Why do you travel? For the majority of people, a hotel is simply a place to sleep and keep their valuables while they explore new and exciting locations and activities. With the (possible) exception of a few ultraluxe all-inclusive resorts, nobody travels somewhere just for a hotel. They travel for the immersive experiences they’ll have.
A report by Google noted that 82% of leisure travelers don’t consider choosing an accommodation provider when they first start thinking about a trip. This might strike many hoteliers as a harsh reality, but savvy industry pros will see it as an opportunity. Understanding a hotel’s role in creating a guest’s overall travel experience is the first step in delivering tangible value.
The Microexperience: A Partner to the Traveler’s Experience
A hotel’s ability to meet travelers where they are — rather than where they want them to be — is the kind of trait that earns enduring loyalty and repeat guests. And today, meeting customers where they are is dependent on hotels’ ability to adopt emerging technology solutions and to enhance their planned experiences.
Traditionally, showing off your guest experience meant promoting your physical amenities. Hotels often look to sell guests with their on-location spas, foldout couches for large families, complimentary valet services, and so on. This kind of marketing is doubly flawed for today’s travelers, though.
First, guests don’t use amenities in the way hotels think they do. Research from the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration found that guests tend to either overestimate or underestimate how much they actually use hotel amenities, which makes it difficult to gauge what’s actually important to their hotel stays. That often leaves hotels in the position of having to do wide-net marketing that promotes only generic benefits that travelers might or might not care about. Besides this, it doesn’t even touch on what guests have already signaled is most important to them: the destination.
Another report from Google found that 85% of leisure travelers don’t even plan activities before arriving at their destinations and that nearly 9 in 10 travelers expect their travel providers to share relevant information while they’re on their trips. From an initial content perspective, this is a prime area for hotels to step up: What if, instead of turning to a booking service for recommendations on things to do, guests could turn to their hotel? And what if the hotel actively made it easier for guests to have those experiences?
This is perhaps the most effective way to improve guest experience in a hotel: creating “microexperiences” that add to popular tourist activities in the surrounding area. Just as effective online retailers make the buying process seamless, hotels can build positive trip experiences by making them better or more convenient for the traveler. A hotel near a popular fishing spot in Alaska, for instance, could partner with a local packaging plant to help guests seal up their catches for the trip home. A hotel near Disneyland could offer a service that packs an array of snacks for families to take to the park. And a hotel near a nature reserve could provide hiking maps and trekking gear with every room as a convenience add-on or package.
These relevant perks don’t just enhance a guest’s overall travel experience — they also make the hotel a key part of the trip instead of simply a place to sleep, transcending a transactional relationship. However, these microexperiences are only as good as their accessibility. That means hotels should turn to technology for help.
How Digital Natives Have Changed the Travel Game
It’s no secret that tech-native travelers have flipped the hotel industry upside down in recent years. Even putting aside the rise of digital-first rental platforms such as Airbnb, an increasing number of hotel guests use technology to organize and map out their travel itineraries.
A study from TripAdvisor found that 42% of people worldwide book their trips through smartphones, for example. This isn’t a trend that will slow down or reverse: Technology will only become an increasingly integral part of travel as digital natives claim their stakes in the travel market.
The Millennial generation, which has already gained more spending power than all other generations, is especially keen on using technology to meticulously research and book trips, according to Expedia. It’s also no surprise that this generation is likelier to spend money on experiences rather than, say, physical goods. To them, happiness is about seizing the rich opportunities that life provides.
When it comes to adopting technology, hotels should still aim to create microexperiences within this realm. Rather than simply jumping at the first new hotel technology trend that you can find, though, consider the technologies that would enhance guests’ overall experiences at their destinations.
How Technology Creates a Holistic Guest Experience
Above all, look for ways to put the guest in control of his or her own travel plans. You can start by developing online applications or even installing self-service kiosks that make booking, check-in, and destination research seamless processes. By allowing the guest to take the first step in his or her relationship with the hotel, you’re already developing the trust needed to create more effective microexperiences later on.
Virtual reality and augmented reality are yet another area worth exploring for hotel marketers. Before guests even select a hotel, you can set yourself apart from the competition by offering a comprehensive 360-degree tour of your rooms. This allows potential visitors to get a taste of the kind of guest experience you offer and to gauge whether the room will meet their individual needs.
After they have booked with you and have arrived at your hotel, you can use virtual reality to create another microexperience. Many travelers enjoy visiting local museums or exploring historic districts in their destination cities. These plans can easily be dashed, however — perhaps someone gets a sudden illness, the weather turns out to be bad, or a group staying together runs into scheduling conflicts. To make sure a guest’s experience isn’t ruined, hotels could offer complimentary VR goggles to take a virtual tour of a certain district, historical museum, or another tourist location (many of the world’s most famous museums already offer this perk).
Obviously, VR is a very visible, guest-facing technology — but there are improvements to make on the back end as well. Artificial intelligence, in its many forms, provides numerous ways to improve guest experience in a hotel. TripAdvisor already uses AI-powered algorithms to offer better recommendations to travelers on where to book and which activities they’d enjoy best at their travel locations.
There’s no reason that hotels shouldn’t look into adopting similar AI applications that are tailored to the surrounding community. By gathering simple booking information — think the number of guests or the length of a stay — you could have AI produce a custom-built sample itinerary for a guest’s trip, complete with helpful tips from locals.
Travelers respond eagerly to this kind of hyperpersonalization, and they’re more than willing to share information with hotels that will use the information to enhance guest experiences. Once you show guests that their hotel can function as their digital travel guide, you’ve taken a strong first step toward a sustainable, loyal relationship.
That dynamic will manifest through social media. Expedia’s research on Millennials as travelers also found that posting about vacations on social media has become a massive part of the modern travel experience. The more a hotel can improve the guest experience, the more likely it is to become part of that guest’s social media activity — whether through posts, reviews, or stories.
That probably won’t be a one-time boost, either. Social media is where travelers are engaging with brands, and engagement is the single biggest indicator of long-term customer spending. In fact, research from Gallup indicates that engaged hotel guests spend 46% more per year than their disengaged counterparts.
All of these technology trends in the hotel industry point back the value of experiences when traveling. Whether your hotel can become a valuable part of the guest’s overall travel experience will make all the difference.
Creating Highly Meaningful Microexperiences
When adopting technology to create the best microexperiences for your hotel, approach solutions on a case-by-case basis. After all, what guests value in a microexperience from the hotel near a fishing river in Alaska probably won’t be what guests value from the hotel near Disneyland. There are, however, some principles that will help hospitality leaders discover the best ways to add value to every traveler’s experience. Here are four guiding principles that should help you figure out how to enhance guest experiences in your hotel:
1. Make sure to stay relevant.
This should go without saying, but to create effective microexperiences for your hotel guests, you have to offer things that complement the community around you.
Identify the local sights most popular with tourists and try chatting with guests to hear what sorts of things they’re interested in exploring around town. Their answers might not be what you expected, and this will help you identify the microexperiences that will provide the highest value.
To go even more in-depth, you can monitor user-generated content on social media. Keep tabs on social media hashtags or geolocations around your area to check out what travelers are spurred to post about (Instagram is particularly useful for this).
2. Guide your guests.
Once you’ve identified the activities that travelers are interested in experiencing, find out how you can help them connect the dots.
Do your research so you can share the information that will surprise and delight your guests. This hotel-generated content can be used as a hook to get them interested in the microexperiences you end up offering. You’ll also be positioned as a credible insider that cares deeply about their individual preferences.
3. Be open to experimentation.
Developing microexperiences alone isn’t a one-and-done marketing strategy, though. To continue offering value, you should always be testing new offerings and gathering as much data as possible about the guest’s experience.
Even if you think things are going well, always gather more data to see whether they can be even better. Ask yourself questions: “If customers are already enjoying this, what would make them enjoy it so much more that they post about it on social media?”
4. Ensure that you’re useful.
The No. 1 thing that guests care about in a hotel will always be top-notch service. Make sure the microexperiences you provide are service-oriented first, and always seek ways to make them effortless for the guest and valuable for everyone.
Microexperiences, regardless of whether they’re fueled by technology, have the potential to change the hotel-guest dynamic completely. By focusing on how your hotel can maximize its value as one small part of an overall trip experience, you’ll engage more customers and generate more sustainable, compelling marketing strategies in the future.
Reprinted from the Hotel Business Review with permission from www.hotelexecutive.com.