Every journey starts with a dream.
This is true if a guest is traveling for business or pleasure, with family or alone, and for a weekend or a month. Whether they’re aware of it or not, each guest has expectations about their experience.
After years of lockdown and quarantine, guests’ dreams are bigger than ever - and it shows. A report by Oxford Economics predicts that total bookings this year will almost equal stays in 2019. Many travelers are planning bucket list trips, spending more money than they typically would, and seeking one-of-a-kind experiences to make up for lost time.
These experiences begin long before a guest sets foot in the hotel lobby, and extend well beyond checkout. In this context, it’s more important than ever that hoteliers focus on cultivating an exceptional experience for their guests from start to finish.
Playing the long game
In an ideal world, a guest would begin their trip planning by booking accommodations directly through a hotel’s website. In addition to lower customer acquisition costs, direct bookings give hotel brands an opportunity to build strong relationships with guests and curate their experience.
Unfortunately, direct bookings account for less than half of all online bookings. Guests generally prefer to use OTAs due to the variety, price comparison, and ease of use they offer. Although hotel brands can certainly make changes to encourage more direct bookings, most first-time bookings will likely come from OTAs for the foreseeable future.
However, just because a guest books their first stay through an OTA doesn’t mean that they’ll do the same for their next trip. Brands have an opportunity to ensure that guests return and that they book directly on their second visit - but only if that guest develops a strong positive association with that brand during their first stay.
The power of digital marketing
Digital marketing is an unsung hero when it comes to cultivating an excellent experience to encourage guest retention. In order for digital marketing to be effective in this context, Mounir Nejjai, CEO and Founder of Cezium, believes that it must have three key pillars: guest segmentation, outlined guest journeys, and customized message templates.
In his view, segmenting guests is a critical part of ensuring a positive and memorable experience. “You must be able to distinguish your business travelers from your families,” he said in a recent conversation with Melissa Jurkoic, CXO of Thynk, “so that you can adapt your communications [with them].” Without this type of segmentation, he argues, it’s very difficult to make smart decisions about how to best interact with each guest based on their needs and preferences.
If a brand has access to accurate data about their guests, it’s possible to outline the typical journey for each segment. These guest journeys can help brands understand guest behavior, from booking to post-departure, and send messages that target the appropriate stage a guest is at in their journey.
Brands can then take it one step further and templatize their messages for each segment. These messages can serve a range of sales and marketing purposes, like cross-selling and up-selling. They can also be used to send customer surveys and other post-stay check-ins. These messages allow brands to gather valuable feedback that leads to future improvements in guest satisfaction.
“Creating feedback loops is instrumental to building customer loyalty and retention,” said Jurkoic, “because if people feel like you’re listening to them, they’re more willing to continue to engage and do business with you.”
You’ll know it when you (don’t) see it
Nejjai said that he gets a lot of questions about the ROI of digital marketing, and how that ROI can be measured. In the hospitality industry, he acknowledged, it can be difficult to clearly measure the return on investment. “What you can see, however,” he said, “is the impact of not investing in guest experience and communication.” Guests are expecting their post-pandemic experiences to be exceptional, he noted, and will not continue to engage with your brand if their expectations are not met.
Despite the challenges with quantifying the correlation between digital marketing, guest experience, and bookings, there’s no doubt that it exists. Hoteliers and the teams they manage must take full advantage of the data available to them in order to ensure that their guests return again and again.
By partnering with Thynk, Nejaii and his team at Cezium are making this possible for hoteliers worldwide. Their templatized guest journeys and targeted messages make it easy for any brand to level up their digital marketing base and improve the guest experience.