By Adam and Larry Mogelonsky

Hotels excel at creating a strong ‘sense of place’ (sensorial brand identity) and ‘sense of arrival’ (first onsite impression), but we often neglect the ‘sense of departure’ (last onsite impression).

According to the peak-end rule, this is perhaps the one area where hotels should refocus their efforts to get the most ROI. This is particularly important for luxury stays where travelers have a whole world of accommodation options. Luckily for the rest of us, many luxury hotels already have great departure SOPs that we can learn from to value-engineer a fantastic last impression in order to leave guests on a high note and propel loyalty engagement.

Evolving Landscape of Competitive Sets

Consider first why luxury hotels need to imbue a strong sense of departure. As room rates exceed $1,000 per night, the scope of a brand’s competitive set expands beyond the local comp set to encompass a broader geographic circle.

For example, imagine a HWNI traveler residing in Los Angeles seeking a quick getaway. With Santa Barbara/Montecito and Newport/Laguna Beach both roughly 90-120 minutes away, such a traveler could opt for either destination. Yet, this is just the drive-to context. Luxury travelers possess the means to go anywhere by planes, trains and automobiles (namely, jets, though). Expanding the previous example, this HWNI traveler might choose a private charter from Van Nuys Airport to virtually any destination within flight range, like Cabo San Lucas or Punta Mita.

Revolutionizing the Departure Experience

Let’s unpack the Wiki link at the beginning. Nobel laureate and behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman’s ‘peak-end rule’ reveals that the last point of guest-staff interaction is far more influential from a long-term memory point of view than the initial impression.

Techies that we are, the experience a hotel can deliver around any guest’s departure starts by gathering data on check-outs scheduled for the day, ensuring a comprehensive understanding of individual departure requirements as well as ensuring that you are appropriately staffed to personally say goodbyes and are not bombarded by too many requests at the front desk.

Initiate specific departure communications with guests no later than the afternoon preceding check-out, factoring in flight details, transportation preferences, payment methods and any special needs before your guests hit the road. For instance, if arranging a private car service, coordinate a streamlined process from guestroom to check-out to car service, minimizing wait times by preparing the folio in advance. In most instances, late additions are unlikely and adjustments can be swiftly accommodated.

Last Impression, First Influence

Embrace the ‘last-in-first-out’ (LIFO) inventory concept to recontextualize the peak-end rule concerning guest perceptions of your property – their closing experience invariably becomes their opening narrative for all post-departure interactions. This includes guest feedback surveys, online reviews, word of mouth to friends, willingness to sign up for loyalty newsletters and likelihood to return.

Drill down to the minutia. For instance, is the last point of contact a guest service agent asking the customer to staple the credit card receipt to the guest folio? That’s transactional and not a positive emotional rapport-builder. In contrast, a beachfront resort in Laguna Beach that we visited enhanced the parting impression with personalized details about routes to the airport and complimentary water bottles, effectively reinforcing the property’s premium status.

This difference is something that any hotel in any category can enact. Ensuring that every guest is escorted to their transportation with a simple ‘thank you for staying’, acknowledges their stature and how much they mean to you, in essence accentuating memorability. To this ‘peak end’ (we joke!), educating your teams in every department about the peak-end rule will help to internalize the value of enhancing the departure experience.

While securing future bookings directly upon departure may seem intrusive, establishing groundwork for return visits is crucial. Departure gifts, carefully tailored, offer tangible mementos of the stay. However, logistics also matter – consider guests’ mode of transportation to ensure the gift’s practicality. A departure gift is an opportunity to etch lasting memories, underscoring the importance of departing as strongly as arriving.

Some examples that have stuck with us long after departure:

  • A shell coaster from the Halekulani on Waikiki Beach, Honolulu
  • An antique key and keychain (which also acted as a door fob) from Crockfords at Resorts World Las Vegas
  • A USB memory stick hiding within a real wine bottle cork from the Meritage Resort and Spa in Napa, California

Above all, use your imagination while sticking within the framework of your hotel’s theme, and you will find the appropriate approach. It will take time, energy and some extra costs, but the consequences of not amplifying your sense of departure in this way are far greater.