7 Simple Ways Independent Hotels Can Personalize the Guest Experience

Personalization is a hot topic in hospitality and it’s important the industry keeps talking about it. The quest to personalize the guest experience not only inspires better customer service, but better hotel technology too; the kind of technology that improves guest satisfaction, operational efficiency and a property’s bottom line. 

As technology empowers travel businesses to target their customers more effectively, travelers have come to expect more personalized service. As always, hotels must strive to meet and exceed guest expectations and, in today’s increasingly competitive landscape, that means personalizing every guest’s stay in order to stand out and build guest loyalty.

Unfortunately, operators of small, independent lodgings can feel left out of the conversation, thinking that personalizing the guest experience is a trend that requires complicated, expensive systems and loyalty programs that the budget won’t accommodate.

But personalization is no longer a trend—it’s an expectation. And it isn’t complicated or expensive to put into practice. In fact, small, independent lodgings are perfectly positioned to personalize the guest experience. Here are seven simple ways to do it.

1. Build Guest Profiles

A truly customized guest experience starts with guest data. If your property uses an automated property management system (PMS)—and most independent properties do these days—all the data you need should already be at your fingertips.

Your PMS should allow you to collect and store guest information, automatically recording stay history and contact details in guest profiles so that you can identify repeat guests and treat them extra special. You should also be able to save additional information to guest profiles, such as birthdays, anniversaries, preferences and interests. Staff learn a lot about guests during interactions throughout the stay cycle and this valuable data should be recorded and used to personalize the guest experience by anticipating needs and surprising and delighting.

2. Send Pre- and Post-Stay Emails

Email is still one of the most effective customer engagement tools, with hotel pre-arrival emails boasting an average open rate of over 50 percent. Modern PMS and CRM systems for independent properties make sending personalized pre- and post-stay emails effortless. By setting up email templates that pull reservation information, personalized emails can be automatically triggered by stay or booking dates and other parameters like room and rate codes.

Pre-arrival emails provide the perfect opportunity to start tailoring the guest experience through pre-stay surveys designed to find out more about guest needs and preferences (for example, dietary and  transportation requirements, reason for travel, etc.). You can also offer ways to enhance the guest’s stay through room upgrades and added extras, giving your guest the opportunity to customize their experience, while your property benefits from the opportunity to boost ancillary revenue. Even a simple invitation for the guest to let you know of any special requirements or how you can make their stay exceptional makes customers feel valued.

After a guest’s stay, post-stay emails can help grow loyalty and provide properties with valuable feedback that can be used to improve and personalize future stays. Send an email to every guest thanking them for their visit and asking for feedback on their stay experience.

Whenever a guest communicates special requests or feedback, be sure to record any relevant notes in their profile.

Down the track, simple, personalized marketing communications can be triggered automatically (by booking or check-in dates) inviting the guest back. Tell them you miss them, ask if they miss you, invite them back with a discount code.

3. Tailor Packages and Add-ons

Packages and ancillary services that are relevant to your guests add value to their stay and enhance their experience. So design packages and offer special extras that appeal to your property’s guest segments. Consider partnering with local businesses like activity providers to offer your guests memorable experiences.

Think about your guests, the amenities they enjoy and their reasons for visiting. For example, families traveling with young children appreciate options like babysitting, activity bookings and playpens, while couples are partial to romantic touches like chocolate-covered strawberries and wine.

Your PMS should provide flexible rate and package management tools that allow you to set up discounts and package add-ons, sell them online, and limit package access to certain customers.

WebRezPro PMS also includes a Booking Options feature, which allows complimentary or paid products and services to be added to reservations at the time of booking (online or through the front desk). Booking options are a convenient and effective way to allow guests to customize their stay experience, and can also be used to gather more information about a guest’s stay, for example, expected time of arrival, whether they are bringing a pet, or need a child’s cot.

4. Welcome Guests with Paperless Check-in

With a mobile-accessible cloud PMS, independent properties are equipped to deliver a much more personable welcome than the traditional check-in desk experience.

WebRezPro’s paperless check-in feature allows guests to sign check-in receipts electronically on a tablet or smartphone. Imagine greeting your guest at the door, helping them with their bags, inviting them to take a seat, offering them a refreshing beverage, and then continuing to check them in and showing them to their room. Doesn’t that sound like a much more hospitable welcome than across a front desk?

5. Use Guests’ Names

Using the guest’s name (first or last name as appropriate) is the simplest and one of the most effective ways to personalize the guest experience. It shows your guest they are important to your business and are not just a number.

Whether communicating in person, on the phone or by email/text message, use the guest’s name whenever possible. Mobile-optimized PMS make this easier, allowing staff to access guest folios on the go when they might, for example, bump into a guest in the corridor who stops to make a special request.

6. Leave Handwritten Notes

A handwritten note waiting in the guest’s room upon arrival is a small personal touch that can make a big impression on guests. A simple note welcoming a repeat guest back, or inviting a new guest to let you know if they need anything is a genuine gesture that is always appreciated.

Guest profiles can help staff personalize notes at an even higher level. For example, asking a returning guest to let you know if they’d like you to make reservations at that restaurant they liked last time, or letting them know you left extra pool towels in their bathroom.

If your budget allows, complimentary in-room surprises make guests feel extra special. Consider leaving wine for guests celebrating a special occasion, or a welcome-back treat for repeat guests.

7. Share Insider Tips

Recent research from Amadeus and IHG found 70 percent of travelers would like hotels to offer more advice about unique things to do during their stay. Travelers are looking for local experiences beyond the main attractions in town.

Sharing your local knowledge with your guests not only enhances their stay, but it also provides an opportunity for staff to connect with guests on a personal level as they share their own experiences and recommendations and get to know your guests (recording relevant information about guest interests in the PMS, of course). It’s real human interactions like these that enrich the guest experience.

At the core of hospitality, personalized service makes guests feel valued and inspires loyalty, and should be incorporated into every property’s mission statement. It isn’t complicated or expensive to provide personalized guest service; with a modern PMS for independent hotels and lodgings, accommodation providers are already well-equipped to tailor the guest experience in simple, practical ways. And remember, while technology plays an important role in personalizing the guest experience, the human element is still just as important as ever.

Five Make or Break Moments in the Guest Experience

People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. When working to create an exceptional guest experience, hoteliers would do well to remember Maya Angelou’s wise words. A seamless holiday full of five-star amenities can be overshadowed by one poor interaction with staff. On the other hand, a well dealt-with crisis can earn loyalty for life. It’s all about how your guests are left feeling when they walk away.

You’ll have dozens of interactions with a guest throughout their stay. They’re all important for leaving a good impression, but some are more critical than others. Here are five make or break moments you should be prepared for:

Booking

The booking experience is the first major make or break moment in the customer journey. It sets the tone and expectations for the rest of the stay, so it needs to be a good one. Most reservations today are made online, making a quick and seamless booking process the key to success at this juncture.

The first step is to ensure your online booking engine is user-friendly. It should be integrated directly into your website, with a prominent “book now” button and easy-to-use availability search feature. Upon booking, a confirmation message should be immediately displayed, with a confirmation email automatically sent. Your guests should be left with no doubt that their reservation went through.

Check-in

Check-in is likely the first in-person interaction a guest will have at your property, which makes it an important make or break moment. A warm greeting is, of course, necessary for making the guest feel welcome and appreciated, but they are also looking for a smooth and expedient check-in experience. They’ve likely spent the day traveling and are excited to get settled and start their holiday. Make your check-in process more efficient by equipping staff with the right technology, and more personable by finding friendly and resourceful front-desk staff.

Guest requests

Simple requests made throughout a guest’s stay provide key moments that could make or break their experience. Whether it’s asking for a toothbrush to be brought to their room, a taxi to be called, or a reservation to be made at a local restaurant, a gracious and expedient response will ensure your guests are left with an excellent impression. Establish a system for handling these requests and tracking tasks, so your staff never drops the ball and leaves a guest feeling frustrated and forgotten.

Unexpected issues

No matter how prepared you and your staff are, problems will arise. Miscommunication may lead to double booking, credit card issues will occasionally interrupt a check-in, and other unforeseen crises will pop up. The key to navigating these moments and maintaining an excellent guest experience is to address the problem quickly and compassionately. Have a go-to strategy for dealing with unexpected issues and be sure to express your sincerest apologies for any inconveniences experienced.

Casual interactions

Your staff interacts with guests frequently throughout their stay. Those small, casual interactions can be just as crucial to ensuring guest satisfaction as the higher-stakes moments. The little things count. Make sure your guests are always met with a warm hello and a smile. Creating a convivial atmosphere will leave your guests feeling uplifted and appreciated.

Guest satisfaction is the name of the game in the hospitality industry. Make sure you’re ready for these key moments, so you make (not break) their experience at your property.

Be a Star Online: A 5 Step Guide to Reputation Management

Building a good reputation has always been important for business. Like almost everything else, the internet hasn’t changed that fact; it’s just adjusted how the game is played. Consumers are more empowered to voice their opinion than ever before, and they use it. Depending on how you respond to and manage the online dialogue surrounding your property, the ubiquity of reviews can be a powerful asset or an overwhelming obstacle for your business.  Because the truth is, your online reputation directly affects bookings in a significant way. In fact, a study from Boston University and Microsoft concluded that a 1-star increase online can boost demand by 26%. That’s no small effect. And not at all surprising considering 92% of people use reviews to inform booking decisions when researching hotels.

The things guests are saying about you online matter in a big way. If dealt with correctly, you can not only mitigate the potential damage of reviews but actually make them work for you. Here are five steps for managing your reputation online.

Step 1: Monitor online content

If you want to deal with your online reputation, you need to know what people are saying about you. To this end, you should be regularly monitoring the reviews (and other content) that are being posted across the web. The internet is a big place, so this probably sounds daunting.  But, thankfully, there a number of tech options out there to bear the bulk of that burden. Setting up a simple Google Alert (for free!) can send you updates whenever posts are made, anywhere on the web, using the term of your choosing (your hotel’s name is a good place to start). You can also choose to partner with providers like Hootsuite or Revinate. These solutions automatically monitor multiple platforms, aggregating and organizing review data so you can analyze and act upon it.

Step 2: Respond appropriately

Now that you have your finger on the pulse of your online mentions, the next step is to respond. Obviously, you shouldn’t reply to every single review, but it’s a good idea to offer a few kind words for the occasional positive review (think “we’re so glad you enjoyed your stay!”) and then prioritize the negative ones. And don’t be hostile or defensive. Express your sincere apologies for their unsatisfactory experience and offer an opportunity for further communication to address their concerns. Remain professional, and you have the power to seriously mitigate the fall-out from a bad review. 87%  of users on TripAdvisor indicated that an appropriate response to a negative review improves their opinion of the business.

Step 3: Leverage good reviews

As previously mentioned, the growing trend of guests sharing their opinions online can be a huge benefit to your business. The experiences of customers are much more trusted than traditional advertising material, making glowing reviews marketing gold. So use them! Whether you choose to include testimonials on your webpage or make a point of liking, sharing, and retweeting positive mentions, make sure you’re not missing out on the potential of quality user-generated content.

Step 4: Learn from bad reviews

You work hard to give your customers the best possible experience, so it definitely hurts to get a bad review. But if you choose to look ‘em in the eye and learn from it, they can make your business stronger. Of course, some guest complaints are isolated incidents (or totally unreasonable) and, in that case, you can politely apologize and move on. But other negative reviews can alert you to real weaknesses that would be wise to address. So keep tabs on the nature of your negative reviews. Are there any illuminating patterns? Once you’ve highlighted areas for improvement, take action. Your business will be the better for it.

Step 5: Encourage feedback

The final step to building a strong reputation online is to generate more content. The more reviews published online, the more legitimate and trustworthy your business appears (assuming you’re responding appropriately). So do what you can to encourage guests to post about their time at your property. This can be done in a number of ways, but you should certainly be inviting feedback in your post-stay emails.

 

A good reputation is critical to the success of any business. And in this day and age, the majority of that battle is being fought online. Follow these five steps to keep gaining ground. Good luck!

 

Key Ways Your Cloud PMS Upgrades the Guest Experience

As the hospitality industry grows increasingly competitive, more and more properties are investing in technology to help manage and enhance the guest experience. Ultimately, this means technology designed to automate and streamline operations that impact the guest experience, from guest transactions to communications to housekeeping.

Expressly designed to automate daily hotel operations, property management systems (PMS) are at the heart of guest experience management. Here are six key examples of how a cloud PMS empowers lodging operators to upgrade the guest experience.

1. Streamlined Check-in and Check-out

Without a streamlined and automated front-desk system, the check-in and check-out process can be a complicated business. Such manual administrative tasks as looking up reservations, completing guest registration cards, assigning rooms, settling bills and taking payments make for a long drawn-out process that distracts front desk staff from the customer in front of them.

For an efficient, guest-centric check-in and check-out process that enhances the customer experience, front desk staff must be supported by an automated and intuitive property management system. Through data integration, cloud PMS greatly reduce the manual workload by automating and speeding up the abovementioned tasks. The system makes it easy to locate and edit reservation folios, and recognize returning guests. It can automatically assign rooms and track outstanding balances.

By automating the administrative workload, cloud PMS allow front desk staff to focus on interacting with the guest, and provide them with tools (such as guest profiles — more on this below) for personalizing the guest experience.

2. Guest Profiles

PMS that offer the ability to capture and store guest profile data are key to enhancing the guest experience. Beyond guest names and contact details, profiles should comprise information that helps a property really know its customers, including stay and transaction history (across services such as restaurant, spa, etc.), preferences and requests (like allergies and room preferences), and birthdays and anniversaries.

Armed with detailed guest profiles, properties can easily recognize returning guests, deliver more personalized communications and offers, and provide the kind of proactive personalized service pre-, during and post-stay that turns customers into loyal guests.

3. On-the-Go Access

One of the most impactful advantages of cloud technology is mobile accessibility. When a cloud PMS is optimized for mobile devices it becomes an even more powerful tool for improving efficiency and guest service.

From paperless check-in with electronic signature capture to reservation folio data to housekeeping reports, the ability to access and update PMS data on the go via a mobile device empowers hotel staff to deliver more efficient, personalized service to guests — in the moment, and from anywhere on the property.

4. Automated Emails

All customer touchpoints represent a valuable opportunity to enhance the customer experience — and email communications are no exception.

Reservation confirmations and pre-arrival emails should provide customers with helpful information (such as services and amenities on offer, events, insider tips and upgrade options) and can help capture additional guest data such as preferences and requests that enables you to get to know your guests better. Post-stay thank-you emails are especially effective at gathering feedback and reviews that reveal opportunities for service improvement.

A modern property management system not only stores email addresses within guest profiles, but should also offer the ability to send customizable (and personalized) emails to guests automatically, triggered by reservation data such as check-in and check-out dates and room and rate codes. Through direct integration with CRM systems, your PMS can help your email campaigns drive guest engagement to the next level.

5. Value-added Packages and Services

Value-added packages work to increase customer satisfaction by providing high perceived value. Along with ancillary services such as spa, dining and activities, packages allow guests to customize their stay experience, resulting in a more memorable one.

A property management system that makes it easy to set up packages, discounts and add-ons (and to sell those packages, discounts and add-ons across online channels) offers lodging operators a very practical way to upgrade the guest experience by offering customers more value.

6. Cross-System Integration

One of the major advantages of a cloud PMS is the ability to integrate with other core hotel systems such as POS, CRM and RMS systems, as well as OTAs, loyalty programs, mobile apps and more. Thanks to common Web standards and open APIs, cross-system integration is easier and more cost-effective in the cloud than it is among on-premise systems.

Maximizing efficiency and accuracy by automating processes between systems, PMS integration with other hotel systems is key to streamlining tasks that impact the guest experience, from confirming online reservations to check-in and check-out. For example: OTA integration automates the process of updating inventory across online channels and capturing online bookings in the PMS; a POS interface automatically posts restaurant charges to the guest’s folio; and a payment gateway interface allows credit card payments to be processed directly through the PMS. For more information on the benefits of integrating your PMS to other hotel systems, check out our Quick Guide to PMS Integration.

In all cases, cross-system integration greatly reduces manual administrative workload, affording hotel staff more time to focus on their guests.

A modern property management system is key to managing the guest experience. Backed by the right tools for streamlining processes, gathering and tracking data, and selling stay experiences, your property is well-equipped to continue elevating the guest experience in an increasingly competitive industry.

How Ordinary Hotels Can Offer Extraordinary Experiences

As an hotelier you’ve probably noticed the growing emphasis on hotels providing unique experiences in order to stand out in an increasingly competitive market. While some properties are extraordinary experiences in themselves — like Bolivia’s Palacio de Sal, which is made of salt, and Free Spirit Spheres, which accommodates guests in orbs suspended high in the treetops on Canada’s Vancouver Island — more and more luxury hotels are reinforcing their brand by offering exclusive excursions.

Four Seasons’ “Extraordinary Experiences” offers a vast menu of once-in-a-lifetime experiences, including a private performance of Don Giovanni at the luxurious Estates Theatre with a stay at Four Seasons Hotel Prague, and a helicopter ride to the Grand Canyon for a spectacular private picnic lunch with a room at the Four Seasons Las Vegas. The Peninsula Chicago is offering guests VIP access to Chicago experiences through their new Keys to the City program — like a “fast pass” to skip the queue for the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel, and an exclusive culinary experience at notable restaurant Grace.

But you don’t have to be made of money (or salt) to offer guests an extraordinary experience. Any property can stand out from their competitive set by tailoring local experiences that help guests enjoy their trip to the fullest.

In a recent blog post, Not Just a Pretty Room: Selling an Experience, we wrote about why and how hotels are incorporating experiential elements to create and sell stay experiences that are more than just a room. We mentioned packaging local activities with accommodation — a strategy more and more lodging operators are employing to stand out from their competitors and earn loyal customers.

In this post, we dig a little deeper into how any property can incorporate local activities to offer guests an extraordinary stay experience…

Identify relevant experiences

It’s important to choose experiences that are relevant to your guests and your brand. While the idea of a private helicopter flight to a spectacular canyon-rim picnic might appeal to almost anyone, such an elite excursion is beyond the budget and expectations of a typical 3-star motel guest.

Identify the travel motivations of your guests and the activities they partake in during their stay. Families looking to spend some fun quality time together might be drawn to the nearby waterpark, couples looking for a romantic retreat might enjoy your stunning local scenery on horseback, and business travelers might often ask about nearby spa services. Experiences that are unique to your destination can attract travelers across segments.

Once you have identified relevant experiences, think about how they can be incorporated into your offerings to provide added value to your guests. This is where forming partnerships with activity operators is key (read on).

Form partnerships

For most properties, the ability to package local activities and experiences depends on establishing relationships with other local businesses. Unless you run a stay-and-play enterprise like a dude ranch, fishing lodge or a beach resort, lodging providers typically choose to outsource tours and activities.

In addition to local tour and activity operators, consider reaching out to restaurants, museums, galleries, theme parks, spas, event organizers and the like. City tours, outdoor adventures, culinary experiences, attraction tickets or spa treatments are all ways to turn a standard hotel stay experience into an extraordinary one.

Forming partnerships with local businesses reaps mutual benefits. When businesses work together to provide value to customers, both parties achieve expanded reach across valuable markets.

Through discounted access to activities, a hotel can provide added value that incentivizes guests to choose the hotel over its competitors. To sweeten the deal even more, hotels can offer guests curated experiences that aren’t available to the general public. For example, imagine partnering with a local surf school to offer guests discounted surfing lessons. In addition to a standard lesson that the surf school might offer to the public, your guests also enjoy a free post-lesson drink at your bar or the local beach bar to celebrate their success in the sea.

Work with your partners to establish the best way to combine your offerings and don’t be afraid to get creative.

Promote experiences

Offering guests activities is a strategy that not only works to create memorable stays that turn guests into loyal customers and advocates — it’s also a great promotional opportunity.

Promoting added experiences (especially curated experiences that no-one else is offering) that align with guests’ motivations helps build a property’s image, even if nobody books the package! The offer itself speaks volumes for the property’s commitment to guest satisfaction and its involvement in the local community. So promote activity packages across offline and online channels, especially on your website and on social media.

Manage bookings

Extraordinary experiences are supported by flexible, intuitive booking systems that make managing and booking activities with accommodation easy.

Whether activities are pre-packaged with accommodation or available to guests as optional add-ons, a reservation system that integrates room and activity bookings through flexible package management, a user-friendly direct booking process, and comprehensive invoicing and reporting is key to efficiently managing activities alongside accommodation.

Make sure your reservation system provides the tools to manage, track and sell stay-and-play packages or separate activity bookings to prevent an extraordinary stay experience from turning into a frustrating one for you and your guests.

The “experience” trend is gaining momentum across all hotel categories, not just luxury properties. Offering activities is a practical and effective way for hotels to distinguish themselves through unique stay experiences, especially when those experiences are thoughtfully and appropriately curated for guests.