Product

The digital guest journey starts before check-in

Larissa Bricis

Larissa Bricis

6/30/2022
the digital guest journey starts before check-in

The past two years have been nothing if not turbulent for the hotel industry. There have been a slew of changes, and some of the most significant are the shifts in guest expectations. A seamless hotel guest journey is now expected. It’s no longer an add-on, an option that properties can choose to invest in.

Guest expectations have evolved to consider digital communication, seamless check-in, self-service options, and contactless interaction as fundamental for all in-stay experiences. An explanation of this phenomenon can be found in the Forbes article, How Digital Transformation Can Reshape Guest Experience In The New Pandemic Era.  Sanjay Ghare, a technologist within the hospitality industry, lays it out quite clearly: “there is a demand for a frictionless, intuitive, hyper-personalized experience at every touchpoint in their travel journey.”

A digital guest journey is one of the most all-encompassing approaches to these new expectations. With the right method and the correct tools, a digitized customer experience has the potential to boost guest satisfaction while reducing manual work for on-property staff. As Ross Beardsell of JLL Hotels and Hospitality Group explains, updating the guest experience “... is not so much a revolution in the way hotels operate, but rather an accelerated adoption of existing technology… The changes required for a better guest experience, because of COVID-19, are enhancements that will be advantageous irrespective of the pandemic’s course.”

COVID-19 has pushed the industry to adopt new technology and reinvent the guest experience. Here we must ask: What do these changes mean for the guest journey? And which elements of the guest journey are the most important?

The hotel industry has traditionally come out on top among industries that prioritize a tailored guest experience as a core marker of success. However, it has been falling behind with the increased adoption of digital tools in other industries. Many hotels today still lack self-service tech, automated invoices, and reputation management software. Compare this to the digitization of other industries, such as retail or banking. There is an obvious gap that the hotel industry must overcome in order to please the modern consumer.

Today, traveler expectations are markedly different from those pre-pandemic. Since 2019, there have been changes in public health regulations and individual levels of trust regarding personal safety. All these factors have contributed to the new attitude toward traveling that will be relevant in 2022 and into the future.

For those tempted to downplay the effect of the pandemic on guest expectations, we can look to a US-based study on the impact of COVID-19 on hotel guest expectations. The survey revealed that 86% of guests presented with two identical stay options would choose one hotel over another if one offered an app for fully contactless mobile check-in, concierge, check-out, and facility reservation. Supporting this, the chief strategy officer behind the study said, “COVID-19 has accelerated customer demand for technologies such as mobile check-in apps, keyless entry, and mobile concierge services that enable a contactless experience while adding convenience that did not exist in the past.”

Like in most industries, the hotel customer journey is not always linear. However, it does have a recurring cycle that generally comprises 6 stages:

  • Inspiration

  • Research

  • Booking

  • Pre-stay

  • In-stay

  • Post-stay/return

Inspiration and Research: “I’ve always wanted to travel to …”

This is the initial stage, where potential guests are forming their ideas about a trip, including accommodation, location, and itinerary. According to Google, more than 40% of travelers say they bounce back and forth between dreaming about and planning their next trip—zooming in on the details for one destination and then zooming out to reconsider all the options again. What this means is that it’s essential for hotels to capture potential guests at the ‘inspiration’ stage through effective marketing on social media platforms like Instagram and, as Dori Stein, Chief Executive Officer at Fornova recommends, taking control of your property’s metasearch listings on major platforms including Google, Trivago, and KAYAK.

You can find the perfect apps to make the most out of the guest inspiration phase:

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Booking: Congratulations! Your stay is confirmed!

Guests are more likely now than ever to wait until the last minute to book their trips. Therefore, it’s essential that hotels constantly adjust their room rates and availability. This is particularly important within an industry dominated by online travel agencies (OTAs). The right price presented to the right guest at the right time makes the difference between a hotel at capacity and a hotel with empty rooms.

While there’s no singular approach to perfecting the booking experience, a seamless mobile offering is thought to be a key element. 71% of consumers are more likely to stay in a hotel offering self-service tech, so it’s an easy choice for hotels to add an online booking process when redesigning the customer journey.

An aspect of the booking process that can’t be overlooked is automated payment. The option to use contactless payment can be a way to reassure guests before they’ve even arrived at the hotel. Mollie’s is an example of a hotel using this approach to their advantage. As Mollie’s only works with pre-paid rates, the whole payment collection process is automated and staffless via Apaleo Pay, and guests are able to use modern payment methods they’ve grown accustomed to, such as Google Pay and Apple Pay.

Ensure that your booking processes are seamless with the help of these tools:

Pre-stay: Get ready to pack your bags

Guests don’t like being left in the dark, but they also hate being bombarded with automated emails spouting the same information over and over. Striking the right balance is a great way for hotels to stay connected to their guests ahead of time. Recognizing and addressing the pain points that guests typically experience during travel, such as not being fully informed about the COVID documents needed for check-in or being unfamiliar with ‘digital keys,’ can help your brand reframe the guest experience.

The pre-stay period is the perfect opportunity for a property to make a booking more valuable. For example, a hotel could suggest personalized upsell offers, whether that be for room upgrades or included services. Put simply, guests can’t buy what they don’t know about. It’s a hotel’s job to ensure that all relevant goods and services are laid out on the table ahead of time, both to boost RevPAR and to offer a well-rounded experience.

A guest portal is a great way to engage with guests once they’ve booked. This is more than just an exercise in branding; a guest portal has the potential to be the central point of contact for your guests. Whether it’s an extensive list of services, facilities, or optional add-ons, it can be fully customized.

The pre-stay experience is in YOUR hands. See how you could integrate these apps into your existing frameworks:

In-stay: Enjoy your stay!

A seamless check-in experience prior to arrival results in higher guest satisfaction. Some online check-in systems can be extended to include secure payments, passport scans, digital signatures, and country-specific health declarations. In addition, hotels can provide faster response times by centering communication on platforms that guests use regularly, like WhatsApp, Messenger, or iMessage. Within the Apaleo ecosystem, there are plenty of examples of hotels taking the digital guest journey into their own hands to ensure a superior in-stay experience.

It goes without saying that simplifying the check-in/out process is ideal for both the guest and front-of-house staff. Allowing this process to be automated and contact-free means that the staff can dedicate more time to providing guests with genuine human interactions.

Digitizing the guest journey doesn’t just have roll-on benefits for guests or generate end-of-day profit—it has a positive impact on the staff experience as well. Modernizing internal processes by automating invoices or implementing a centralized system for guest requests makes these processes less of a headache for the staff. This also helps to alleviate the current pressure of staff shortages across the industry.

How will you maximize the in-stay experience—for guests and for your property?

Post-stay/Return: Let’s stay in touch!

So, you’ve followed all the steps and had a guest stay at your property. They were happy with the price, the service, the communication, and the stay in general. Now it’s time to focus on the post-stay process. There are two aspects you should focus on: feedback and loyalty.

If a guest had a wonderful stay, make sure that their positive experience is public. The key is to make it as easy as possible for a guest to rate and share their experience after check-out. This can be done via an extension of the email journey or via prompts on a property’s app. An additional note: as painful as it might be, negative guest feedback is also essential. If you don’t fully understand what the best—and worst—aspects of your property are, your hotel’s progress will likely stagnate.

The ideal situation after a positive guest experience is repeat visits. Ensure that you have the guest’s contact details, travel preferences, and demographic saved to a guest profile. This way, you can stay in contact via relevant offers, targeted discounts, or appropriate upsells.

There are many ways to stay in touch with guests post-stay:

Regardless of the specific processes your hotel needs to digitize, it’s clear how many opportunities for improvement exist within the industry. Whether it’s updating your internal processes, modernizing guest experiences, or perfecting your property’s search position, there are plenty of tools and strategies available to bring the guest journey into the 21st century.

Improvement comes easy when you use the right integrations and apps. Apaleo provides an extensive and open API that encourages hotel tech companies to innovate. This makes it possible for an integrated and modernized digital guest journey to be a part of every hotel’s tech stack. The power and flexibility of Apaleo’s open hospitality platform allows you to individually select the solutions most adapted to your property’s characteristics and needs.

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