Peak Season Prep: An Independent Hotelier’s Checklist

As we head into summer in the Northern Hemisphere, many properties around the world are gearing up for peak season. Preparing for a wave of summer vacationers (or winter adventurers in the Southern Hemisphere) can both excite and intimidate lodging providers. On one hand, occupancy and revenue are up (yay!), on the other, the pressure is on to maintain top service levels with less time and more stress (eek!).

High season is a crucial time to make a good impression on guests; welcoming a sea of new and repeat customers provides an ideal opportunity to earn a big bunch of loyal fans. It’s important for everything to go smoothly during a property’s busiest time, especially when the competition is also heating up.

For everything to go as planned, there needs to be a plan! Here are our suggestions for preparing for your peak season…

  • Spruce Up Your Property

Evaluate your property through the critical eyes of a guest; take a good look at the guestrooms, lobby, dining area and outdoor space and fix or replace anything showing obvious signs of wear and tear. Do room curtains need washing or mending? Do bathtubs or showers need re-grouting? Are all the coffee pots and TV remotes working? Is the patio furniture in good shape? Are exterior walls in need of a splash of fresh paint? Even minor improvements, such as hanging flower baskets, can make a world of difference.

  • Review Data for Optimal Pricing & Distribution

Review last year’s occupancy and revenue data to help you price your rooms and packages right and to optimize availability across distribution channels. It’s also important to take nearby competition into consideration, as well as other factors that impact pricing and availability (like major annual events), to ensure your property is priced competitively.

You might like to consider restrictions like minimum and maximum length of stay and closed to arrival too. If managed correctly, these strategies can be effective for increasing RevPAR during high demand periods. For tips on when and how to use length-of-stay strategies, check out this eCornell Blog post.

To optimize distribution, review which channels most of your bookings came from during last year’s peak season. Have you added any new channels since then? Use your data to help work out your optimal distribution strategy across channels. For example, if direct bookings soar for summer stays, consider reducing OTA inventory as appropriate and save on those commission fees!

Automated revenue management systems (RMS) are designed to simplify the complex task of yield management — and integrating your RMS with your PMS saves even more time.

  • Streamline Online Reservations

Dealing with reservations from multiple channels manually might suffice during quiet times, but it’s a risky practice during busy months. Without automated and centralized reservation management, properties are especially prone to accidental overbooking and data entry errors, resulting in lost room nights and unhappy customers.

To avoid this, and to reduce your administrative load, automate online reservation management by integrating your online channels (OTA and GDS channels, as well as your website’s own booking engine) with your property management system (PMS). Connecting your PMS to your online booking channels allows the PMS to send live rates and availability to online booking channels and to capture bookings coming from those channels automatically.

Your direct online booking engine (the one on your property’s own website) should also be user friendly, allow the sale of packages and special rates, be mobile optimized, and commission free.

Automating online booking management is key for busy properties, especially during periods of high occupancy.

  • Strengthen Customer Relationships

In addition to reviewing occupancy and revenue data, it’s also important to review guest profile data in your PMS or customer relationship management system (CRM) to get a picture of who your guests are. Guest data can provide such insights as where guests are coming from (are they weekend nearcationers or international vacationers?), how far in advance they book, what types of travellers they are (families, Baby Boomers, corporate eventers…), and their preferred ancillary services.

Once you know who your guests are, you can strengthen customer relationships through tailoring services and content marketing more effectively.

Creating seasonal packages and offers based on the interests and stay history of guests is a great way to add value and helps you stand out from your competitors.

Use your data to create segmented email lists for targeted email marketing campaigns too. CRM and guest communication systems like Guestfolio and Constant Contact make managing segmented email campaigns easy, and can be integrated with your PMS.

  • Gear Your Website for Summer

Fresh, relevant content is key for search engine optimization (SEO) and customer engagement, so shake the dust off your website to reflect your property’s summer vibe. Swap any cozy winter images for photos of your property’s best summer features (like the sparkling pool) and make sure all content is up to date, including rate and package information. Descriptions, images, videos, event calendars, local information and blog posts should all promote the seasonal appeal of your property and location.

  • Integrate Social Media in Your Summer Marketing Plan

Travelers use and are influenced by social media at an astounding rate, so any independent hotelier’s marketing strategy should incorporate social media.

Once website content is freshened up, share it on your social networks to help expand visibility and engage with prospective guests. Create social media posts about your property and location, and link back to relevant content on your website whenever appropriate — to the local events listing page, attractions and activities, special packages, blog posts, etc.

Peak season is a great time to ramp up your blogging efforts. Although time is short during the summer rush, it pays to produce regular blog posts when your online audience is larger. Blog content is personal, engaging, and provides good fuel for social media posts too.

To encourage online engagement and user-generated content, make sure guests are aware of your social media presence. Include social media buttons on your website and in guest email communications, and add your social media handles to printed materials like front desk signage and in-room welcome packages.

If you need some guidance on your social media strategy, check out our recent blog post on the subject.

  • Review Your Review-Management Process

The peak season is a prime opportunity to boost review volume with more guests to ask for feedback and more eyes on your reviews. Don’t forget to respond appropriately to any negative comments that slip through and act on feedback. Read our blog post about managing online reviews for tips on how to gather, monitor and respond to reviews.

  • Prepare Your Team

Smooth operation hinges on hotel staff. When preparing your team for periods of high occupancy, open communication is key. Regularly communicating goals and KPIs with your whole team, and discussing how every staff member plays a role in the property’ success provides clear direction and breeds a sense of ownership.

When occupancy levels are high, tricky situations are bound to arise, such as the inability to facilitate requested room changes and delays in tending to housekeeping requests. Reviewing policies and procedures and even role playing difficult situations can help boost staff confidence in dealing with various requests and complaints. Encourage staff members to bring up concerns during regular staff meetings or privately so that any issues can be nipped in the bud fast.

It’s also important for all staff members to have the tools they need to perform their jobs effectively, from vacuum cleaners to property management systems. Modern PMS improve efficiency and inter-department communication through integration and automation.

Last but not least, motivate yourself and your staff for the hard work ahead! Pizza nights, time off, and positive feedback are some ways you can show appreciation.

We’ve blogged before about how to keep hotel staff happy and motivated — it might be a good read now in preparation for the busy season.

The peak season is a hectic and stressful time for the whole team, but it’s so important for operations to run smoothly. A little preparation can earn a lot of loyal guests — and pave the way to a more enjoyable summer for you and your customers alike.

The Power of Post-Stay Emails: Top Tips for Independent Hoteliers

Nowadays, most lodging operators send confirmation emails to customers upon booking. Many properties also capitalize on their customers’ growing anticipation of their stay by sending pre-arrival emails… But how about after the guest checks out? As a lodging operator, are you sending post-stay emails to your guests?

Many of our WebRezPro customers have found that sending post-stay emails generates engagement with previous guests, whether it’s a quick reply directly to the hotel, a review, or a new Facebook fan.

Post-stay emails are an effective tool for keeping your hotel top of your guest’s mind; properties that aren’t sending post-stay emails are missing out on a great opportunity for turning customers into repeat guests and brand ambassadors.

It’s not hard to do, especially with a property management system that offers automated guest email functionality. Here are our tips for a successful post-stay email campaign.

Get Their Email Address!

You’re thinking, thank you, Captain Obvious, aren’t you? But this is just a wee reminder that if for some reason you didn’t get the guest’s email address at the time of booking — perhaps they booked through an OTA — don’t hesitate to politely ask them for it upon check-out. Telling them you would like to email them a coupon code for a discount on their next stay, or for a friend, is an offer most guests can’t refuse.

The Thank-You / Feedback-Request Email

Send a timely thank-you email to your guest, ideally within three days of the guest’s departure, saying that you enjoyed having them stay and that you hope they had a great time. Inject some personality into the message so that it doesn’t sound canned.

In the same email, mention that you would love to hear their feedback on their stay experience and invite them to write an online review. Make it easy and quick for them to do so by including a direct link to your TripAdvisor review page, for example.

In case a guest did not have a good experience, ask them to contact you directly with any negative feedback so that you can attend to it immediately, and provide a specific (eg. manager@yourhotel.com) rather than generic (eg. info@yourhotel.com) email address, if possible.

Some properties use an automated post-stay survey tool like that from Revinate, which makes collecting feedback a breeze. Revinate offers some great tips on writing post-stay surveys.

You can also encourage guests to share their photos on social media, and let them know your social media handles or any hashtags for tagging. Or simply invite them to follow you on social media for opportunities to access special offers.

If you have a loyalty program, invite customers to join by including a link to your loyalty program information page.

Maintaining the Relationship

A successful post-stay email campaign doesn’t end after the thank-you / feedback-request email. As time goes on, targeted post-stay marketing emails are key to reminding your guests of the great experience they had at your property. However, there are some very important tips to consider if you don’t want your customers to hit “unsubscribe.”

Offer real value. Keep customers engaged by offering something of value, be it a discount for a future stay, informing them of current or upcoming promotions or events that may be of interest, sharing a recipe from your restaurant, or reminding them of their experience with a webcam shot of the fresh powder on the slopes outside your door.

Target your offers. Targeting the right offers to the right customers is key to offering real value. The information that you collect about a guest in order to personalize their experience — from the moment they make a booking and throughout their stay — should also be used to target your email campaigns. Even simple segmentation, like targeting corporate offers to business travellers, romantic packages to couples, and kids’ activities to families, results in more effective campaigns. A property management system like WebRezPro also offers the ability to set up customized email templates tied to certain rates and room types.

The data in your property management system is the foundation of personalized service and targeted communications, and can be integrated with your CRM or email marketing system to automate highly targeted email campaigns.

Time it right. There are no set rules when it comes to timing future post-stay emails; it may take some time to figure out what works best for your property. While you don’t want to annoy customers (and lose subscribers) by emailing too often, you don’t want them to forget about you either.

As a start, one or two months after check-out, you could send guests a discount code for a future stay. You could even promote different seasonal experiences by highlighting your location’s best winter attributes and packages to guests who stayed in summer, and vice versa.

Six months post-stay, you might want to check in with them again, to make sure your property remains top of mind as they plan future getaways. Remind them of their previous stay (and offer value) with a cocktail recipe from your bar, or a photo of a stunning sunset from your ocean-view pool deck. Offer that discount code again or let them know of any relevant special deals. Tell them you’d love to see them again.

A few weeks before the guest’s booking anniversary, trigger another email reminding them of their last stay and inviting them back with a special discount or free upgrade.

General Tips

Personalize. As mentioned above (and mentioned here again because it’s very important), inject your brand’s personality into your emails. If you want to engage your customers, make the message personal and friendly; canned or generic emails are a big turn off.

Address the guest by name, rather than “Dear Guest.” This process can be automated through your property management system by using template keywords. Sign off from an actual staff member.

Optimize for mobile. With more than half of all emails opened on mobile devices, it’s now more important than ever before to make sure all of your email communications are mobile friendly. Constant Contact offers some good tips for creating mobile-friendly emails, like keeping it simple, using easy-to-read text, and limiting images. If you use an email marketing service like Guestfolio or Constant Contact, you’re in great hands.

Social media buttons. Social media buttons that link directly to your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram pages make it easy for your customers to connect with and follow your property on social channels. They should be included in every email template.

“Unsubscribe” option. Always include an “unsubscribe” link in all emails. This is required by spam law.

Automate. It’s just not possible for busy hoteliers to take the time to personally write to each and every guest. That’s why property management systems like WebRezPro offer customizable email templates and automated delivery.  While standard template wording is included, we recommend you take the time to word your own emails to reflect the personality of your brand, as mentioned above.

Property management systems can also be integrated with CRM and email marketing programs that take your email campaigns to the next level through automation of email list management, targeting based on guest data, and scheduling, as well as professionally designed and fully customizable templates, and results tracking.

To sum it all up, post-stay emails are a powerful customer retention tool — as long as they are relevant to the customer. To be relevant, they should be targeted to your guest and offer something of value. Remind your guests why they love your property and they’ll come back for more.

Pre-Arrival Email Tips for Independent Hotels

Many independent properties email booking confirmations to customers that book direct, but are they taking full advantage of this crucial point of contact? For a soon-to-be guest, the pre-arrival stage is one filled with anticipation and a desire to make sure their upcoming stay meets their expectations, so confirmation and pre-stay emails typically have high open rates. This means that pre-arrival emails offer great potential for building a relationship with the customer and driving incremental revenue before the guest even sets foot through the door.

If you’re a lodging operator and want to make the most of your pre-arrival email campaign, consider the following tips.

Confirmation Email

Reservation confirmation emails are important for a number of reasons, perhaps the most important of which is to reassure the customer that the reservation was successful. I recently made a telephone booking with a small hotel in a tiny town. Because of my accent I had to repeat myself a few times and wondered if my details were recorded correctly. The hotel manages reservations manually on paper and did not email me a reservation confirmation, so I was a little nervous that I would arrive at the property and find myself without a room. To my relief, my reservation was intact upon check-in (although, my name was wrong) and I had a great stay, but a simple confirmation email would have alleviated that niggling worry leading up to my trip.

Confirmation emails are also a great opportunity to:

>> Thank the customer for choosing to stay at your property. This shows that you value and appreciate their business.

>> Find out more about the customer. Finding out more about customer preferences or special requests before arrival will help you to personalize their stay. While you don’t want to bombard them with questions, simply inviting them to contact your property directly with any questions or requests is often all the encouragement a future guest needs to get in touch. If your property makes use of pre-stay surveys or a mobile concierge like that provided by Guestfolio CRM, you can invite customers to start personalizing their stay by linking to these platforms directly from the confirmation email.

Pre-Arrival Email

The stage between booking and arrival is one of the best times to reach out to your customers, catching them when they are excited about their trip and particularly receptive to opportunities for enhancing it. Pre-arrival emails are typically most effective a week or two before a leisure guest’s arrival, while corporate guests tend to appreciate pre-arrival information and options closer to their check-in date. Determine the right timing for your property and guests.

>> Remind guests about their upcoming stay (not that they’re likely to have forgotten!) by letting them know that you are looking forward to welcoming them to your property. You can include helpful details about their stay, such as dates, check-in time, room type and directions.

>> Upsell. Including relevant upsell options in your pre-arrival email is a great way to enhance the customer’s stay and boost incremental revenue. In addition to room upgrades, you can upsell amenities like spa services, in-room extras and transportation (consider offering discounts for services booked before arrival), or offer to make restaurant reservations. The more targeted the offer, the better. Include a strong call to action that invites customers to contact the hotel directly to make their request, or links to a portal on your website or digital concierge for adding extras to their stay.

>> Be helpful. Inform guests about onsite amenities they might find useful, and local events and attractions. Again, the more targeted, the better; business travelers would likely appreciate knowing that you have a small meeting room available by the hour, while those traveling with kids would no doubt like to know about family-friendly local attractions. Link back to specific information on your website, like the business amenities page, or your blog post about local family attractions. Take the opportunity to again invite the customer to get in touch with any questions or special requests they may have.

Optimize for Mobile

Now more than half of all emails opened are opened on mobile. Most of us have experienced the annoyance of trying to read non-mobile-friendly emails or websites on a smartphone — we wouldn’t want to do that to our customers, right? Design email templates for the small screens of mobile devices and the variety of email clients your guests are likely using; in other words, keep it simple. Images are great for branding, but if your templates aren’t responsive, it’s best to keep images to a minimum — perhaps just your logo. Email marketing services like Guestfolio and Constant Contact provide beautiful, customizable mobile-friendly email designs that take email communications to the next level.

Automate

Automate your email campaigns to save time and ensure that no guest is missed. A property management system (PMS) like WebRezPro allows you to create various email templates and set them to send automatically, depending on arrival date and other parameters like room and rate codes. Setting parameters like room codes allows you to target relevant offers such as room upgrades to the right guests and to tailor communications to different customer segments like group reservations and corporate customers.

If you are working with an email marketing service like Guestfolio or Constant Contact, integration between your PMS and email marketing program makes professionally designed email campaigns that are automatically timed, targeted and tracked even more effortless.

Personalize

The main purpose of a pre-arrival email campaign is to start building a relationship with the customer, which is bound to be more successful if you use their name. It’s the first step to personalizing the guest experience. Automated email programs will allow you to personalize emails by inserting keywords into template text that are replaced with information from the guest’s reservation, for example, the guest name, stay dates, room type and so on. Be sure to also make it clear who the email is from, preferably signing off as an actual person — and use a relevant, official reply-to email address.

Targeting email content and offers to customer segments by setting parameters or conditions based on reservation data (as mentioned above) takes personalization to the next level.

Include Social Media Buttons

It’s a good idea to include social media buttons that link back to your social pages on all email communications with customers. This gives customers an easy way to connect with your property on social channels, opening up more opportunities for you to build a loyal relationship.

Aim to take full advantage of your pre-arrival email campaign to get a head start on engaging your customers. And don’t forget: customer responses to pre-arrival emails — from questions about your property to upgrade requests — should be recorded in guest profiles and used to personalize the guest experience and future offers.