2018 Budget Season: Own Your Guests (Stop Renting Them)

You have comfortable beds, a new lobby, friendly service, and offer value that is undisputed. As a result, your guests have never been happier with your hotel. Satisfaction scores are strong and getting better, and the smiles on guests’ faces assure you that you are doing the right thing to deliver a great stay, every time.

So why are you having to re-acquire these happy customers for every repeat stay?

As you plan your budget for 2018, make it a priority to invest in restoring control of the guest relationship. OTAs have proven to be a powerful source of new customers and revenue, but they are also your most costly channel for repeat guests. Expedia and Booking.com applaud your efforts to improve your hotel – it makes their job easier. Everyone knows that the best time to ask a customer for more business is when they are happy, and the OTAs jump on every positive review as a key marketing opportunity.

Meanwhile, hotels blast their untargeted newsletters to their entire database, treating recent and old guests exactly the same way. You don’t do this when a guest is on property — you treat them as an individual and personalize the experience. Why would your off-property communications be any different or less important?

As you develop your sales and marketing budget for the coming year, plan to extend the guest experience beyond the stay. Invest in a communications plan that builds upon the preference and affinity of your customers, and leverage this expanded relationship to improve your local market share while reducing your booking costs for repeat visitors. Here are a few basic requirements for any beneficial communications plan:

1. Start with Pre-arrival

You’ve won the reservation, and it is three days before check-in. This is the perfect time to let the guest know that you are looking forward to their visit and are fully prepared to host them. Combine practical tips – an updated weather forecast, transportation advice, and local events that might be of interest – with reminders of the special features of your hotel that make it the perfect choice for the upcoming stay. Most cancellations occur within the last few days before arrival, and it is common to lose a guest to a competitor because of a late offer or amenity. Reinforcing the idea that your hotel is the smart choice in the days leading up to a stay can reduce cancellations. And, if your hotel offers upsells or premium services, promoting these in advance of the stay will increase the total spend while building anticipation for all of the wonderful services you offer.

2. Continue with In-stay Communication

Once a guest checks in, there is further opportunity to create digital touchpoints with them that will enhance the stay and drive upsell revenue. You can start with a welcome email from the general manager and follow up with on-property amenity discounts. You can also send an email to ask how their stay is going to engage in proactive service recovery and prevent negative reviews before they start.

3. Remember your Thank Yous

The guest has checked out and left the property, well-rested and happy with their stay. Within a day, the memory of the experience will begin to fade, and when the guest plans a return trip to your market, they will have forgotten why they liked you and will start the research process all over again.

To prevent this memory loss and improve the likelihood of a repeat stay, send a thank you email within a week after checkout. Tell the guest how much you appreciated their visit and how delighted you were to serve them. Invite them to return, and include a reminder of the best features of your hotel. Consider extending a special offer – an amenities package, a special rate, or discounted food & beverage – which only recent guests may receive. You should also ask for feedback as part of the relationship-building process, and be sure to make it easy for your guests to publish their survey comments and reviews to Google, TripAdvisor, and other sites. And, be sure to provide links to your direct booking website and a toll-free number to your reservation desk to make it as easy as possible to book their return visit.

You should assume that the OTAs are doing this, too, but they have a disadvantage at this point – after all, it was your hotel and your staff which delivered the wonderful experience. Press your advantage and enjoy the benefits you will realize.

4. Win them back – Direct!

It has been several weeks, and you have not heard from your recent weekday-business guest. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that they aren’t traveling – chances are, they probably spend a lot of time doing so. Use information from their stay history to present an offer they cannot refuse. Advanced-purchase rate booker? Give them a direct channel promotion that includes a desirable room type at your best available rate. OTA booker? Thank them again for their past choice of your hotel and invite them to save by reserving one of your “insider” deals available only through your website.

5. Keep the conversation going

In addition to targeted campaigns based on stay history, there are a number of tactics you can use engage past guests. For a personalized touch, set up automated campaigns to invite them to spend their birthday with you. You can also use seasonal campaigns to your advantage – kick off the start of summer with a special offer for past guests, or wish them happy holidays. Of course with these more generic campaigns, it’s important to target a couple of different versions to different audiences. For example, the summer campaign emails can use different copy or imagery to tailor the messaging to those who stayed as a couple versus those who stayed with children.

Tricks of the Trade

The key to each of these tactics is segmentation – knowing which offers and messages to present to which guests. Building a segment should be easy with the right email marketing and CRM system, especially one that integrates with your hotel’s property management system.

To build a profitable segment, first select the behaviors or customer attributes that make sense and produce a targeted list of customers for each type of campaign. Then, think about those attributes in terms of your own business goals. Need to sell tickets to an upcoming event at the last minute? Target past guests who live within driving distance of the hotel. Is occupancy a bit low for this upcoming weekend? Send an offer to guests in town on business to extend their stays through the weekend at a special rate. The goal is to be timely and relevant to your audience, while also meeting your business goals and increasing directly booked revenue.

If you have a group of hotels, use an email marketing solution that enables you to replicate segments and campaigns across your portfolio and measure the performance of every tactic across multiple hotels. Some hotels have an in-house database expert who can create segments through complex queries and other tools. Most hotels can’t spare full-time resources for this purpose and for these hoteliers, the best choice is an automated solution that was purpose built for the hospitality industry and designed to minimize the effort required to get optimized, professional results.

Restore the balance between your hotel and the OTAs

No matter how you approach this, it is critical to retake control of your guest relationship. By committing your hotel to extending its interaction with guests beyond the stay, you will be able to leverage the revenue growth potential of the OTA channels without paying for business you would have already received. At the same time, your loyal guests will stay with you more frequently and at a lower cost, and your future guests will become far less likely to cancel their reservations, giving you the opportunity to serve them now and in the future.

Build guest marketing into your 2018 budget, and start the implementation process NOW so that you can get a full year of benefit from this welcome addition to your revenue-driving programs.

Want an easy way to do all of this? Revinate Marketing™ is an email marketing automation solution that is purpose-built for hotel clients who don’t have the time or budget for dedicated, full-time email marketers or expensive 3rd party marketing agencies and outsourcers. CLICK HERE to get started with your Revinate Marketing solution today.

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