Hoteliers are hearing it from industry leaders constantly, in order to remain relevant in the changing hospitality industry, it’s time to ‘personalise’ the guest experience. But what does this actually mean? And where and how do you start?
The hospitality industry is becoming increasingly data-driven, and is now dominated by online travel agents (OTAs) and disrupted by sharing economy hotel alternatives such as Airbnb, both of which have access to vast amounts of big and small data that allow them to analyse, segment and target their marketing and sales efforts to minute details, and personalise guest experience.
As a hotelier, ensuring that your property can mete out the same, or a better level, of personalisation (online and offline) is a key way to ensure that you remain competitive in this changing market context.
What does personalisation mean in the context of hospitality?
‘Personalisation’ is a broad term – the increasing amounts of data about individual people available publicly online and the tools to collect and manage this data mean that every industry now has the capacity to ‘personalise’ its offerings. Even strictly within the hospitality sphere, personalisation can be applied to a wide range of marketing and operational activities.
On a basic level, personalisation means understanding that each guest is an individual, and you are more likely to get positive reactions from them if you treat them as such; tailoring their experiences with your brand to meet their individual needs, wants and expectations. This applies to guests you have never met, who are browsing the web for a place to stay, just as much as it applies to Ms Jenkins, who visits your hotel every second month to attend business meetings.
|Image (c) Sabre|
Personalisation means knowing your guest – who they are, what they are interested in and what they want. You can collect this information and act upon it at various stages of the guest’s interactions with your hotel.
Personalisation at different points in the guest journey
For the guests you have never met, personalisation can mean things like presenting your website in the appropriate language for their current location, or tailoring offers and advertisements across the web to their demographics and interests. You don’t yet know these web browsers personally, but you do know that they are not all the same, and you can tailor certain aspects of their experience with your brand to be more specific to their needs – more personal.
Research from Janrain found that 74% of consumers online get irritated with websites that show them advertising or promotional material unrelated to their interests – guests know how much of themselves they put online (their interests, demographics, activities) and they expect you to know it too.
74% of consumers online get irritated with websites that show them advertising or promotional material unrelated to their interests
This phase of the journey can, and should, be even more personalised for guests you have met before (perhaps at one of your group’s other properties, or a few years ago). If travellers have previously given you their information, they expect you to personalise your correspondence with them, and they will be thoroughly unimpressed if you have forgotten them.
Once a guest has decided that yours is the hotel that suits them the best, and they book with you, you can enter into correspondence with them to ensure that you meet their individual needs to the best of your ability. This, of course, will mean different things for a five-star luxury hotel and an economy inn, but the principle is the same.
At this point, many hotels interested in personalising a guest's stay will send a pre-stay questionnaire, which will find out more details about guests that will help to personalise their stays.
Pre-stay surveys are invaluable for personalising guest experience – the best way to find out what guests want is to ask. You can ask about bedding, toiletry and minibar preferences, whether they would prefer self-service check-in via mobile app (popular among business travellers), what floor they would prefer, or anything else. One thing to note, however, is that it is unforgivable to ask a guests for preferences and then not remember or deliver. Rather be able to claim ignorance than indifference.
Pre-stay surveys are invaluable for personalising guest experience – the best way to find out what guests want is to ask.
Hotels that have apps to help personalise stays will invite guests to download the app (if they didn’t already during the booking process). Sophisticated technology that some large chains are using can even allow guests to customise lighting, entertainment and temperature remotely in “smart rooms”, which are controlled by mobile apps.
Getting to know your guests before they arrive will allow you to take personalisation to the next level when you meet them in person. If your concierge knows whether she is dealing with a business or a leisure traveller, or a family or a couple, before they arrive, she can prepare to immediately tailor her help towards their specific needs. Some hoteliers go so far as to look up their guests on social media so that they can get an idea of their likes, dislikes and interests.
Managers should be trained to respond to guests as individuals – listen to their needs and respond accordingly
However, during your guest's stay, personalisation doesn’t just have to be about fancy technology and data collection. Managers should be trained to respond to guests as individuals – listen to their needs and respond accordingly, and making sure that staff remember guests’ names and drinks preferences is a form of personalisation that is as old as hospitality itself, and doesn’t require an app.
|Source: The power of personalisation: Hotels’ roadmap to 2020|
Knowledgeable concierges can help guests create customised itineraries by asking guests about their interests and advising them on what local attractions they will enjoy the most, or you could also ask guests about their interests in a pre-stay questionnaire and put together a few different brochures on different types of activities and attractions in your area, (such as history and culture or action and adventure). Keeping up-to-date with upcoming events will also help you to provide suggestions for meaningful, memorable, unique experiences for your guests.
Although technology has undoubtedly thrust personalisation to the fore, and smart phones, apps and big data are at the core of many hotel’s personalisation efforts, treating guests as individuals isn’t dependent on extravagant technology. No matter how you find out about your individual guests and how you apply what you have learnt, guests will notice and appreciate that you have taken the time to get to know them.
When guests are travelling, they are after trips to write home about (literally, when you consider the use of social media), and any personalisation efforts should be geared towards creating these experiences.
Personalisation (and the data collection that facilitates it) certainly shouldn’t end after check-out. Sending guests feedback questionnaires to find out what worked for them and what didn’t should be an integral part of the guest communication process, and these questionnaires, like everything else, can be personalised. You should only be asking guests questions relevant to them – if your guest didn’t use the spa, don’t ask her about it. And remember that all of this data can be collected and used to further personalise guests’ future stays at your hotel (or other hotels in your group).
Sending guests feedback questionnaires to find out what worked for them and what didn’t should be an integral part of the guest communication process
Tamaryne Du Plooy of Devonvale Golf & Wine Estate in South Africa says that asking guests for their feedback using an electronic system is “a great way to build a database and encourage guests to write about their experience.”
Once a guest has stayed at your hotel, it is not the end of your relationship with them. In fact, many industry leaders believe that personalisation is one of the few remaining ways to encourage guest loyalty and repeat visits that actually still works, and a study by Sabre Hospitality Solutions and Forrester Consulting found that the key to guest loyalty may lie in personalisation, especially among millennials.
Industry leaders believe that personalisation is one of the few remaining ways to encourage guest loyalty and repeat visits that actually still works
All the information you have collected about your guest – his demographic information, likes, dislikes and interests – can be used post-stay to strengthen your connection with your guests, to market your hotel in a more targeted, personal way, and to encourage repeat visits, social media engagement, and loyalty. Research from GBTA and Sabre found that 69% of travellers believe it’s important that the offers they receive cater to their travel histories and preferences.
Hotel loyalty is no longer about generic perks and discounts, it’s about the guest’s relationship with your brand, and the only way to build a relationship is to treat guests as individuals.
Getting started with personalisation
When getting started with personalising the guest experience, it is important to figure out which parts of your hotel experience can be standardised and which parts should be personalised. Hotels tend to go to one extreme or the other, pouring time, money and human resources into investigating each and every guest and tailoring every aspect of his stay, or expecting all guests to be satisfied with a one-size-fits-all approach.
Analysing your current resources, especially any data and technology you aren’t using to the fullest, and deciding what types of personalisation you can implement with what you already have is often a good place to start. Relying on feedback from guests to let you know what is positively impacting their experience and what isn’t as impressive will help guide your personalisation efforts, and help you to find a balance between personalisation and standardisation, and between technology and real-life interpersonal hospitality experiences.
Relying on feedback from guests to let you know what is positively impacting their experience and what isn’t as impressive will help guide your personalisation efforts
If you do decide to invest further in enhancing personalisation in your business, you will probably find that technology that allows you to collect, store and retrieve data will provide the best return on investment. Make sure, however, that your different systems (such as guest feedback, customer relations management and property management systems) are integrated with one another so that all data collected can be used in the future to personalise guest communications and experience.
Once you have begun to implement procedures, you need to make sure that your personalisation efforts are paying off. You need to constantly be asking your guests, and yourself, if the personalisation efforts you have in place are worth the human resources and financial costs.
Personalisation needn’t be rocket science, it’s about treating your guests (past, present and prospective) like people rather than pay checks, and providing the kinds of experiences that make memories.