Make 2019 the year of the pre-arrival experience
 
Make 2019 the year of the pre-arrival experience
09 JANUARY 2019 1:00 PM

Consider investing in improvements to your guests’ experience between the booking stage and when they check in at your hotel.

This year will see a continuation of many of the current trends in hospitality—personalization, wellness, local partnerships and unique activities, to name four. The common theme or goal for all of these, though, is to enhance the guest experience, so I ask: Why start only when the guest arrives?

As travel in 2019 becomes increasingly aspirational—even for business segments where bleisure is now common practice—the average person has immersed himself or herself in exciting and exceptional experiences from around the world well before any money is exchanged through what can be called the “sense of discovery” to couple it with the on-site term of “sense of place.”

And indeed, this sense of discovery is often half the fun! While social media, travel blogs and word-of-mouth dominate the initial research phase for this, where hotels can and should look to improve is in the pre-arrival experience, both from the time someone books to physically arriving on property as well as from the moment a person discovers your hotel brand to the actual reservation.

Why now?
Every hotelier knows that tech-enabled personalization is crucial to the future success of one’s brand. In reality, though, these customized experiences are very difficult to put in place, often requiring complex software integrations, significant capital expenditure and a fully trained team—both at the supervisor and front-line levels—to properly act upon any insights or recommendations gleaned from a unified CRM.

The nauseating pain point here is that travelers are now expecting hotels to dedicate more effort toward making their time on property personal and meaningful, irrespective of the resources necessary on the company’s part. With home-sharing firmly entrenched, guests have countless accommodation options these days, so you simply must do something to customize their experiences.

Luckily, pre-arrival represents one area of the customer journey where you can make significant inroads inexpensively and relatively quickly toward genuine guest experience personalization.

An interesting psychological study from last spring by Professor Helen Chun at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration shows that savoring an upcoming experience heightens the actual enjoyment of that experience both when it’s rendered as well as when it’s recalled. Hence, any attempts to heighten the interactivity during this stage may subconsciously work to deepen one’s affinity or trust with your brand as well as boost overall guest satisfaction.

Importantly, besides helping to build anticipation for the actual stay as well as give you a few extra data points to add to a guest’s profile, there’s also the potential for additional revenue via incremental merchandising or amenity purchases and room upgrades.

Building your pre-arrival experience
Inserting your brand into the travel conversation from the start is essential, and this will require a concerted effort from your social media, your public relations and website development team. The key is to demonstrate to guests the full range of activities and amenities available at their fingertips if they reserve a room at your property.

But alas, customers may not peruse every option while they are in a “sense of discovery” mood. Concurrent to your efforts to get them to book, the gap that needs to be filled exists from the instant a guest’s credit card information is verified to the moment of arrival on site.

Shamefully, most hotels only send out a booking confirmation via email during this stage. Some might call in the week prior to double-check. Instead, this should be your opportunity to engage, to learn and offer customized enhancements for the upcoming stay.

Just look to how airlines have built an almost entirely new vertical out of selling individual seats after a customer buys a ticket. Not only are these specific selections a source for extra revenue beyond randomly assigning seats, but the interfaces of these platforms afford airlines the chance to present their premium-tier product to a captive audience.

Now imagine the possibilities for hotels which are inherently far more diversified strata than airplane seats. How cool would it be to browse through a property’s inventory and select your exact room? Guests could choose one on a high floor for a better view or the one farthest from the elevator for maximum quiet, and the hotel could even charge for such a privilege if it so desires. Moreover, any guest selections through these platforms will inform the hotelier on individual preferences for the upcoming stay along with any other future trips taken by said guest.

Experience economy opportunities
The buzz term comes in full force whenever we discuss initiatives that hope to profit from intensified personalization of a place or activity. In the spirit of the phrase, several hospitality companies are already on their way to fruitful gains from pre-arrival improvements.

Unveiled for its North American collection consisting of over 2,200 properties, the Best Western Hotels & Resorts Virtual Reality Experience allows consumers to view 3D videos and interactive tours of each hotel’s top amenities and room types. Similarly, Hilton is rolling out new detailed room selection functionality for its Honors loyalty app. Even Marriott International President & CEO Arne Sorenson has touched on this as a means to migrate prospective guests away from the online travel agencies through what is being called “attribute-based selling.”

Don’t think that this technology is solely for the whales of the industry, though. A fascinating company based out of Atlanta called Koridor offers hotels a PMS-integrated platform that lets guests view 3D tours and dollhouse views of all available rooms as they go about selecting one in particular or even choosing to upgrade on the spot. Likewise, GLH Hotels across the pond—a midsized United Kingdom owner-operator—commissioned a web agency to build a proprietary Hotel Room Chooser bolt-on product for its booking engine. In short, pre-arrival enhancements are accessible for nearly any budget.

So, as people are looking to the travel industry for heightened experiential offerings, and simultaneously as the big chains and software innovators pave the way, the time is right for you to start boosting your pre-arrival as a means to deliver the best possible guest experience and therein realize better profits.

One of the world’s most published writers in hospitality, Larry Mogelonsky is the principal of Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited, a Toronto-based consulting practice. His experience encompasses hotel properties around the world, both branded and independent, and ranging from luxury and boutique to select-service. Larry is also on several boards for companies focused on hotel technology. His work includes five books “Are You an Ostrich or a Llama?” (2012), “Llamas Rule” (2013), “Hotel Llama” (2015), “The Llama is Inn” (2017) and “The Hotel Mogel” (2018). You can reach Larry at larry@hotelmogel.com to discuss hotel business challenges or to book speaking engagements.

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