Executives from Hilton, Choice Hotels International and Chesapeake Hospitality at the Hotel Data Conference spoke about what goes into creating the guest experience and ways to encourage on-property spend.
NASHVILLE, Tennessee—The hotel industry is in an era where experience matters most to guests, which is why it’s important for hoteliers to find ways to create great experiences from the travel search phase to hotel arrival while making those efforts profitable.
During the “How guest experience pays off” panel on Day Two of the 11th annual Hotel Data Conference, speakers said it’s important to invest in every stage of the customer journey, and the booking journey has turned to a digital experience.
Chris Wilroy, SVP and commercial director, Americas, at Hilton, said his company is putting a lot of dollars into the “dreaming” stage, which “is that shopping and research phase down to booking, pre-arrival and post-stay,” he said.
One way Hilton is investing in this is by improving the search function on its website. It’s no longer hard to find a hotel in a specific city with a great Instagrammable dessert because the website has different features that allow guests to find exactly what they’re looking for, he said.
“We’re really changing the idea of search to enable more free-forming dreaming,” he added.
Chesapeake Hospitality has found success in serving up personalized content to meeting planners, according to Chris Green, chief commercial officer at Chesapeake.
The company uses aggregate search and then uses that data to create and send personalized offers to meeting planners, he said.
Choice Hotels International uses data to understand which hotels travelers might be interested in, such as its upscale Cambria and Ascend brands, and then uses that data to elevate those brands on the website to make sure those are the first types of properties they see to encourage them to book at one of those hotels, said Robert McDowell, chief commercial officer at Choice.
Wilroy added that Hilton also has a chatbot on its website to help guests with their travel decisions, and to walk them through the steps of booking travel on the website if it seems like they have been looking around for a long time. The automated bot has 25,000 conversations per week, he said.
Hotels are investing heavily in on-property experiences, and they of course want to find ways to maximize profits from creating and delivering those experiences.
When asked if it is more important to get guests to book a room at the right rate or spend money on multiple cocktails they will later post to Instagram, speakers agreed that the goal is to achieve both.
“If you can’t get them in the hotel at the right rate, they’re not going to be buying five $18 cocktails,” McDowell said.
The goal is getting them on property, and then where appropriate, getting them to spend on ancillary things such as rooftop bar cocktails, he said.
While getting guests to book at the right rate is important, Green said a hotel still has to have the experience guests want or they will take their wallet and buy a cocktail down the street.
“If you don’t have experiences that hold people to your hotel and offer them an opportunity to take (pictures and enjoy a cocktail), you’re so far behind the curve,” he said. “You have to have … a connection with your guests at every chain scale and have things that hold them in place that are interesting.”
Due to enhanced experiences and offerings, resort fees have popped up at some hotels, which some consumers are annoyed about. Speakers said the best way to address these fees is by being transparent with customer and owners.
Wilroy said Hilton is working to strike the right balance with resort fees, and McDowell added that it’s important to make sure the consumer knows what the prices are for the fees when staying at a hotel and the services they’re getting for paying the fees.
At the end of the discussion, speakers left attendees with their main takeaways for monetizing the customer experience.
- McDowell: “Owners should understand and talk to the consumers.”
- Green: “Household debt is way, way down. Think leisure…”
- Wilroy: “…Pay attention to the digital front door, especially the revenue-management folks in the room,” he said, adding that they should pay attention to how prices show up for the customers.