All posts by Monique Manning

How to Leverage Your Front Desk Team after Implementing a PMS Solution

A hotel property management system, or PMS, is powered by highly intelligent, cloud-based software. A PMS is essentially a hotel’s brain center. It empowers hotel managers to automate key functions, streamline operations, monitor key metrics, guard their hotel’s online reputation, and increase their profit margins.

While your PMS represents the brain center of your hotel, your guests also want to see your heart. It may seem like a contradiction, but many of your guests – think millennials and members of generation z – seek an efficient, technology-enhanced travel experience that is also authentic and human. They want it both ways: technology with a human touch. That’s something that only your people can deliver.

Front desk staff is being liberated from the front desk to pursue other customer-centered strategies and revenue-generating activities. The front-desk staff’s role is changing from issuing guest keys to issuing guest recommendations. As hotels re-imagine the front desk, they will expect staff to assume new responsibilities. Here are some ways that hotel managers can work with front desk staff to help reinvent their role and ensure they continue to add value during this period of rapid technological change.

Become an Expert

Hotels that invest in PMS solutions should encourage every member of the customer-facing staff to become knowledgeable in areas that are relevant to your guests. For example, if your hotel resides in a historical part of town, your staff should be able to talk at some length about the surrounding community. If craft beer is a big deal in your market, then they should be prepared to direct guests to a local brewery. The conversational connection your staff makes with each guest adds considerably more value than simply issuing a key.

Become a Customer Advocate

Front-desk staff that are less tied to the front desk can refashion their role into a guest advocate. Whenever and wherever they spot an opportunity to assist a guest, they do so proactively, without being told. They show empathy and eagerness to help guests resolve issues. In hotels that encourage self check-in, guest advocates sit down in the lobby or bar with newly arrived guests and assist them with using a tablet for check-in. Guest advocates add value by asking questions and anticipating their needs. The modern hotel lobby is indeed where technology and humanity intersects. 

Make a Connection

Connection is something that takes effort; it takes much more than a friendly wave. The ability to put a name to a face can help facilitate the connection, but deepening it requires an authentic and meaningful conversational exchange between a guest and a staff member. And that takes us back to the PMS-enabled guest profile and history, which can be used by staff as a basis for providing not only a nice chat but also customized recommendations and offers. Not everything, of course, is covered in the guest profile. Staff must be trained how to ask questions to elicit pertinent information in a tactful manner. Knowing the purpose of a guest’s trip is fundamental. If a funeral is what’s brought her to town, then the staff member will want to temper his approach. If you never ask, you never know. The courtship – and that’s really what it is – should begin as soon as guests arrive. Freed from the confines of the front desk, staff can be assigned as greeters for rewards members and VIPs.

Protect Your Hotel’s Reputation

Far from making front desk staff obsolete, PMS has made them busier and more valuable than ever before. The ever-expanding job description of the front desk staff now includes soliciting positive reviews from recent guests while responding to negative comments and reviews by unhappy guests. In fact, when front desk staff members have a brief respite, many of them are on their smartphones, not messaging their friends but responding to negative reviews posted online.

What’s driving this? Online reviews have replaced traditional word of mouth as the main vehicle for sharing both criticism and praise. But it’s the former that can do serious damage to your hotel. Consider the research that found that one negative review on page one of the search engine results will cause your hotel to lose 22 percent of potential guests. Some of the bigger hotel chains have PR and social media specialists, but for most other hotels the front desk staff is responsible for fielding complaints as well as leveraging positive reviews.

A PMS that includes reputation management integrations utilizes artificial intelligence that can monitor in real time whenever your hotel’s name is mentioned online and throughout the social media universe. Hotels and resorts that invest in a cloud-based PMS solution like StayNTouch can ensure they are part of the social media conversation on an ongoing basis, enabling them to respond in real time to any criticism that threatens their hotel’s reputation and bottom line.

Share Information

Using their PMS, the front desk staff should take ownership of each customer’s guest profile and history, and in particular VIPs and rewards program members. They should know their favorite wine, entertainment preferences, birthday, and, most important of all, the reason for their visit. The key is not to keep this information in one person’s hands but to share it widely with all the staff so everyone is on the same page and equipped to provide personalized service to every client.

Another example of the interaction between technology and people can be seen when a hotel connects its PMS system with other functions like food-and-beverage and transportation. A member of the front desk staff can use their hotel’s PMS to communicate to the transportation desk that an airport pickup must be scheduled for a guest at 2:30 p.m. When a staff member knows that a particular guest can’t stand sour cream, he can easily remind the kitchen. And when a guest asks for a recommendation for an afternoon off the beaten path, hotels can leverage the collective knowledge of their staff by sharing the question via their PMS.

While many travelers are drawn to sophisticated, high-tech hotels, they also desire balance. They want a human connection, and increasingly, that’s the role of the front desk staff. PMS technology doesn’t replace the front desk staff, but rather frees them up to focus on developing and deepening guest relationships, as well as protecting their hotel’s reputation and other responsibilities they have assumed. In this new world, PMS technology and human beings work hand in hand, complementing each other and creating synergy that leads to new efficiencies, enhanced customer service, and bigger profit margins for hotels.

How Smaller Hotel Chains Can Benefit from Using a Hotel PMS

Once the province of the big hotel chains, property management systems (PMS) have recently become more affordable. They are now helping a new generation of small and independent hotels remain relevant and compete in an increasingly crowded market.

Transitioning from a manual or legacy system to a technology-driven PMS solution affords smaller hotels the opportunity to enjoy several game-changing benefits. The ideal PMS will catalyze your entire hotel operations – from marketing and sales, to reservations and guest relations – by reducing costs, minimizing costly manual errors, enhancing engagement, and driving your bottom line. 

How smaller hotel chains can benefit from using a hotel PMS is a topic we are frequently asked about. In fact, there are several benefits, both immediate and long-term, for smaller hotel chains:

Increase Profit Margins

A PMS solution can streamline your operations, save staff time, reduce costs, and generate new sources of revenue. Without a centralized PMS solution, it is a challenge to increase revenue per customer once your guest checks in. Effective cross-selling and up-selling is considerably more effective when you have a PMS in place, because hotels have access to customer data at their finger tips – likes and dislikes, pet peeves, and reason for their visit – enabling them to customize messages, recommendations, and promotions in real time based on guest profiles. A PMS solution makes it easy to offer incentives and value-added benefits like late check-out, free breakfast, or all-in-one spa packages. Smaller hotels will benefit from upselling opportunities based on the client’s specific wants and needs, which will translate to an enhanced guest experience and bigger profit margins.

Simplify your front desk area

PMS solutions equip small hotels with the tools they need to streamline and simplify their front desk area; some fashionable boutique hotels are eliminating the front desk altogether and allowing guests to check-in remotely or at a kiosk in the lobby.

Let’s assume you’re not ready to ditch the reception area – maybe it is in the future, a year-two strategy. In that case, a PMS solution that gives your front-desk receptionist all the customer information in one place will help streamline the reception desk and expedite the check-in and check-out process. Smaller hotels that have handled reservations and registrations the old-fashioned way – an old notebook or spreadsheet – now have access to tools that will make their front desk staff hyper-organized and efficient. A comprehensive PMS system can be accessed by staff anytime, anywhere – even off site – enabling them to track reservations on their mobile device and freeing them from the front desk. Most PMS systems feature a calendar interface, so your staff can easily view all of their reservations and occupancies for a given month at a glance.

A PMS gives smaller hotel chains greater flexibility, enabling them to add additional products and services to a booking, close out particular rooms, move current bookings around, update rate-plans, issue invoices, and facilitate guest check-in and check-out. Its ability to memorize guest likes and dislikes, once a history is established, means small hotels will never forget a returning guest again. Once a guest profile is set up, small hotels will have the means to provide truly personalized service instead of the one-size-fits-all approach that some hotels still employ today.

Position Your Hotel Chain For the Millennial Market

There are some two-billion millennials worldwide, a market that small and large hotels alike must compete for. The good news is that they are not a “bigger is better” generation; being small is not a problem for the ecologically minded millennials, and in fact it could be an advantage. That said, if your hotel happens to be small and low-tech, that is probably not the best way to position your hotel for this market. Most millennials, not to mention the even younger members of generation z, will try to avoid low-tech hotels like the plague. With hotel PMS solutions like StayNTouch, smaller hotel chains can easily leverage technology, not just to please millennials but to become more efficient and productive enterprises.

Manages Sales Channels

PMS systems allow smaller hotel chains to manage their booking engines and view a summary of how their various channels are performing. The need for manual updates, and the mistakes that go with that, are eliminated. So is unintentional overbooking. Small hotels without an organized way of tracking their rooms can unknowingly overbook their rooms, which means an irate customer must be “walked” by the hotel to a comparable hotel and made whole again. The only time a hotel, regardless of its size, should overbook a room is when it’s done intentionally as part of a strategy to maximize revenue. A PMS system can help you avoid the overbooking scenario, because it updates the number of available rooms and rate changes in real time across all OTAs and booking engines.

Also, if the global market is important for your small hotel, a PMS system can help connect your hotel with customers in different countries through international OTAs.

Real-Time Performance Metrics

Smaller hotels that are focused on delivering a quality guest experience tend not to have the time or resources to collect, analyze, interpret, and leverage data. However, with a PMS solution, data becomes their friend. Hotel managers can track important metrics, like revenue and occupancy, enabling them to easily make price and inventory adjustments in real time. With the right PMS solution, hotel managers working at small or independent hotels don’t need to be data scientists. In fact, we recommend keeping it simple: streamline your data by focusing on just a few key performance indicators, or KPIs – Average Daily Rate (ADR), Revenue per available room (RevPAR), and a couple others – that will drive success for your hotel. The important thing is to ensure that you track and receive updates on your most important KPIs on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Without this level of advanced reporting, deciding where to invest your budget is more arbitrary; a data-driven PMS solution removes the guesswork so you know exactly when to add staff or to launch a special promotion. Small hotels with real-time data at their fingertips can engage in sound decision-making that bolsters their bottom line. Hotels without a data-driven PMS in place don’t have real-time access to critical data and will find it more challenging to maximize profit.

Enhanced Guest Communication

Often short staffed, smaller hotels are not always able to provide 24/7 service. Consider the scenario in which a guest arrives at 3 a.m., only to find that the front desk area is closed. With a property management system that facilitates and automates guest communication, small hotels can ensure that guests who arrive after hours receive greetings as well as prompt answers to their basic questions. A good PMS solution includes chatbot technology, which, through the power of artificial intelligence, enables automated, two-way conversations with guests. Chatbots work best when they are used to answer simple questions like, “Where should I park my car?” or “What time does breakfast start?”

Once a PMS system is installed, hotel staff can send automated emails to their guests pre-arrival; at the end of their stay, they can send them another scheduled email thanking them for their stay and requesting that they write the all-important review.

Monitor Reputation in Real Time

Like the bigger chains, small and independent hotels can suffer serious damage to their reputation when unhappy guests post negative comments and reviews. In our hyper-connected world, one bad review can spread like wildfire throughout the social media universe. It’s just not practical or possible for most small hotels to manually monitor everything that is said about them online. The good news is that a PMS system can monitor the online and social media conversation in real-time and instantly notify you when a potentially damaging review surfaces.  When hotels are able to respond promptly and professionally to guest complaints, they can often pre-empt a potential crisis and prevent further damage to their hotel’s reputation.

Scale

An old-school approach to hotel management can prevent small and independent hotels from reaching their growth potential. PMS solutions provide small hotels with the tools they need to take their business to the next level. Replacing your manual reservation book with a modern PMS solution will accelerate your hotel’s growth by reducing costs, creating new efficiencies, eliminating manual errors, identifying new revenue streams, and providing enhanced guest service.

At the end of the day, small and independent hotels are able to survive in this hyper-competitive industry because of their staff, who works incredibly hard every day to please their guests. The beauty of a cloud-based PMS solution like StayNTouch is that, by streamlining operations, reducing costs, and increasing productivity, it enables your limited staff to work hard but also work smarter and faster than ever before. StayNTouch is gaining traction among smaller hotel chains because it helps ensure that, no matter their size or budget, they are prepared and positioned for future success.

Implementing Messaging For Your Hotel and Guests

In today’s connected world, there are a plethora of mediums fighting for your guests’ attention. Third parties can often influence and engage guests during a guest’s stay, but it’s ultimately up to your hotel to ensure your guests are taken care of around the clock. By implementing a Guest Messaging Platform (GMP), your hotel can once again become the guest’s main point of contact. Hoteliers have found that guest messaging provides them with exponential levels of engagement and increases service recovery opportunities, both of which result in higher guest satisfaction.

An Integrated Experience

The optimal Guest Messaging Platforms for your hotel should include an integration with your Property Management Systems (PMS). Integration partners provide a seamless experience for both your hotel and your guests. From guest recognition, to consolidated profiles and automated messaging, an excellent Guest Messaging Platform leverages its PMS partner and extends additional functionality and tools to you.

Impactful Engagement

By adopting messaging, you can be certain that your hotel will begin interacting with a larger portion of your guests. 9 out of 10 consumers globally want to use messaging to talk to businesses, and your hotel is no exception!

  • It’s easy! – Messaging is intuitive and preferred by your guests and your staff.
  • It’s manageable! – Your team can interact with 3-5x more guests through messaging than any other channel (e.g. phone calls, in-person).
  • It’s always available! – Guests can send and receive messages wherever they may be.

Service Recovery

Hoteliers live to please, so it’s unbelievably frustrating when guests don’t give you the opportunity to right a wrong. On the high end, reports suggest that only one out of every 26 unhappy guests actually file a complaint. Often times, guests want to forgo the hassle of a face-to-face conflict or filing a formal complaint; other times, they find it easier to leave you a poor online or survey review. Thankfully, messaging provides the informal communication channel that breaks down this barrier, and gives your hotel more opportunities to fully satisfy your guests. By using messaging, some hotels see up to a 24% increase in service recovery opportunities, and as a result, upwards to 15% increases in their guest service scores.

The power of guest data from a PMS, and the convenience of an automated, personalized messaging platform, is a robust combination that is hard to beat. When messaging is viewed as an integral and integrated system, as opposed to another service to manage, it offers real potential to elevate the guest experience.

The Ten Best Customer Retention Strategies for Hotels

We begin our inquiry by asking, what is driving customer retention in hotels? Answering this question requires that our readers do away with this quaint notion that all guests are of equal value to their hotel. From a simple profit standpoint, loyal hotel guests are more valuable than guests who visit your property once and never return.

An article in Harvard Business Review summarized research conducted by Frederick Reichheld of Bain & Company. Here was his head-turning conclusion: generating a new customer is anywhere from five to 25 times more expensive than retaining a current customer. Moreover, Reichheld found that increasing customer retention rates by 5 percent increases profits by 25 percent to 95 percent.

One of the clear implications of this research is the importance of customer retention strategies for hotels. Companies that focus more on building long-term relationships with their happy customers than acquiring new customers will be rewarded with reduced costs and increased profit margins. Make retaining your existing guests your primary objective and allocate it more resources than new customer acquisition. Consider new customer acquisition an important secondary strategy.

What are the proven customer retention strategies for hotels? There’s a multitude of things hotels can do to motivate their guests to become repeat customers and, over time, long-term guests. Our recommended customer retention strategies for hotels can be broken down into three categories: those strategies that hotels execute prior to the guest’s arrival; those they implement on-property during a guest’s stay; and those strategies they pursue after the guest returns home.

Pre-Arrival

1. Become less dependent on OTAs and booking channels

Online travel agencies like Expedia and Priceline are a mixed blessing. While they enable hotels to quickly fill their rooms and reach their occupancy and revenue goals, they also take what many hotels regard as an exorbitant commission. OTAs also intrude into hotels’ relationship with their guests — consumers are as likely to be loyal to an OTA as they are a given hotel brand. This hurts hotels’ ability to develop long-term guest relationships and hurts their retention rates.

To regain ownership of the guest relationship, hotels must be able to entice prospective guests to book directly with the hotel. Hotels can begin by neutralizing OTAs’ competitive advantages by ensuring that their own website or booking engine is fast, easy, and intuitive.

Some hotels offer a discount to guests who book directly, while others offer value-added incentives like late check-out or free breakfast.

2. Offer the right rewards

There’s been some speculation in the industry that millennials are averse to loyalty programs, but that’s not our take. They love rewards just like everyone else but the kinds of rewards that they value are markedly different from typical business guests, to whom most hotel loyalty programs are targeted. Research suggests that room upgrades are quite motivating to experiential-minded millennials but considerably less appealing to business travelers.

3. Know your VIPs and prepare for their arrival

Customer retention strategies for hotels that don’t offer loyalty programs can also be effective. Start by identifying and focusing on your best customers. Once you’ve identified your VIPs, ensure that all staff are aware of who they are and trained to greet them by name and attend to their needs. When guests feel they are part of the family and have a sense of belonging and ownership, they will become happy, high-value guests and boost your hotel’s retention rate.

 On-Property

4. Demonstrate personalized customer service

Once your guests arrive, everything you do should be about serving and facilitating their specific wants and needs with gracious, personalized service. At the end of the day, good old-fashioned customer service is one of the best retention strategies in the book. When there’s an unhappy guest, customer service, if done in a helpful and empathetic manner, can reverse any potential damage, pre-empt a bad online review, and increase the likelihood that the guest will return to your hotel for another visit.

5. Create an experience

If you want your guests to keep coming back, give them experiences that they can’t get anywhere else. Millennials and members of generation Z alike crave personalized and authentic experiences at every point of their journey. Some hotels promote eco-friendly features or partner with local restaurants and wineries, while others might highlight local artists and chefs.

By the way, the idea that millennials are not loyal is a myth — they are just picky and know what they like and don’t like.

6. Leverage technology

For certain customer segments – namely, your millennial and generation Z guests – there may be no better retention strategy than integrating technology at all levels of your hotel. Some hotels already use technology to simplify and streamline the check-in process and to create unique in-room experiences for their guests – for example, drapes that open by themselves and TVs that turn on automatically to a guest’s favorite show.

Hotels that use technology to automate key functions find that it frees staff up to focus on serving guests and building deeper relationships that, over time, increase retention rates and drive their bottom line. Cloud-based, hotel property management systems like StayNTouch help hotels to leverage technology as a means of reducing costs and increasing profit margins. 

7. Focus on room quality

Investing in room quality is always a wise expenditure of resources. PwC’s 2016 study, “What’s driving customer loyalty for today’s hotel brands?,” concluded that room quality is, in fact, the number-one factor in selecting a hotel for both business and leisure travelers. Enhancing room quality is clearly one of the most important customer retention strategies for hotels of all sizes to undertake.

8. Do the little things right

Customer retention in hotels takes effort. In fact, it’s not that different from dating. Who wouldn’t want to receive a gift basket featuring an assortment of locally produced items at check-in? Small gestures like a handwritten note welcoming them (better than text or email) or leaving their favorite beverage in their room (make sure it’s on the house) will endear guests to you and go a long way toward fostering loyalty.

Post Stay

You miss your guests and you wish they’d return. And you hope they feel the same way. Moving forward, your strategies should include further developing and deepening the guest relationship, ensuring that your brand stays top-of-mind while you are apart.

9. Keep the conversation going

Send your VIP guests a personalized thank-you note and all guests an automated email requesting a review. Encouraging them to write and post a positive review is of great importance, because it demonstrates social trust, which is essential for creating loyal guests. In the weeks and months that follow, the focus should be on keeping the conversation going; after all, you don’t want them to forget about you. This can be accomplished through content marketing, a well-executed email campaign, and by engaging on social media.

10. Reputation management is retention

Ongoing monitoring of the social media universe is critical. It might reveal that your happy guests are spreading positive word of mouth, or you might discover that they are talking behind your back. When you come across a negative review, do not become defensive. Respond to it graciously and most importantly, fast — time is of the essence. If it lingers for too long, serious damage to your brand could undermine your guest retention efforts.

To nurture guest relationships, try to avoid inundating them with sales messages but instead use email as an opportunity to build a genuine relationship. Let the guest who mentioned she loves art know about the art festival that is coming in June. As the relationships deepen and trust is established, invite your guests back with a special offer. Let them know you’re thinking about them on their birthday or anniversary, and help celebrate it by offering a special promotion.

Customer retention in hotels is not new by any means. It’s been around as long as hotels have existed. The only difference is that, back in the day, a good deal on a room or a nice location was all it took for hotels to earn loyal guests. Although retention now takes a lot more work and clever investments in technology, hotels that focus their resources on keeping their best, most loyal guests happy, end up receiving a big return on the investment in the form of lower costs and higher profit margins. 

That said, no company can afford to ignore new customer acquisition, and that includes hotels and resorts. Something to consider is that customer acquisition strategies and customer retention strategies for hotels are not mutually exclusive; retention strategies such as rewards or a great customer review can also be effective in attracting first-time guests to your hotel. In fact, all new guests present the opportunity for your hotel to convert them into loyal, long-term, and high-value guests.

StayNTouch Best Practice Blog: Optimizing the Guest Journey for Direct Bookings Pt 2: During and Post Stay

StayNTouch Best Practice Blog: Optimizing the Guest Journey for Direct Bookings Pt 2: During and Post Stay

The 1990s were halcyon times for OTAs and the hotel industry: commissions were low, and hotels were able to sell extra rooms and benefit from the “Billboard Effect.” But times have changed and OTAs dominate the market, commodifying the hotel industry in the process.  Consequently, hotels will have to change their strategies to increase direct bookings. 

In the previous section, we looked at how hotels could boost guest engagement during the pre-stay inspiration and planning phases, and also how they can streamline their booking experience for a mobile audience.  Now, we discuss how hotels can nurture their guests during their stay, and maximize guest loyalty once the stay is completed. 

During-Stay: Nurture Your Guests 

Your guest has booked through your website and arrived at your hotel, so the journey is over, right? Not in the slightest! This is the perfect time to reinforce your brand, build guest loyalty and promote advocacy on social media. It’s important to continue the conversation with your guests throughout their stay.

And trust me, guests want to keep in contact with you during their stay. Amost 90% of travelers expect hospitality companies to share relevant information during their stay, and over two-thirds of travelers feel more loyal towards companies that do. And for good reason: 85% of leisure travelers only decided on their trip’s activities after they have arrived at their destination.  

Again, mobility can be a crucial component of connecting with your guests. A cloud-based PMS can afford guests the convenience of mobile check-in/out, while also being able to send them personalized, automated offers for room upgrades and amenities. In-stay messaging 一 whether through SMS or a chat app 一 is also an ideal way to quickly process custom requests, or handle guest complaints before they turn into negative online reviews. 

Mobility also has another benefit, namely incentivizing travelers to provide their email and other personalized data otherwise lost to OTAs.  One Las Vegas property, for example, was able to capture email, phone and other personal data of almost 40% of their 1250/day arrivals using a mobile check-in feature. This can then be used to send guests targeted messaging and loyalty packages. 

Post-Stay: Engender Customer Loyalty, and Make Sure Your Loyalty Packages are Worthwhile! 

Boosting guest loyalty is crucial to capturing direct bookings. 

This is more than just a truism: Due to parity agreements with OTAs, loyalty programs might be the only mechanism for hotels to offer travelers preferential rates. It’s also the driving force behind direct bookings: According to PhocusWire, 79% of direct bookings are made by guests who belong to a loyalty program. 

Unfortunately, enthusiasm for loyalty programs is not spread evenly among all segments. Millennials, for example, only subscribe to 2.3 loyalty programs on average, compared with 3.2 for other brackets. To make matters worse, 39% of Millennials don’t believe it’s worth it to join a loyalty program in the first place. 

How can hoteliers reach this key demographic? 

Ultimately, by embracing the mobile-first engagement and nurturing programs outlined in this series. If your loyalty program exists on a single section of a desktop-optimized webpage, you’re simply not going to reach tech savvy Millennial travelers. You have to be continually communicating the value of your property and its amenities, so guests are given ample reason to join your program. 

Proper guest segmentation is also key. You should be routinely auditing your guests’ stay and preference data to gain insights into their room and amenity preferences, behavior, and rate sensitivity. That way, you can develop loyalty programs based on well defined guest profiles, rather than simply an arbitrary discount.


Conclusion 

Does any of this actually work in the real world? Of course it does!

A 2017 report from Kalibri Labs studied over 25,000 hotels in the US, to analyze the effect that direct booking campaigns had on consumer behavior.  The results were “startling:” The median net revenue benefit from the loyalty programs ranged from $9,000 to $33,000 per hotel, even after taking into account all discounts and commission costs.  Upper scale hotels benefits extraordinarily well from the campaigns, with loyalty members driving 40-60% of bookings, and loyalty membership growth growing between 30-40% yoy. 

Hilton’s “Stop Clicking Around” campaign is a case in point. In 2016, Hilton launched a massive marketing campaign to encourage loyalty membership called “Stop Clicking Around,” which challenged the perception that the lowest rates could only be found on OTAs, and encouraged travelers to join Hilton’s loyalty program, Hilton Honors. The program was a runaway success, and Saw loyalty membership and direct bookings rise from 51 million in 2015 to 85 million in 2017. Because of the campaign, direct booking channels remained the fastest-growing in Hilton’s portfolio, beating out OTAs by a factor of three.

OTAs still hold the commanding heights of the direct booking market, but there is plenty that hotels can do to convince travelers to book on brand. If you would like to learn more, feel free to watch our OnDemand webinar on increasing direct bookings, here.

The Top Hotel Incentives for Direct Bookings

Online travel agencies, or OTAs, are a mixed blessing for hotels. They help to fill rooms and achieve occupancy goals but often at the expense of revenue. When guests book directly with a hotel, it costs hotels less than OTA bookings and is, therefore, better for a hotel’s bottom line. What’s more, direct bookings give hotels the chance to develop a more direct relationship with their guests, and to control those relationships, as opposed to entrusting them to a third party organization like an OTA.

Because of the love-hate relationship hotels have with OTAs, many hotels are currently looking for ways to wean themselves off of them, or to at least reduce their dependency on them. This means that hotels will have to shoulder more of the marketing burden in order to achieve their occupancy goals. It means that your hotel will need to learn how to convince guests to stay in your hotel. Your challenge will be to demonstrate to prospective guests the added value that they will receive as a result of booking directly with your hotel. An inherent advantage that hotels have over OTAs is that they can offer guests hospitality incentives at the point of purchase. In order to incentivize and convert prospective guests, hotels need to understand what moves and motivates their guests. Here are some of the top hotel incentives for guests:

Easy Booking

Your hotel website is usually the first contact point for travelers, many of whom may not be familiar with your brand and reputation. Even if you are a well established entity, don’t take anything for granted. Make sure your website is simple to use and easy to navigate; if it’s not intuitive, impatient millennials and most everyone else will simply scroll to the next hotel. Remember, you’re competing against the OTAs, whose main draw is their ease of use and convenience.

According to the AARP, baby boomers are more likely to book directly with a hotel. Although it may seem counter intuitive, baby boomers have the same basic needs as millennial travelers; both desire a digital experience that is straightforward and easy to navigate. A hotel interface and booking process that is simple and streamlined is not only a hospitality incentive for travelers, it’s also a competitive necessity for any hotel or chain that wants to achieve optimal performance.

Freebies

How to convince guests to stay in your hotel is all about adding value. As far as hotel incentives for guests are concerned, you can’t do much better than giving something of value away for free.

Free upgrades and room service tend to be at the top of most guests’ wish list and are effective at motivating them to book directly with your hotel. Free parking and free breakfast are also attractive hospitality incentives. In order to convert, hotel incentives for guests must be perceived as meaningful or valuable. Some hotels offer free gift cards, though the demand for that incentive seems to have decreased.  Once a big draw, free Wi-Fi is no longer a value-added incentive; for most travelers it’s considered an expectation.

The idea is to experiment with different hospitality incentives and see what’s effective for different kinds of guests. It could be a free airport pick-up, a free drink at the hotel bar, late check-out, rewards points, or a bottle of wine and gift basket welcoming a guest.

Freebies are not effective, of course, unless prospective guests know about them.

Tip: On your website, create a pop-up featuring a special offer that will appear when users visit your booking page. Make sure to highlight your best hospitality incentives next to the “Book Now” button. Remind them that the incentives are available only when they book their reservation directly with the hotel.

Discounts on Direct Bookings

Some hotels like to offer new guests, and reward their regulars, with discounts for booking with the hotel directly instead of using an OTA. While this makes sense in theory, why give your profit away when you don’t need to? What guests care about most is value. Try using hospitality incentives like free upgrades to convert them instead of lowering your price.

First Impressions

How to convince guests to stay in your hotel – that is the question. One rule that hasn’t changed in all these years is that first impressions matter. The only difference is that nowadays the initial perception occurs online and in the social media universe. Hotels that wish to compete with OTAs must make an investment in their website presence. This is especially true for millennials, who evaluate prospective hotels based in part on how well they integrate technology. If your brand is perceived as low-tech by millennials, hospitality incentives will be far less effective. Start by investing in your website and social media presence.

Eco-friendly 

The knowledge that they are supporting an eco-friendly destination is an incentive of increasing importance for many travelers. In a study conducted by Mandala Research, 60 percent of U.S. travelers indicated they had taken an eco-friendly trip during the last three years. Meanwhile, a Booking.com sustainability travel report indicated that 55 percent of international travelers felt more strongly about wanting to book an eco-friendly trip than they did the past year.

Hotels throughout the nation are answering the call with energy-efficient building systems, eco-friendly waste management techniques, and by introducing green certification programs.     

Technology

Technology is one of the most desirable hotel incentives for guests. Presented with a choice, most travelers – certainly millennials and members of generation z – would opt for a tech-savvy hotel over a low-tech hotel. To meet their constant demand for technology, hotels need to leverage technology and automation at every touch point in the guest journey, from initial booking and check-in to in-room amenities and hotel design. Consider offering guests technology-driven experiences like remote check-in and plenty of charging ports. Cloud-based, hotel property management systems like StayNTouch help hotels leverage technology and become more efficient and productive.

Last-minute travelers

Hotel incentives for guests also include offering last-minute deals — yet another great strategy for boosting guest stays. Hotels that need to sell last-minute inventory should target millennials as well as young families seeking stay-cation opportunities, as they are more likely to be swayed by last-minute deals. In fact, Criteo’s Summer Travel Report concluded that 70 percent of the last-minute reservations that hotels received were made on mobile devices. According toSkift, 52 percent of millennial business travelers book their reservations on their mobile devices and 60 percent of mobile hotel bookings are made at the last minute. Hotels seeking to sell their final inventory should heed the data and take advantage of the last-minute market.

Hotels realize two big benefits when guests book with them directly, sans the middleman: their revenues increase and they assume control of the guest relationship throughout all touch points of the guest journey. Hospitality incentives can persuade travelers to book directly with your hotel and bypass the OTAs. If executed properly, they can boost occupancy, stimulate word of mouth, and increase profit.

The hospitality incentives that we reviewed are not ironclad rules. What will be effective for your hotel depends on local and regional factors; hotel incentives for guests should be customized based on the needs of your market. For insight into what incentives to offer, consult your data. Try different strategies and see what works for you.

StayNTouch Best Practice Blog: Optimizing the Guest Journey for Direct Bookings Pt 1: Pre-Stay

StayNTouch Best Practice Blog: Optimizing the Guest Journey for Direct Bookings Pt 1: Pre-Stay

When OTAs came on the scene in the 1990s, they were seen as a win-win proposition: While OTAs profited off of commission, hotels were able to use OTAs to sell rooms that would otherwise lay vacant.  And then there was the “billboard effect,” where hotels could gain valuable exposure just by appearing on multiple distribution channels.  

OTAs also began investing heavily in digital marketing, aiming to engage customers early in the “inspiration” and “planning” phases of the guest journey, and keep them as long-term customers of the OTA, rather than the individual hotels they were staying.  The strategy paid off tremendously, with OTAs set to capture 41% of the direct booking market by 2020. OTAs do especially well with Millenials, who value low rates and unique experiences, and are more likely to book a trip on impulse. Not only do 52% of Millennials book their hotels via OTAs, but 39% do not view a hotel loyalty program as being worthwhile.  

None of this bodes well for hotels. Not only have OTA commissions increased from 5% to almost 30%, but hotels are often boxed into restrictive rate-parity and last-room availability requirements, and are overshadowed by OTAs in search results. Even worse, when guests book through an OTA, it’s difficult for the hotel to capture their 

The result is a commodification of the hospitality industry, where hotels are boxed into “selling-on-rate” rather than selling on their property’s unique value. Needless to say, this is not a situation that benefits hotels. But fear not! There are ways to promote direct bookings and take some of the power away from the OTAs!

Pre-Stay (Inspiration/Planning): Do what works!

OTAs have been able to increase their share of the direct booking market by focusing on engagement during the inspiration and planning phases of the guest journey. Why can’t you do the same?

Google estimates that 82% of leisure travelers are undecided on their accommodations during the “Dreaming” phase of the guest journey. By investing in compelling content marketing, PR, social media, and influencer marketing, you can capture your guests’ imagination 一 and hopefully their bookings! 一 before they turn to OTAs. 

Here, it’s important to make sure that your content focuses on the unique aspects of your property (location, amenities, self-service tech, etc) that differentiates you from your competitors.  Remember, you want to sell based on your property’s value, not only your rate. 

Having a series of vibrant, compelling images and video of your hotel is also crucial to conveying the value of your property. As is a content management system that lets you manage assets across multiple channels. According to Google, 54% of leisure travelers said that images of a destination are important when making travel decisions, and 3-in-5 travelers use video to narrow down their decision. And don’t forget to include customer reviews and testimonials with your content 一 The dreaming and planning phases are all about narrowing down options, and 67% of travelers are more likely to book when a brand provides relevant information for their destination. 

Pre-Stay (Booking): Be Seamless and be Complete!

Simply put, average hotel website conversion rates are abysmal. Phocuswire estimates that the typical rate is below 2%, meaning that if 100 people get to a typical hotel’s website fewer than two will actually book a room. Why is this number so horrendous? 

One reason has to do with a perceived lack of rate parity. In fact, 69% of travelers worry that they’re not finding the best price when they’re about to make a booking decision. Often, In a digital version of showrooming, travelers “check out” what a hotel has to offer on its website, only to turn around and book on the OTA. Hotels can combat this by insuring strict rate parity across all distribution channels, and weaving a Best Rate Guarantee throughout their website and marketing. 

Hotel websites also need to be fast and seamless. Google estimates that over half of website visits are abandoned if a site takes longer than three seconds to load

How long does your check-out cart take to load?

It’s 2019 一 It should go without saying that websites should be mobile-friendly.  94% of leisure travelers switch between devices as they plan to book a trip, with 46% of travelers deciding where to travel on mobile, but physically booking the trip on a desktop. Not only does this give the traveler yet another opportunity to book on an OTA, but switching devices also makes it more difficult for hotels to track an individual across channels and ultimately personalize their stay. 

Building a mobile-friendly site means creating page layouts that eliminate unnecessary steps (e.g. one-click functionality, auto-fill forms, and click-to-call buttons), and ensure that all relevant information can fit on a mobile screen. Just like with rates, hotels should strive for information parity between the desktop and mobile versions of their site. After all, only 23% of leisure travelers are confident that they can find all of their relevant trip information on their smartphone, and 88% of them will switch to another site or app if the current site isn’t satisfying their needs. 

In the next section, we’ll examine how to increase direct bookings by nurturing guests during their stay, so that they are more likely to join loyalty programs post-stay. Stay Tuned!

A Guide on the Benefits of Hotel Digital Signage

The ability for hotels to communicate directly with their guests has never been greater. Many, if not most hotels, have websites and blogs and participate in the social media conversation, while some even text and instant message their guests. Email is still an important part of the communication mix; its purported demise seems to have been a premature conclusion.

But one of the most important communication vehicles available to hotels that we don’t talk enough about is hotel digital signage. If executed properly, hospitality digital signage can produce a number of key benefits for hotels. Digital signage can generate new income, increase staff efficiency, improve customer service, and enhance the entire guest experience. Hotel digital signage also has great benefits for advertisers and for the most important audience of all – your guests.

By 2025, the global digital signage market is expected to increase to nearly $31 billion, and a good chunk of that will come from hotels and resorts. The digital signage hospitality industry is experiencing considerable growth as adoption among hotels becomes more widespread. The reason for the growth? Hotel digital signage works. Full stop. Here’s what hospitality digital signage can do for your hotel or resort:

Enhance branding

Digital signagedrives engagement, enabling guests to feel a greater emotional connection with the brand. Some hotels may not realize it, but by not investing in technology they are actually alienating a big share of their market. Once their hotel is branded as “low tech” or outdated, it is hard to reverse that perception. By utilizing hotel digital signage, on the other hand, hotels are able to position themselves as technology-driven brands, which will endear them to millennials and other tech savvy travelers. Cloud-based, hotel property management systems like StayNTouch make it easy for hotels and resorts to become technology-driven enterprises.

Do-it-yourself navigation

One thing most travelers agree on, regardless of their age, is that they tend to feel directionally challenged in a new environment. When guests first arrive at your hotel, they may find it challenging to navigate the hotel environs. As hotel managers know, guests have questions at the outset and will ask hotel staff for directions. Hospitality digital signage can be used, freeing up staff to focus on revenue generation. For example, digital interactive maps can be placed at strategic locations, like at entrances and elevators, so even the most directionally-challenged guests find navigating your hotel a cinch. Digital interactive maps can also be used to direct visitors to your gift store, spa, or restaurant.

Cultivate new revenue streams

One reason why the digital signage hospitality industry is so hot right now is because of its ability to generate ongoing revenue for hotels and resorts. Hotels can use hotel digital signage to raise awareness of other revenue-generating parts of their hotel, such as the spa or gift store, or use that space to sell paid advertising to local and regional businesses.

Keep your advertisers happy

While digital signage can obviously help your advertisers reach new customers, it also has additional benefits like providing tools that make them more self-sufficient, freeing up your marketing team to focus on other more pressing activities. For example, if advertisers want to change or update their advertising message or graphic, they can do it remotely without the hassle of driving to the hotel. The cloud-based technology that powers digital signage includes metrics and data to assist advertisers with analyzing, evaluating, and tracking their return on investment.

Keep your guests informed

Digital signage enables access to timely and relevant information that can be customized for the needs of different groups of guests. A growing number of hotels are using digital signage to keep guests informed in real-time, which gives hotel staff more time to focus on customer service and revenue generation. Digital signage is suitable for communicating special announcements, promotions, and sharing non-urgent and routine information. When a hotel needs to communicate urgent information to its guests and employees, digital signage is the ideal option. In fact, it has been used to communicate with families staying at hotels during the aftermath of recent hurricanes. Road closings, flight delays, and other timely information can be conveyed to guests as it unfolds. If inclement weather is on its way, hotels can remind guests to “bring your umbrella” or “take a jacket.”

Hotels also use digital displays to communicate check-in and check-out times, spa and fitness center hours, and other frequently asked questions. Using hotel digital signage to answer FAQs empowers guests and makes them more self-sufficient, which is especially important for millennials. Hospitality digital signage can also be used to inform guests about local attractions, special events, and historical landmarks in the surrounding area. Messages can be customized for wedding parties, conference attendees, and other large groups.

Some hotels use the technology to provide weather reports and stock market updates for their guests, as well as local, regional, and national headlines. These days, of course, most of your hotel guests already have access to that information on their favorite mobile device. Whenever you use hotel digital signage, make sure you’re adding real value.

Fueled by advances in automation technology, the digital signage hospitality industry has come of age. The benefits of hotel digital signage,as we’ve seen, are hard to argue with. The only caveat that we leave you with is the need to keep your brand in mind as you move forward. For example, if your brand celebrates simple elegance, then be cognizant of not creating visual clutter with your signage. If your brand is all about offering escapism, then make sure that the stock prices and news updates don’t distract and detract from the ambience. Always think of the needs of your guests first; they trump everything and everyone else.

With that one qualification, digital signage is more than worthy of your serious consideration. This exciting technology is rapidly evolving and expanding, and soon enough it will be the norm at most hotels and resorts throughout the world.