Is Your Hotel Renting Rooms Or Selling Experiences?
Like the hotel industry in general, the resort segment in particular is facing disruption from all directions.
Online travel agencies are working hard to insert themselves between you and your guests, making it easy to book your entire vacation on just one website. Airbnb continues to expand its presence, focusing heavily on training its “hosts” to deliver authentic, genuine hospitality by telling its customers: “Don’t just stay there, live there.” Recently the company announced it will offer private and small group tours led by locals.
Meanwhile, the too-long-overlooked vacation home rental business has matured, as owners of lakefront or seaside condos, beach houses and ski chalets are finding new and more extensive distribution channels to reach new segments of the traveling population. With Expedia’s purchase of HomeAway—and with brands such as Choice and Wyndham leading the charge to brand what has been for decades an industry comprised of local mom-and-pop operators—mainstream travelers are discovering that they can rent a home versus a resort room often for a lot less. The smart operators in the vacation rental space are increasingly providing luxury-level accommodations and also adding concierge-type services.
At the same time, most major hotel brands seem to be focusing on automating the entire service cycle and eliminating traditional touch points wherever they can. Too many reservations agents have said, “We have seven different room types. Did you look online yet? There are pictures there. Check it out and then call me back” or “What’s your email address? I’ll send you a list of what we have that is open.”
Some companies even hide their phone numbers in small font at the bottom of the page, theoretically encouraging online bookings but making it difficult for those looking for authentic, genuine experiences to get answers to specific questions.
The migration to keyless entry offered by electronic locks and mobile check-ins eliminates yet another vital touch point, as more and more guests are sent straight to their accommodations instead of the resort welcome center. Rather than encouraging guests to stop by for suggestions on local area restaurants, excursions and attractions, companies push guests to an app or to a guestroom iPad with a touch-screen “virtual concierge” to find such services.
So what can operations and marketing executives do to avoid having our resort accommodations become a commodity such as a seat on an airplane has become? In short, we must find ways to personalize the sales and service experiences at each and every touch point on what we call the “Customer Circle of Life.”
Certainly, we as an industry need to embrace automation and technology. Many guests prefer to shop online and everyone likes the comfort of being able to take virtual tours, see photos and even the new 3-D floor plans of their actual rooms and suites. Keyless entry and automated check-in is absolutely a convenience, especially for resorts such as condo hotels where the accommodations are located far from the reception office.
The trick is to maximize the levels of personalization at each and every remaining touch point in the guest experience where we still have chances to interact with and engage our guests. We can also find ways to use “high tech” to be “high touch” in an “old school” way of relationship building.
With longer stays; higher room rates; and more recreational, food-and-beverage and entertainment outlets—and thus higher revenue per guest opportunity—it becomes more important for the reservations and guest services teams to be proactive at all touch points. Here are a few suggestions:
- Communicate with guests: Rather than sending callers back online to look at rooms, suites, golf course tee times and spa treatment options, or just emailing them a list, have your agents coach them through the resort website while on the phone ready to enter the reservation.
- Use tech to aid you: Utilize online meeting and screen-sharing tools such as Join.me or GoToMeeting so that reservations agents can use the website as a visual aid instead of pushing guests to go there and losing control of what the guest books. This is not an option for all resorts but definitely an option where the total guest spend warrants.
- Consider video chat: Use Skype or Facetime video calls. Especially for those who are planning more complicated vacations such as with larger parties, larger accommodations, longer stays and special needs, ask the customer to connect for a video chat.
- Personalize responses: Personalize the response to all electronic inquiries including chat and email. Many email senders take time to provide hints about “the story” behind their visit. Train agents to paraphrase and re-state this in the response to show interest.
- Ask guests questions: For chat, encourage agents to ask questions about a guest’s visit beyond just his or her dates and number in the party, such as “the story” behind the customer’s plans.
- Encourage follow-up: For both email and chat inquiries, encourage your agents to offer to contact the guest by phone especially if questions become complicated. This can not only save time versus going back and forth via chat or email, but also provide the opportunity to connect personally.
- Continue to call: Respond to all email inquiries with a phone call if a phone number is provided. Even if you only leave voicemail, it will differentiate you from most of the other resort staff who will probably only email back their responses.
- Utilize simple photograph methods: Take and send camera phone pictures. While it is nice to send and share stylized professional photographs, send camera phone pictures in response to specific questions. (Again especially for accommodations with higher rates and guests looking for longer stays.)
- Prepare maintenance staff to engage guests: Make sure your maintenance employees know that their job is a little to do with fixing things and a lot to do with hospitality and relationship building. Often they spend more time interacting with the guests than any other staff member.
- Plan special events: Especially in destinations with longer stays (and higher rates), consider company-hosted social events such as midweek cookouts, local band jam sessions, children’s activities or local arts and crafts shows.