After a stay at a boutique hotel, whether you are the guest, GM, owner or marketer, we are all looking for the same thing – for your guest to leave happy and impressed with their stay.
Happy guests come back in future, or tell their friends to stay at the same hotel. They refer their colleagues and leave 5 star reviews online.
There’s a fairly accepted recipe for keeping hotel guests from being unhappy but, let’s be honest, keeping guests from being unhappy should be your baseline. It’s average at best, and no business should be trying to be average. Independent and boutique hotels have an advantage in exceeding guest expectations – your hotel’s size, flexibility and uniqueness allows you and your team to go one step further in making a stay a memorable experience. Want to lead the way in boutique hotel guest experience? Read on!
An Easy, Confidence Inspiring Booking Experience
In the research and booking phase, your hotel needs to reflect a sense of ease. In a highly competitive space, if you make the research and booking process hard, it’s unlikely you’ll get the booking.
From a web-booking point of view, you’ll want to make sure that your hotel’s website is:
- Ranked #1 in search engines, ideally through SEO but also using paid search advertising,
- Full of information that answers your guest’s questions before booking,
- Correctly secured,
- Fast to load,
- Looks great and is easy to use on mobile devices,
- Set up for re-marketing, so you can advertise back to those guests if they don’t make a booking on their first visit.
Of course, you’re likely to be using an OTA to collect bookings too. Consider if:
- Your hotel’s branding is consistent across each OTA and your website,
- Pricing is more competitive than direct bookings,
- Photos are up to date and consistent with what your guests will see in person.
Then of course you’ll receive phone calls, emails and, if your website is set up with it, LiveChat requests.
- Is someone waiting by the phones to help?
- Is the email inbox being monitored?
- Is LiveChat configured to notify the right people?
Few businesses can rely on a single booking channel in 2017. As with any industry that is rapidly changing, staying adaptable is key. When asked about a favoured option for booking, The Greenbank Hotel GM Ben Young stated that “We have no preference; instant is efficient, back and forth gives us the opportunity to demonstrate our hospitality.”
Some guests need the high touch service that your boutique hotel can offer, while others want to do their research privately in their own time, booking without a word to your team.
Getting Educated Before Arrival
For many hotels, in the time between booking and a guest’s arrival, not a lot happens. This is your time to get prepared. If your guest hasn’t yet made any special requests for their stay, you can use technology to make some notes that might help.
A simple pre-stay email to your guest, letting them know that you are looking forward to their arrival and asking whether they have any special requests can work wonders for giving you some insight into what they want from their stay. Of course this can be automated, but it must be done in an intelligent and sincere way.
Social media has helped boutique hotel GM, James McComas and his team. “Guests and hotels alike can react that much quicker. Guests to their experience – even if I’m not onsite, as soon as they know my name I can be found on Twitter or LinkedIn and contacted. Likewise, it allows us to try and research guests prior to arrival.” James goes on to say “The sheer amount of information available in a well managed system is staggering. Two guests can have completely different experiences in the same hotel, because the analytics of feedback and gathering of data allows us to tweak our service delivery to their preferences without them asking.”
In fact, after reaching out to boutique hoteliers to discuss how the guest experience is changing, using social media to research guests before they check-in is a recurring theme. It’s no surprise then, that products like Dynamic Guest Profiles by Guestfolio are such a big hit, turning an email address and name into a profile that outlines their profession, location, age and interests, along with easy access to their public social media profiles and TripAdvisor reviews.
During Your Guest’s Stay
While you’ll be focused on the obvious things such as service, comfort and cleanliness, consider what will set you apart from the rest during your guest’s stay.
- Does the room look the same as it did on the website, with all of the listed amenities?
- How are you using your pre-arrival guest data/research?
- What are you doing to allow the easiest possible stay at your hotel?
On creating a great hotel guest experience, James McComas goes on to say, “The experience we seek to deliver and the service we do it with is intended to put the guest at ease – we are present without being intrusive, approachable without being too casual and professional without being ‘stiff’. Creating this atmosphere allows the guest to relax, and with that we can anticipate their needs with more ease. They do not feel they are having to ask for things to be a certain way; it is that way because they have told us without realizing.”
Of course, your product really comes into play as well. Jorge from Hammerkop Migration Camp explains that the camp’s location sets it apart from the competition. “The safari camp is set on and surrounded by the legendary Mara river. Located within the inner region of the Masai Mara National Reserve, guests staying at the camp are welcomed not only by our staff, but the local wildlife.” Can you think of a better way to create memories for your guests on arrival? “Wildebeest cross the Mara River only 200 feet away, with a hippo beach around 100 feet from the camp”, he says.
Personalization of technology is also crossing over to the guest stay. What used to require a wide range of devices – TV, DVD, iPod dock, standard audio cable, alarm clock and so on, can now be offered using an integrated entertainment system. The jury still seems to be out on whether or not in-room tablets are here to stay.
While staff-less small hotels such as Yotel are doing well, it remains to be seen if technology can truly replace the connection and experience that a human can create. Ben Young states that “I don’t believe it will ever replace the experience provided by people and personal interaction. Technology may aid convenience and pre-arrival engagement and marketing but there is no replacing a smile and a human empathy between staff and guests.”
Goodbyes Are Not Forever
After the guests’ stay, it’s your opportunity to seek feedback, both privately and publicly. Surveys can offer you valuable insights into how well your hotel is catering to each guest, while we all know that guest reviews impact on traveler’s booking decisions. In fact, 95% of travelers claim to use reviews regularly to make booking decisions.
Of course, this is a double edged sword – if mistakes happen, expect a negative review from time to time. Companies such as ReviewPro help in this regard, but remember your end product is most important. If your guest’s hotel experience at wasn’t an enjoyable one, no software in the world is going to make that a happy memory.
Any number of loyalty or marketing programs can continue to develop the relationship with your guests into the future. Interaction with guests on social media can be a great way to stay in touch, as well as non-obtrusive and genuinely interesting email marketing. Some hotels have been known to post genuine thank you letters 1 year on, offering a coupon code incentivizing guests to make return visits in future.
Thankfully, the hotel guest experience is maturing as hoteliers become wiser to diverse needs of their clientele. James continues, “Five years ago, an experience was purely leisure based. Today, the industry is cottoning onto the fact that people travelling for need (rather than want) still expect a level of engagement. To generalise and say guest stays need to be more unique is wrong – ultimately the guest stay needs to meet their ‘reason why’. That may be a unique, bespoke and butlered service. Equally, it may be a completely generic, faceless and anonymous stay. One is not better than the other.”