guest wants to do upon arriving at a hotel is deal with administrative tasks and paperwork. Collecting keys, signing a reg card and exchanging credit cards are certainly not high on the priority list. To provide a good guest experience, hoteliers should take pains to remove as many of these from the check-in process as possible and ensure that they are minimized throughout a guest’s stay.
Though the hospitality industry has a tendency to drag its feet when it comes to new technology solutions, many are now beginning to understand the importance of digital, mobile-friendly tools in accommodating the modern guest.
Guests today expect to be able to check-in and checkout from their phones, digitally purchase upgrade packages and additional amenities, and engage with a property online in a plethora of other ways. Enabling guests to curate their in-stay experiences with technology empowers hotel visitors and provides a much better overall guest experience.
Sometimes surprises are fun. However, they usually are not while staying at a hotel. If something is happening with a guest’s room or some of the amenities or services at the property (e.g., a bathroom sink in a guest room or the hotel’s hot tub) are out of order, guests want real-time updates and status reports. Hoteliers looking to provide an exceptional experience to every guest should invest in tools that enable them to quickly communicate with both individual and broadcast messages.
If hotel operators ever expect to improve the guest experience at their properties, they need a concrete way to measure how guests feel about the experiences they have. Measuring satisfaction with the overall guest experience can be accomplished in a variety of ways with a variety of tools.
Below are a few of the most common methods of measuring the guest experience in the hospitality industry.
Most hoteliers today understand the importance of online reviews. According to data from TripAdvisor, 81% of people frequently or always read reviews before booking a hotel. And as helpful as reviews are to consumers, they can be equally useful to hotel operators. Online reviews provide an accurate, first-hand account of what guests think of the experience at a property.
Hotel staff should keep a close eye on reviews posted in places like Google and TripAdvisor for two primary reasons:
Net Promoter Scores (NPS) are used by all kinds of businesses in all kinds of industries to evaluate the experience they provide to consumers. It was first developed in 2003 by Bain and Company and basically assesses how likely a consumer is to recommend a business to other consumers.
NPS is calculated by placing customers into one of three categories: promoters (enthusiastic about the business), passives (neutral about the business) and detractors (unenthusiastic about and dissatisfied with the business).
Promoters generally respond with a score of 9-10; passives with a score of 7 or 8; and detractors with 6 or below.
To calculate an NPS score, a business simply needs to subtract the percentage of detractors from the percentage of promoters.
Conducting NPS surveys can be an effective way for hotels to judge how satisfied guests are with their experience at a property or with a brand.
Though NPS scores and online reviews can provide hotel operators with accurate pictures of how satisfied guests are with their experience, they may not provide the exact information a hotel needs to make improvements.
Post-interaction (or post-stay) surveys that are created and customized by hotel staff can help hoteliers collect the exact data they need to uplevel their guest experience and address any issues.
It’s important that these surveys be provided to guests immediately upon checkout to ensure an accurate representation of their in-stay experience and high participation rates.
Not only are post-interaction surveys useful for obtaining helpful reconnaissance, they can also help hoteliers head off poor online reviews that may be completed and submitted to sites like Google and TripAdvisor after a guest leaves the property. Making the survey a part of the checkout process alerts hotel staff to any potential poor reviews before the guest leaves so they have a last chance to turn a detractor into a promoter.
This is why Canary’s Contactless Checkout solution includes a customizable post-stay survey form that automatically notifies hotel staff when it is completed. Negative reviews entered into this survey are flagged for hotel staff, and respondents that provide positive feedback are prompted to immediately submit a review on Google, TripAdvisor or both.
Traditionally, friendly in-person interactions between staff and guests have been the backbone of a great guest experience. However, as Bob Dylan once noted, the “the times they are a-changin'.”
Today, industry data shows that 73 percent of guests prefer to use hotel technology that prevents them from socializing with hotel staff or other visitors. This means the great guest experience hoteliers need to provide to the majority of their guests is a digital one. It is true that there is a minority of guests who want in-person interactions with staff, and having digital solutions doesn’t preclude these guests from going to the front desk when they want information or fresh towels. However, they are indeed a shrinking minority and forward-looking hoteliers should be primarily concerned with the tech-loving majority.
Utilizing the right types of hotel technology can make or break a guest experience and have serious knock-on effects through everything from bookings to online reviews and word-of-mouth advertising.
Let’s now examine what types of hotel technologies can help improve the guest experience at the various stages of their journey with a lodging property.
The process of booking a hotel room is one of the key elements in the overall guest experience. Though nearly half of all bookings currently come through online travel agencies (OTAs), many consumers will still want to book their room directly with a hotel. At the booking stage in the guest journey, there are a variety of technology solutions that can be used to streamline the process and make it more enjoyable and user-friendly.
Once a room has been booked by a guest, there is a time before they arrive at the property in which they may wish to upgrade their room, purchase access to additional amenities and receive updates from the property regarding their trip.
Email is a reliable tool for dealing with these types of requests in the weeks prior to arrival, but as check-in becomes imminent, guests appreciate more direct forms of communication. Text messages that contain links to helpful information about the property, upsell options and check-in instructions (similar to what many consumers have become accustomed to from airlines) are incredibly helpful in improving the guest experience and can help boost revenue to the property before a guest ever arrives.
The hotel check-in process is one of the most impactful moments a guest will have throughout their entire experience of interacting with a property or hotel brand. At this stage in the guest journey, Contactless Check-In and Digital Upsells solutions improve the guest experience by streamlining the arrival at the property and enabling guests to curate their own experiences.
Providing these resources to guests before they show up in the lobby enables hotelies to reduce lines and wait time, which has been shown to increase guest satisfaction scores by a whopping 50 percent.
Additionally, these types of technology solutions save staff precious time that employees could use to deal with higher priority issues from guests who have already checked in — improving the experience and operational efficiency for both all guests and staff at the hotel.
Once a guest has checked into a hotel, the in-stay portion of the guest journey has begun. Here too, modern technology solutions have a role to play.
Here are a few examples of tech tools that can remove friction and pain points from the in-stay experience, while also helping to improve the operational efficiency of hotel staff members.
When it finally comes time for a guest to checkout, hoteliers have one last chance to enhance the guest experience. Offering guests a Contactless Checkout solution that can be accessed through their mobile devices is the perfect capstone to an outstanding hotel stay. Not only does this enable the guest to forgo a final trip to the front desk, it also enables hoteliers to collect valuable information about the guest’s experience in the least intrusive way possible.
As stated above, contactless checkout solutions enable hotels to customize the checkout flow to include surveys about their experience. Those who provide a negative review can be approached by hotel staff to try to resolve any final issues before the guest leaves the property. Those who provide a positive review can be prompted to also do so on review sites like Google and TripAdvisor while the entire guest experience is still fresh in their minds.
Successful hoteliers are always looking to improve the guest experience; however, nobody has infinite resources and decisions need to be made regarding which areas of the guest experience to improve first. This is where feedback from guests becomes crucially important.
If a hotel doesn’t measure guest satisfaction in-house through the use of post-stay surveys and Net Promoter Scores — which they absolutely should — you can examine online reviews on third-party websites like Google, TripAdviser and Yelp to get an idea of where the guest experience needs the most improvement.
If a hotel does conduct internal surveys, this data and feedback should be combined with feedback from review websites and assessed by the management team.
Feedback can then be categorized and priorities stack ranked based on the number of times individual issues are flagged by guests.
A few examples of issues that may show up frequently include:
Once these issues have been stack ranked, hotel management and staff can create concrete plans on how to tackle them in order of importance.
There are a wide range of ways hoteliers can turn a good guest experience into a fantastic encounter with an independent hotel property or brand.
Let’s now look at a few ideas for improving the guest experience and examine them in detail.
If a consumer arrives at a property, and the facilities look nothing like they expected, they’re going to be disappointed right from the start. Hoteliers that find themselves in this situation will be fighting an uphill battle to provide a good (never mind great) guest experience the entire time that person is at the hotel. It is for this reason that hotel operators need to ensure the images and information on their hotel’s website and online profiles portray an accurate representation of what staying at the property is like.
It may seem counterintuitive, but it’s often wise to undersell and over deliver, as it makes the job of providing a positive guest experience that much easier — which, of course, leads to better reviews and more bookings.
You can’t fix what you don’t know is broken. Therefore, it’s a good idea for hotel management teams to at least semi-regularly audit the entire guest journey to see where the experience can be improved. Each member of a hotel’s management team should periodically book a room at the property and stay for a night or two to see things through the eyes of a guest.
They should also take copious notes on their experience and use these learnings to address any shortfalls and improve services and amenities in key areas.
Much like auditing the guest experience, staff and staff training policies should be reviewed at least once every 6-12 months to ensure their effectiveness. You can have the best employees in the world, but if their training isn’t keeping up with the shifting expectations of guests or they are overwhelmed with work at certain times of the day, they won’t be able to provide the white-glove services and excellent experience you want them to.
Auditing your staff can help you answer important questions such as:
Additionally it’s important to consider where technology has created redundancies within your work flow. Solutions like Contactless Check-In and Guest Messaging have been shown to improve staff efficiency by up to 50 percent and cut wage bills in half.
Every type of lodging property, from exclusive luxury resorts to limited service motels, can offer additional amenities, services and products to make a guest’s stay more enjoyable and increase ancillary hotel revenue.
Everything from bottles of water offered at the front desk to parking spaces and early/late checkouts can be monetized by a property’s management team. Partnering with local businesses and incentivizing hotel staff to promote upsell options and packages can go a long way toward improving both a hotel’s bottom line and the guest experience.
As noted above, nobody wants to deal with administrative tasks after a long day of traveling and the fewer required at a hotel’s front desk the better. Tools like Canary Contactless Check-In and Digital Authorizations enable guests to deal with these tasks before they ever arrive at the hotel and automate much of the workflow for a more streamlined and user-friendly process.
Though we are now on the tail end of the global pandemic with abundant vaccines and healthcare resources, we are living in a new world of endemic COVID-19. As mutations occasionally arise and cases surge, hotels should still be ready to deal with any restrictions and limitations put in by both local governments and consumer preferences.
Abundant hand sanitizing and washing stations, contactless technology solutions, free masks for guests and contingency plans are all among things that can be put in place to ensure a property is ready should the need present itself.
Consumer expectations are never static for long and generally move at two speeds: slowly overtime and quickly all at once. When it comes to the latest trends in guest experiences, it’s important for hoteliers to keep their fingers on the pulse and respond accordingly.
Below are some of the most current trends and areas of importance that hotel operators should address to provide an outstanding guest experience.
As Sarah McCay Tams of revenue management software Duetto noted in Hospitality Net regarding the shifting terrain in the hospitality industry during the pandemic, “As market dynamics changed at breakneck speed, and consumer demands pivoted, hoteliers around the world found that they were reaching out for tech solutions to help them adapt to these new challenges and accelerate as demand returned.” It was in these moments that the concept of “contactless hospitality” really took off.
Contactless hospitality refers to the use of technology solutions to augment the guest experience at a hotel. These solutions are called “contactless” because they do not require any in-person interactions between the guest and hotel staff. These include everything from Contactless Check-In and Checkout to Digital Tipping and smart lock integrations.
Most property owners are familiar with property management systems (PMS); however, fewer are acquainted with a more recent partner system called a guest management system (GMS).
Though the two systems often integrate with each other, there are some key differences. Property management systems are generally used by hotel staff to manage reservations and administrative tasks. A guest management system primarily consists of guest-facing technologies that help curate the in-stay experience and navigate through the guest journey.
As consumers have become more comfortable with, and reliant on, technology solutions, more and more hotel properties have deployed GMSs to augment the guest experience. These systems generally include solutions like Contactless Check-In, Guest Messaging, Digital Upsells, Digital Tipping and more.
Though once relegated to the world of science fiction, robots and drones have become all the more common in our day-to-day lives. From self-driving cars to delivery drones, everyone is familiar with at least a few examples of what these technologies look like. And believe it or not, they have made their way into hotels. More and more properties are now using delivery robots to send all kinds of items — from toothbrushes to bottles of wine — to guest rooms. These robots improve staff efficiency and are useful tools for reducing contact between staff and guests during a COVID spike.
Since the advent of the iPhone, mobile devices have become irreplaceable in modern life and consumer-facing technologies have had to function well when accessed on the small screen of a smartphone. However, there has been some debate over how technology solutions should be delivered on those devices — native apps or web-based solutions.
Historically, native apps have provided more functionality and customization options for the businesses that use them to engage their customers. However, over the past few years, mobile web browsers like Chrome and Safari have gotten a lot better at providing a similar level of functionality. Additionally, native apps are burdened with the need to be downloaded onto a consumers phone, while web-based solutions are not.
According to recent reports from the hospitality industry, even top hotel brands only see around 10 percent of guests adopt and engage with the native apps they create. In contrast, web-based solutions generally see between 50-75 percent adoption rates — even for independent hotels. This key difference has led many hoteliers to opt for web-based solutions over native apps in recent years to improve the digital experience they provide to guests.
Far too often, guest data security is an afterthought for hotels looking to improve the guest experience at their properties. But it really shouldn’t be. Data security measures are a bit like the seatbelts in a car. They aren’t something you generally think about, but when they matter, they really matter. Without the proper data security, hoteliers open themselves up to all kinds of financial liability. And if there is a breach that reveals sensitive guest data, no guest will consider their experience with a property as positive — no matter how friendly staff members are.
To reduce the chances of credit card data breaches, hoteliers should consider using Digital Authorizations solutions that are PCI compliant and replace insecure paper/PDF forms.
As emphasized throughout this post, a positive guest experience is one of, if not the most, critical components of running a successful hotel, motel, resort or other type of lodging property. It is what drives great online reviews and both new and repeat bookings. The guest experience covers nearly every interaction a guest will have with a property and its staff and should be carefully managed by hotel operators. Technology can be used to augment the guest experience, but improvements can also be made in a variety of ways, and forward-looking hotel operators should consider all of them.
By applying the best practices and knowledge laid out above, every hotelier should be able to improve the guest experience, increase bookings and drive more revenue well into the future.
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