As the hospitality industry emerges from the significant effects of the pandemic, it’s encountering new customer behaviors. Much of this will center around a holistic view of the travel experience and how real-time engagement technology can empower hotels to connect with guests and maximize their experiences.
The New Customer Mindset
Since 2020, there has been a big shift in guest and customer mix. In the past, customers approached travel and hospitality in a specific set way – for example, as a weekend getaway, a business trip or an annual vacation. Now travelers frequently stay longer, given that schedules are more flexible or they can work from afar.
Loyalty has also changed significantly. In the past, loyalty programs were a driving factor in a customer’s purchase decision, with a desire to utilize points and maximize rewards. Now in 2022, customers may have a treasure trove of points, but the compulsion to continue to accumulate them has changed. We’re seeing customers take a more spot-based approach when booking travel in terms of convenience and comfort: Which airline will get me there and deliver the service I want? or What hotel offers the experience I want? As travelers are increasingly open to trying out new brands, it creates an unprecedented opportunity to gain new market share.
It's a Digital Marketplace
A growing number of travelers are brand agonistic, with their first interaction with a location digitally as they explore options that meet their needs. It’s imperative to use a customer or guest view to evaluate how a property is presenting itself in the digital marketplace.For example, why is a potential customer engaging with a specific part of a hotel website? Further, smart brands position themselves not only as an accommodation but as an experience partner. Think about the joyful anticipation many people have in the months and weeks leading up to a big trip. Digital technologies are used to engage with travelers; forge a deep relationship early on; and influence the entire experience starting with discovery, booking, and pre-trip planning.
It's also important to ensure digital reality has continuity with a property’s physical reality. A guest shouldn’t think – This was presented inconsistently when I booked vs the actual stay or The hotel showed a pool on their website, but it’s closed now and that’s the primary reason I booked my stay. Digital experiences can effectively bridge the gap between expectation and reality, identifying variances to determine where the digital vs. in-person breakdowns occur and then how to take action.
The Rise of Digital Messaging
Due to industry disruptions over the past two years, hotels were frequently more willing to try out new things. In the past, many said they’d never use SMS messaging. Traditionally, mobile interaction was more commonly used by luxury brands, who wanted to conveniently be there for their customers in an effortless way. During the pandemic, the hospitality industry more broadly realized it’s a very smart way of being in touch with customers while on the property or leading up to it. This forced innovation uncovered a revelation – “Wow, customers frequently prefer messaging, and it’s easier to triage than other channels.”
Savvy brands know to “be where the customers’ eyes are.” It’s not a sign at the front desk or an in-room brochure; it’s a digital channel that is likely in their customers hand and it’s imperative to understand the channel and the context where a hotel is getting the most eyes. Once on property, we see guests interact via text or a messaging app far more than on email or other channels. Whether it’s via text, or messaging channels such as WhatsApp, hotels need to say, “I’m available on the channel you choose.” They are proactively engaging with the guest instead of waiting for the guest to come to them.
Transform the On-Property Guest Experience
When a guest arrives, they are literally physically stepping into an actual experience. Real-time engagement technologies deepen relationships and the passive and active signal capture has multiple advantages. These include: a deep understanding of guest behaviors (how the guest is interacting with the property), real-time issue resolution, and the opportunity to maximize the guest experience (how many they want to upgrade their stay).
By creating an always-on engagement channel, hotels are able to answer questions, flag issues, or resolve possible detractions in real-time. These channels also can be used to encourage guests to try something new while on the property. Think of a text inviting them to a happy hour in the hotel lounge or to book an activity. This achieves two things for the property: an elevated guest experience and opportunities to seamlessly create ancillary revenue.
Exhaust Feedback Channels
Nearly all hospitality companies still have some form of post-experience feedback program and response rates tend to be very healthy. Leading companies need to think through the entire traveler journey and change how feedback is captured and how their teams can influence and maximize the travel experience in real-time. This enables them to capture signals and feedback to understand what the guest is doing and how they are interacting with a property.
Hospitality leaders recognize the power of an in-app or text message to guests, saying “Hey, we are listening …” while the guest is on the property. Collecting feedback in real-time - is becoming the norm, rather than waiting for a comprehensive survey at the end of an experience.
It’s an exciting time for the hospitality industry as more people are traveling and some markets reaching all-time highs. While many hotels are adopting these digital, real-time engagement technologies, opportunities remain for those that do not. As consumers view travel and hospitality differently, they have new behaviors and preferences and the travel and hospitality industry is adapting.