3 More Sleeps! How to Upgrade the Pre-Arrival Experience

Customer service is the name of the game in the hotel industry, but it starts well before the guest checks in. The days leading up to check-in are an exciting time for your guests. Anticipation builds as travelers start dreaming about and researching destinations, choose a place to stay, then count down the days until they get there.

A recent study from Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration found that savoring an upcoming experience heightens the enjoyment of the actual experience when it happens and when it’s remembered.

In the quest to deliver a high level of customer service to guests on site, the pre-arrival experience is often overlooked, but it’s an important part of the guest journey. The pre-arrival stage offers lodging operators a prime opportunity for increasing guest engagement, personalizing the guest experience, boosting ancillary revenue and improving guest satisfaction.

Upgrading the pre-arrival experience isn’t hard to do and is well worth the effort!

Start with Your Website

Inspire prospective guests in the dreaming stage of their journey with an engaging website design that reflects your property in its best light. Promote not only your property’s features, amenities, location and what makes it special, but also your local destination from an insider’s perspective. Portraying your property as an experience, rather than just a place to stay, will appeal to your customers’ sense of discovery and fuel their excitement.

Simple design, big, beautiful images, intuitive navigation, mobile friendliness and easy online bookings are some key elements of a hotel website that converts lookers into bookers.

Social Media

Social media networks like Facebook and Instagram are ideal platforms for inspiring travel plans and building excitement. Approximately 30% of U.S. travelers turn to social media to find travel inspiration. Once a trip is booked, consumers turn to social media to feed their excitement, with 52% liking pages related to their vacation and 59% posting a status update about their upcoming trip.

Sharing positive user-generated content and posts about special experiences at your property and local destination will help build anticipation and encourage pre-arrival engagement, whether in the form of a like, a follow, a comment, or contacting your property directly to find out more.

Pre-arrival Communications

Once the booking is made, direct communications by email (mobile-friendly) and mobile messaging are the best way to build guest excitement, promote upgrades and upsells, and gather valuable guest data for personalizing the guest experience. Pre-arrival emails have an average open rate of 57% according to Revinate. There’s an audience you don’t want to miss!

Many properties send a booking confirmation email and then stop there. But the time between booking and check-in is ripe with opportunities for boosting engagement and revenue. We recommend reaching out to future guests three or four times before they arrive.

>> Booking Confirmation – Your booking confirmation email should thank the guest for their booking and contain details of the guest’s reservation as well as helpful information about your property and amenities too. Your property management system (PMS) should recognize repeat guests and trigger booking confirmation that acknowledges their loyalty.

Invite guests to let you know in advance of any special requirements, and offer ways to enhance their stay through upgrades and add-on services.

>> Pre-arrival / Upgrade Offers – About one week before arrival, reach out again to take advantage of the guest’s growing anticipation. Remind them of the details of their stay, invite them to ask questions and make requests, and offer ways to upgrade their experience—through room upgrades, add-ons, restaurant bookings, early check-in, etc. as appropriate.

Help build excitement by letting future guests know about relevant events happening around town while they are visiting, what the weather is like, what to bring, and that you are looking forward to seeing them!

If you are comfortable with it, consider sending another similar (yet briefer) message approximately three days prior to check-in to give guests another opportunity to ask any questions they may have or let you know of any special requests.

A pre-arrival questionnaire provides an easy way for guests to convey their needs and preferences, and can cover questions like, “Are you traveling with kids?” “Do you have any special dietary requirements?” “Are you interested in activity bookings?” “Do you need a ride from the airport?” etc. that will help you personalize their stay.

>> Check-in Day – On check-in day, reach out again to let your guest know you are looking forward to their arrival and to offer any helpful check-in information, like self-check-in options, where to park and when their room is ready.

Some guest engagement platforms like Guestfolio and Zenya enable hotels to send pre-arrival messages that link guests to pre-arrival surveys and/or a personal mobile concierge, allowing guests to personalize their upcoming stay. But even without such technology, your pre-arrival communications should always invite future guests to let you know how you can make their stay perfect.

Any guest information garnered from pre-arrival communications should be added to the guest’s profile and used to personalize their experience going forward.

PMS + CRM & Mobile Messaging Integration

Through customizable templates, personalized pre-arrival communications can be automated through your PMS, CRM or mobile messaging platform, greatly reducing the burden on staff (we’ve yet to meet a lodging operator with the time to personally write to each and every guest!).

But the real magic happens when you integrate your PMS with a CRM or mobile messaging solution. Direct integration allows your PMS to send live reservation data to your CRM or messaging platform, eliminating the need for staff to input that information manually, and resulting in fully automated, highly targeted communications that boost your brand and guest engagement.

Upgrading the pre-arrival experience is something you can achieve today, so don’t hesitate to get your guests excited about their stay and reap the benefits of higher guest engagement, richer guest data, more incremental revenue and more satisfied guests!

Hospitality Technology Trends to Implement in 2017

Here we are — 2017 — the whole year ahead of us! Ready to make it a good one? Perhaps you have already made some New Year’s resolutions, some of which might revolve around increasing the success of your business. For hoteliers and other lodging operators, technology is making operations more efficient and successful with every passing year. Here are the hospitality technology trends we feel are most important to put into action in the year ahead.

System Integration (and Data Consolidation)

Integrating core systems further automates processes and is key to maximizing efficiency and consolidating data.

At the heart of operations, your property management system (PMS) can be connected to other core systems such as CRM, online distribution channels, revenue management software, point-of-sale systems, payment processing software, and phone and entertainment systems, to greatly speed up tasks such as managing distribution, guest check-in and check-out, managing reservation folios, building rich guest profiles and sending targeted guest communications.

When core systems share relevant data automatically, the need to manually duplicate data across systems is eliminated, significantly cutting administrative workload and improving data accuracy and timeliness.

What’s more, integrating your PMS with other hotel systems helps bring the right data together at the right time, making information more accessible and actionable.

For example, integrating the PMS with guest engagement tools such as CRM software, guest marketing platforms, loyalty programs and mobile apps empowers lodging operators with enhanced guest insight to personalize the guest experience. When these systems talk to each other, rich guest profiles are automatically created, using data collated across systems that goes beyond simple stay history to include guest requests, preferences, travel motivations, receptiveness to promotions, feedback, etc. Armed with this kind of intelligence, lodging operators have to power to personalize service and target communications much more seamlessly and effectively.

Among other advantages, system integration is a significant motivation behind the shift from on-premise to cloud software in the hospitality industry. Built on common Web standards and open APIs, cloud software is designed with cross-application communication in mind, making integrating your core hotel systems easier and cheaper than it’s ever been.

Mobile PMS

The ability to access data on-the-go via a mobile device is another driving force behind the move to cloud hospitality software.

A mobile PMS can have a significant impact on the guest experience; with guest and reservation data at their fingertips via a tablet or smartphone, hotel staff are freed from the physical constraints of the front desk to provide more prompt and personalized service to guests wherever they may be — in the lobby, the hallway, by the pool or in the dining room.

Increasingly in demand, paperless check-in with electronic signature capture allows guests to sign registration cards or check-in receipts on a tablet or smartphone screen. Paperless check-in means arriving guests don’t have to queue at the front desk; they can instead be greeted in a more welcoming way in the lobby or lounge. And the savings in paper not only helps a hotel’s bottom line, but the planet too.

Another much-appreciated feature of a mobile PMS is mobile access to housekeeping reports. This simple feature greatly improves productivity by allowing housekeeping staff to update room housekeeping status directly to the housekeeping report via their mobile device in real time as they work.

Direct Bookings

While OTAs dominate the online hotel booking scene, hoteliers are becoming more focused on the quest to increase direct bookings. There are a variety of tools available to help lodging operators improve direct conversions and, as the year unfolds, we imagine more and more properties will be engaging them.

First, there are the aforementioned guest engagement and CRM tools such as Guestfolio, Constant Contact, Revinate and Twilio. Such platforms help properties collect and make sense of comprehensive guest data to deliver highly targeted guest communications that help turn customers into loyal direct bookers.

Revenue management software (RMS) is becoming more critical as pricing rooms becomes even more complicated. Finding the right price hinges on numerous factors; in addition to seasonal fluctuations, market demand and room type features, rates are increasingly based on more fluid variables such as channel, weather, events, competitors and even guest data and loyalty. Dynamic and personalized pricing is becoming a powerful strategy in winning direct business and more and more lodging operators will recognize the enormous value in automating this process to ensure they remain competitive in an increasingly competitive market.

Properties that are slow to adopt a mobile-friendly direct booking engine will find it hard to keep ignoring this must-have feature in the year ahead. The way we shop has forever changed as consumers look to the Internet to research and buy whatever and whenever they want. We make decisions based on a series of spontaneous yet intent-rich micro-moments, enabled by mobile devices. Therefore, providing a consistent and seamless user experience across devices (desktop and mobile) is a must for all businesses wanting to attract, convert and retain customers.

Going back to our first point, integrating certain key systems goes a long way in boosting direct bookings; your PMS, RMS and CRM make a powerful team.

Mobile Messaging

Last year we heard about the success big brands were having with mobile messaging to communicate with customers, and this year we think more and more independent properties will follow suit.

From simple SMS text messaging to social media apps like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, mobile messaging is fast becoming the preferred quick communication method of our time. Hotels are finding that mobile messaging, when managed correctly, enhances customer service and boosts customer satisfaction and loyalty.

With a focus on service rather than marketing, mobile messaging can be used to confirm reservations, welcome guests to the property and let them know their room is ready, support concierge services, promote relevant ancillary services, receive special requests and to thank guests after check-out.

A variety of messaging platforms are available to hotels, from the aforementioned SMS text messaging and social media apps (WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger etc.) to dedicated hotel mobile applications such as Twilio, Alice and Checkmate.

In-Room Technology

While we don’t think independent properties need to go as far as trialing voice-controlled guestrooms (as Starwood’s Aloft brand is doing) just yet, it is important to ensure your guestrooms are equipped with current technology your guests expect.

Cable TV just doesn’t cut it anymore; today’s guests are looking to stream their favourite shows to (high-definition flat-screen) TVs from streaming services such as Netflix via smart TV technology or casting devices. But in order to pull this off successfully, properties must equip guestrooms with reliable high-speed Internet access. These days most hotels already offer in-room Wi-Fi, so the focus now is on making it as fast as the guest’s connection at home.

Keeping your property’s technology current is key to remaining competitive. If your property’s systems are hindering rather than helping guest service, productivity or revenue, make this the year to upgrade.

Cultivate Loyalty with Targeted Guest Communications

It’s getting very competitive out there in the world of hospitality, and the expectations of today’s technology-savvy travelers are only getting higher.

To stand out, hoteliers are directing more energy toward refining their brand, and travelers are responding to that. Guests are looking for properties with personality and expect more personalized service; they’re looking for a relationship with brands they enjoy — if you can give your guests that, they’ll keep coming back.

Targeted communications are key to cultivating personal, lasting hotel-guest relationships and it’s getting easier and easier thanks to modern CRM (Customer Relationship Management) or GRM (Guest Relationship Management) solutions like Guestfolio. Customized, well-timed messages, designed to match your unique branding, increase guest engagement and create opportunities for upselling, recapturing cancellations and getting to know your guests better.

Keep In Touch Throughout the Guest Lifecycle

Using (and building) rich guest data, CRM systems deliver automated yet highly targeted communications to guests during the entire guest lifecycle, improving the guest experience every step of the way through personalized service.

Messages can be automatically customized and triggered based on data contained in reservations and guest profiles, like check-in and check-out dates, rate codes, stay and spend history, preferences, etc. This translates to personalized, reservation-specific communications that maximize value for the guest and reaffirm customer loyalty.

We’re not just talking about a lone confirmation email; a series of communications should be delivered throughout the guest lifecycle to successfully grow hotel-guest relationships.

Pre-stay > Most properties deliver reservation confirmation emails to guests soon after bookings are made, but other pre-arrival messages can help get guests really excited about staying with you and provide a great opportunity for upselling and gathering guest information too.

A few days before arrival, you can reach out to guests to offer room upgrades, early check-in and relevant special offers, or to ask if they have any special requests or preferences. You could simply highlight property amenities or local insider information that could enhance that particular guest’s stay. Couples might like to be reminded of your spa services and specials, while those traveling with kids may appreciate information about babysitting services, kids’ programs or nearby family attractions.

Some properties include a link in pre-arrival emails to the guest’s personalized mobile concierge app featuring content tailored specifically to their reservation, like local attractions and maps, appropriate room upgrade options, on-site amenities and extras, special requests, and a personal itinerary. Guestfolio notes that, on average, guests visit their mobile concierge six times before check-in.

During the stay > As you know, earning loyal guests takes more than getting them in the door. Long-lasting relationships require effort. Shortly after check-in, welcome messages — via email, SMS or mobile concierge apps — can be sent to guests, inviting them to enjoy particular services or offers that are relevant to their profile, and encouraging them to request anything they might need. Imagine a wine lover’s delight at receiving a special invitation to your wine tasting event, or a repeat guest’s appreciation upon receiving an e-voucher for their favourite drink at the bar.

Mobile concierges are a great way to keep communication open between your property and guests while they are in-house, allowing guests to access the information they want whenever they want.

Post-stay > Staying in touch with guests after they leave is also important for nurturing a lasting hotel-guest relationship. Although out of sight, you don’t want your property to be out of mind.

Common post-stay communications sent shortly after a guest checks out include thank-you messages and requests for feedback on review sites or via post-stay surveys. Targeted return offers based on guest data can be triggered a few weeks before the guest’s booking anniversary or wedding anniversary, for example.

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These days, with approximately half of all emails opened on mobile devices, all digital communications sent to your guests should be mobile optimized. And remember to invite guests to follow your property on social media by including social media buttons in communications too.

All message interactions (clicks) are tracked by the CRM to measure the success of your communications and to collect guest profile data that enables you to personalize service and improve the guest experience.

CRM + PMS Integration

Integrating your PMS with your CRM automates the process further to save lodging operators even more time. Such an integration allows the PMS to automatically send live reservation data to the CRM, which uses the information to help build detailed guest profiles, select the appropriate templates and content, and trigger message delivery. In other words, PMS integration with CRM technology streamlines the process of delivering the right message to the right people at the right time.

We’d love to take this opportunity to congratulate our partner Guestfolio on their recent win at the World Travel Awards in December. Crowned the World’s Leading Hotel CRM Technology Provider 2014, Guestfolio works with properties in over 400 cities worldwide, empowering hoteliers to better engage with guests via targeted digital communications throughout the guest lifecycle to build long-lasting relationships.

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