As travel returns following vaccine-driven customer confidence, it’s important that hotels align their brand visions for the decade before we’re all too deep in the weeds of servicing onsite guests. One trend throughout the 2010s was the drive for delivering a “locally authentic” experience, and this will definitely reemerge for the 2020s, but successful properties will be those that take it a full step further.
In the previous decade, being authentic meant, in broad terms, welcoming guests and enriching their journeys by offering their new perspectives of the local culture, cuisine and heritage. Hotels must now explore how they can become true hosts to a city or area for incoming travelers – those people who may be venturing off their home bases for the first time in upwards of two years.
Becoming an “ambassador” also pertains to service in terms of knowing how adventurous each guest’s taste buds are or what spa treatment to recommend based on their other travel activities and when to offer said treatments. Rather than passively offering guests a glimpse into what makes the area special, ambassadorship requires more an active role in personalizing the experience.
In the past, luxury brands have provided this kind of omniscience by deploying an army of staffers, but this model won’t jive in the post-pandemic, hyper-labor-efficient market conditions. The difference in 2021 and beyond is that ambassadorship must be tech-driven and funneled through a skeleton crew of adept, thoroughly knowledgeable personnel. Hotels must be proactive in the prearrival stage to ensure incoming guests have everything that they need and to make arrangements on their behalf. This sets the pace for a great onsite experience in lieu of the outdated reactive process of waiting for guests to reach out to you with their inquiries.
Done right, hotels can utilize integrated platforms and build a versatile CRM to connect the entire guest journey that also offers a clear counterargument to the largely self-serve nature of home sharing accommodation providers such as Airbnb. Hoteliers can use the success of home sharing as both an example of what to emulate and where hotels need to improve in order to survive well in the future.
Let’s break down how an “ambassador” program represents the new full-service model:
1. Messaging Service. Home sharing platforms offer a direct, two-way messaging service with the accommodation host, and hotels must do the same. Brands should be using a chatbot to immediately respond to the simpler questions, which represent the majority of inquiries, then bouncing the more complex ones onto your front desk or concierge. Ditto for the voice channel where booking engines are available 24/7 and so too must your intake team be ready at all hours in order to win the business.
2. Trip Itinerary. Speaking of booking engines, these should no longer be only for rooms, particularly if we want to continue to push guests towards our websites from the OTAs. Customers should be able to plan their entire trip itinerary from these portals, starting with dining reservations and spa appointments through arrival amenities and perhaps a few “surprise and delight” freebies, such as their preferred, complimentary welcome refreshment or departure gift. With so much confusion about what’s open and what’s not, being an ambassador means guiding guests through this uncertainty as early in the customer journey as possible.
3. Transportation. Physically getting to an accommodation booked through a home sharing platform is mostly a laissez faire ordeal. So, why can’t hotels offer bespoke, point-to-point guidance on transportation to and from the rail station or airport, as well as recommendations on how to get to the city or region? As a guest’s perception of your arrival experience can depend on the agony of how one arrives at the hotel, why leave this to chance?
4. Local Recommendations. The future of travel will be more purpose driven. Namely, with so many anxiety-riddled barriers following COVID, guests will want to maximize their time while aboard. Planning a guest’s itinerary or making local recommendations has traditionally fallen under the purview of the concierge, but the time is right for building a “pick your own adventure” program of bundled, turnkey half-day and full-day activities.
5. Post-Stay Relationships. The post-stay relationship is where home sharing hosts are weakest. The platform does the brunt of this, focusing more on exploring new destinations rather than return visits. For hotels, traditionally the last interaction between guest and staff was often a checkout at the front desk where the final bill was confirmed, representing an emotionless, transactional touchpoint. Now with contactless checkout, hotels can transform this into a meaningful “thank you” gesture followed by a series of one-to-one messages based upon what a guest utilized while onsite.
There are many other ways you can build upon this concept of being an ambassador to your guests in order to drive brand reputation, awareness and, ultimately, revenues. The key is to think about not just what amenities you offer to augment the onsite experience (as supported by your tech stack), but also how you can help guests throughout the entire purchasing pathway. Be proactive instead of reactive. These steps may help you become the brand of choice for the next cohort of travelers.
About the Author
Together, Larry and Adam Mogelonsky represent one of the world’s most published writing teams in hospitality, with over a decade’s worth of material online. As the partners of Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited, a Toronto-based consulting practice, Larry focuses on asset management, sales and operations while Adam specializes in hotel technology and marketing. Their experience encompasses properties around the world, both branded and independent, and ranging from luxury and boutique to select-service.