By Larry and Adam Mogelonsky
Coming out of the pandemic, guest demands have irreversibly changed. They don’t want cookie-cutter rooms; they want experiences. This harks back to the push over the previous decade to make our properties more ‘locally authentic’. Now, with lean teams and skeleton crews, the only way to effectively meet this demand is through technology.
For the post-pandemic travel landscape, local authenticity means more than just a cursory immersion in the arts, culture and heritage of one’s locale. It also equals peace of mind because, in light of the residual anxiety over COVID-19, guests need to feel as though their specific requests are being handled.
As a simple leisure scenario, picture yourself going on an international vacation with your loved one for the first time since the virus struck. You have all the new airport procedures to contend with. You’ve been wearing a mask for hours on end, which is inherently uncomfortable. And now you’re in a foreign city and country and don’t know what attractions and stores have reopened or what the local safety guidelines are, on top of a myriad of other questions that would require some digging online. Instead, wouldn’t it be great to know that your host hotel has your back the whole way?
In the past, luxury brands have provided this kind of omniscience by deploying an army of staffers, but this model won’t jive in the post-pandemic, hyper-labor-efficient market conditions. Moreover, hotels must be proactive in the pre-arrival stage to ensure incoming guests have everything that they need and to make arrangements on their behalf. This sets the pace for a great onsite experience in lieu of the outdated ‘reactive’ process of waiting for guests to reach out to you with their inquiries.
Done right, hotels can utilize integrated platforms and build a versatile CRM to connect the entire guest journey that also offers a clear counterargument to the largely self-serve nature of home-sharing accommodation providers such as Airbnb. Here are five ideas to help you incorporate this newfangled, full-service model.
1. Home-sharing platforms offer a direct, two-way messaging service with the accommodation host, and hotels must do the same. Brands should be using a chatbot to immediately respond to the simpler questions –which represent the majority of inquiries – then bouncing the more complex ones onto your front desk or concierge. Ditto for the voice channel where booking engines are available 24/7 and so too must your intake team be ready at all hours in order to win the business.
2. Speaking of booking engines, these should no longer be only for rooms, particularly if we want to continue to push guests towards our websites from the OTAs. Customers should be able to plan their entire trip itinerary from these portals, starting with dining reservations and spa appointments through to arrival amenities and perhaps a few ‘surprise and delight’ freebies such as their preferred, complimentary welcome refreshment or departure gift. With so much confusion about what’s open and what’s not, being an ambassador means guiding guests through this uncertainty as early in the customer journey as possible.
3. Physically getting to an accommodation booked through a home-sharing platform is mostly a laissez-faire ordeal. So, why can’t hotels offer bespoke, point-to-point guidance on transportation to and from the rail station or airport, as well as recommendations on how to get to the city or region? As a guest’s perception of your arrival experience can depend on the agony of how one arrives at the hotel, why leave this to chance? Besides better integrations to flight trackers so that you know exactly when your guests are expected to arrive, such innovations as autonomous vehicles are just around the corner, which could drastically bring down the costs of shuttle services. Grandiose for now, perhaps a present-day possibility would be a flight tracker integration so that you know when guests are expected to arrive and can be ready with a warm welcome.
4. The future of travel will be more purpose-driven. Namely, with so many anxiety-riddled barriers following COVID-19, guests will want to maximize their time while aboard. Planning a guest’s itinerary or making local recommendations has traditionally fallen under the purview of the concierge, but the time is right for building a ‘pick your own adventure’ program of bundled, turnkey half-day and full-day activities. This will require deeper integrations with third-party operators as well as a rethink of what onsite or offsite services are most meaningful for guests based upon their given travel purpose. For instance, a late-afternoon, post-meeting relaxation package with a whiskey tasting, revitalizing nosh and back massage will have vastly different appeal from a daylong sightseeing tour that includes timed entrances to exclusive local events.
5. The post-stay relationship is where home-sharing hosts are weakest. The platform does the brunt of this, focusing more on exploring new destinations rather than return visits. For hotels, traditionally the last interaction between guest and staff was often a checkout at the front desk where the final bill was confirmed, representing an emotionless, transactional touchpoint. Now with contactless checkout, hotels can transform this into a meaningful ‘thank you’ gesture followed by a series of one-to-one messages based upon what a guest utilized while onsite. With a fully integrated CRM, this messaging can be sentient insofar as knowing when to push for additional sales and when to simply keep past guests up to date on the latest happenings.
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Editor’s note: To discuss business challenges or speaking engagements please contact Larry or Adam directly.