As Americans slowly return to travel, guest expectations surrounding the experience have changed significantly. From the time they begin their first internet search to the time they leave your property, they desire a clean, safe environment filled with personalized touches and minimal inconveniences. To deliver on these expectations, however, may require that hotels rethink the way they have “always done” specific processes. It might also require an investment in new technologies. Here, we’ll look at what exactly guests want and how some hoteliers have been able to meet those guest expectations — from booking to checkout.
From the First Internet Search
As the pandemic progressed, hotel searches evolved accordingly. For example, the discovery window elongated due to quarantine, joblessness, uncertainty and reduced means of travel. Additionally, other “organic forms of social discovery have slowed, such as influencer trip reports or friends posting about their trip due to potential social stigmatization,” says Price Glomski, Executive Vice President, PMG. Additionally, instead of looking for hotels that would require air travel, potential guests are looking for hotels that are within driving distance. Guests are also discovering hotels based on search queries for outdoor activities that are near to home.
“One of our hotel clients saw new query traffic from ‘kayak near me’ as well as other relatable content,” Glomski notes. “With travelers seeking outdoor activities and settings in close proximity to home, hotel marketers should expect to see an uptick in flex-quarantine activities. People are looking for experiences at reduced cost, close proximity, with outdoor elements, and with limited quarantine restrictions.”
Karen Stephens, Chief Revenue Officer, Revinate recommends that hotels make it easy to evaluate their outdoor experience during the discovery/booking phase. There are three effective ways to do this, according to the CRM provider: Feature outdoor space and experiences within marketing campaigns, update website and OTA listing photography to showcase the property’s outdoor features/experiences, and drive reviews or testimonials that speak specifically to the outdoor experience.
Potential guests will also be carefully considering the measures a hotel is taking to mitigate risk for COVID-19 transmission among staff and guests.
“Guests want to review and understand what safety and health precautions hotels have implemented across the property for a low-touch/contactless experience and how it will impact their entire stay,” says Tanya Pratt, VP of strategy and product management, Oracle Hospitality. “Health and safety are the driving force behind consumer’s changing expectations. Industry recovery is dependent on putting the changes in place that will ensure consumers feel comfortable traveling again both for leisure and for business.”
Paul Barron, EVP Client Engagement, Hospitality, Amadeus, agrees, noting that communicating the hotel’s unique “culture of clean” should be easy to find and clearly understood by guests whether they are using booking channels, on the hotel website, using the hotel call center, or reading emails from the brand.
On the hotel website, specifically, hotels should list specifically what their brand is doing to keep everyone on-property safe. Allan Nelson, CEO and co-founder For-Sight, encourages hotels to list their enhanced hygiene measures, physical distancing measures, and active reduction in physical touchpoints.
Ultimately, “hotels that can effectively meet the primary need for sanitation and safety and clearly convey this through all booking channels and communication touchpoints will emerge as the leaders,” Barron believes. “In many instances, hotels will have to identify how to do this with reduced staffing, creating an increased need for technology to help automate and optimize processes. Leveraging connected technology solutions across the marketing, booking, communication and on-site engagement will allow hotels to deliver the ideal guest experience to create loyal, returning customers and achieve both short and long term success.”
In addition to communicating sanitation/safety measures, Nelson recommends that hotels also make their flexible booking and cancellation policies easy for guests to understand and find. “While guests are eager to travel, they need reassurance that should the situation change suddenly they are protected,” Nelson says. “Making sure that your cancellation policy is clearly written, takes into account the unpredictability of the situation, and is available during a guest’s research is likely to make them feel more confident in booking.”
One of For-Sight’s partners, online reputation and feedback expert GuestRevu, recently conducted a survey of 2,500 travelers and found that 67% of respondents said that a hotel’s cancellation policy would affect their booking decision.
Remember, “consumers expect the guest booking experience to account for everything that’s different about traveling in the midst of a pandemic,” says Corey Pierson, CMO of Amperity. “Everything from language and messaging to offers and promotions needs to reflect and provide constructive answers to the new set of questions consumers face when traveling anywhere. It’s also critical to understand whether travelers are new to the brand or long-standing customers. Consumers expect their booking experience to account for and learn from their past experiences.”
You Had Me At (Virtual) Hello
Prior to the pandemic, guests were mostly concerned with a fast and hassle-free check-in/out experience. This expectation hasn’t disappeared, but now guests “feel a sense of vulnerability when required to come into close contact with others at the front desk,” says Nicolas Aznar, President, Americas at ASSA ABLOY Global Solutions. Thus, hotels are tasked with providing a convenient check-in process while also making it safer for staff and guests. To accomplish this, many hotels are turning to a self-service model where guests can check-in, receive a digital key, enjoy their stay and check-out, all without needing to visit the front desk. Some technology platforms are even able to remotely extend guest stays and carry out room reassignment requests without requiring the guest to visit the front desk for a new key.
“With most hotels experiencing a significant drop in workforce size numbers, contactless check-in technologies also prevent guests from having to experience any delays in service,” Aznar explains. “These abilities ensure continued operational efficiency for hotels while enhancing the potential to protect guest health, and at the same time conform with guest expectations for the removing of barriers to improved convenience instead of adding additional obstacles.”
As an added benefit, hotels can add mobile access technology to a range of door locks and access controllers so that contactless entry is enabled for a variety of onsite amenities such as the hotel gym, parking garage, swimming pool, spa, or even building entrances.
Some hotels, however, might want to offer contactless check-in while still providing guests with a friendly front desk face. But how? Enseo found a way to do this with VERA (Video Enabled Remote Agent) which offers guests a live check-in agent to greet and help each guest through the digital screens on their mobile device.
“We are finding that VERA is a very natural experience for guests and agents,” says Vanessa Ogle, CEO & Founder, Enseo. “The remote agent still exhibits hospitality and warmth to the guest when assisting with check-in/out and any aspect of their stay and helps the guest feel more comfortable and safe.”
Guestrooms Controlled With the Touch of a Phone
Guests expectations for a more contactless and digital experience have also carried over into the way they want to interact with their guestroom and the hotel’s onsite amenities.
Take for example the humble television remote. Many guests no longer want to touch it. Knowing this, World Cinema debuted a Mobile Web Remote – a contactless solution for hotel guests that puts their personal devices in control of the hotel television. Once a guest has checked in and arrived at their hotel room, they scan a QR code displayed on the in-room television which connects their phone to the television. Once connected, guests can browse through the channel guide, select a show, control volume, and change language preferences. Guests can also select streaming apps to watch on the TV. Additionally, more than one guest can use the mobile remote at a time and mobile remote pairing is cleared upon checkout or every day at 11:00 a.m.
“World Cinema’s Mobile Web Remote product has been a big hit at the Marriott Crabtree, our 380-room property in Raleigh, North Carolina,” says Brian Cornell CIO of Concord Hospitality. “The feedback we have received from our guests has been informative and positive, and they are impressed with how easy it is to use overall. They have also expressed that they are more comfortable and feel safer with using their smartphone versus the regular entertainment remote.”
World Cinema, Enseo and SONIFI all also offer ways to integrate with smart devices within the rooms so that guests can many times use their phone or even in-room voice technologies to control the thermostat, lights, and curtains in addition to the television.
Housekeeping is another area where guest expectations have changed. Guests are now hyper-sensitive to when and how their room was cleaned.
“Don’t let guests wonder if you’ve changed your cleanliness and safety practices,” says Kara Heermans, VP User Experience & Product Management, SONIFI. “Be open about your new protocols, display messaging prominently, and frequently remind guests about your commitment to their safety and comfort, so they can truly relax at your hotel.”
“Cleanliness has always been a priority and guest expectation, but now guests want to know more details: When was it cleaned? How was it cleaned? Is it really clean?” she says.
“Housekeeping will become more visible and transparent. It used to be done during down times, but it’s going to be more like a theater now, allowing customers to see and appreciate the efforts that hotels are going through to make sure that the hotel is clean.”
To help with this, Enseo offers hotels MadeSafe CleanRoom™ Sanitization Checklist and LobbyView™ which allows hotels to transparently communicate to guests the sanitization time, procedures and materials that were used to clean different areas of the hotel.
And while a clean room with contactless amenities is of the utmost importance to guests, its also important to remember that they may be spending more time in their room than they would have pre-pandemic, which will also be changing their expectations.
“With limited face-to-face meetings for business or even personal travel, guests may spend more time in their rooms to work or enjoy their time off,” says ANGIE Hospitality CEO David Millili. “Offering simple casting from your personal devices or secure and fast Wi-Fi are all important factors to the experience as well. The efficiency created by these tech offerings helps keep customer service high.”
Data is already proving this to be the case.
“We’ve found that casting usage has dramatically increased this summer, with guests casting 40% more apps and watching casted content for twice the amount of time, compared to pre-pandemic data,” Heermans says.
Hotels might also want to consider optimizing their channel lineup to provide curated programming that is most relevant to your specific hotel’s guests, Heermans adds. And with theater attendance in limbo, video-on-demand content is even more relevant to offer now for guests to enjoy exclusive entertainment in the safety of their room.
Personalization & Communication
Travel, now, has a new level of risk associated with it. that wasn’t there before the pandemic. The industry’s severe loss of revenue is a testament to how serious many Americans believe that risk to be. Those who are willing to travel, however, want to be rewarded for their loyalty, says Pierson.
So what type of “rewards” are these customers looking for. Well in many cases they want an “ideal experience,” says Barron. This means that their on-property visit meets their primary concern of sanitation and safety “while also achieving their goal of having a personalized, authentic experience with minimal physical touchpoints.”
Prior to the pandemic, personalized experiences and excellent communication was already becoming table stakes for consumers. The pandemic has just heightened the need for this type of interaction.
“The pandemic has only increased the urgency and necessity for personalized experiences,” Pierson explains. “Brands have quickly realized that there is not only a real, measurable upside in applying data to improve customer experiences – there is also a concrete risk of losing business if they fail to do so. Missing the opportunity to communicate new safety protocols, to recognize a long-time customer, to provide up-to-the-minute recommendations on available travel and activity options −- all of these could be the difference between winning a long-term customer or losing them to the competition.”
One way hotels can offer personalized communication is via a variety of contactless messaging channels: chat, text, messaging, etc. For example, a major international hotel chain uses Zendesk Sunshine Conversations to facilitate direct communications between staff and guests, explains Caitlin Keohane, VP, Strategy & Operations. These guests can message room service on their preferred channel (such as WhatsApp) and in their preferred language, allowing them to provide a contactless and personalized experience.
“Zendesk is at the core of our Omni channel contact center technology, and it has helped us to improve the way we engage and recognize our guest by merging all communication channels in one platform,” says Marcos Cadena, Vice President Digital Marketing, Distribution, CRM & Loyalty, Minor Hotels. “Our consumer nowadays starts multiple conversations on multiple devices and channels. This has been a key differentiator in our strategy as we can personalize our messages and make sure we recognize our guests.”