Customer Journey in Hospitality

22 February 2022 | By Francisco Nuñez | E-MARKETING

What is the Customer Journey?


Customer Journey is the path a customer takes to satisfy their needs and desires through a consumer choice. It is a map that attempts to represent the different stages a customer goes through during the buying process and the different points of contact with the brand throughout the journey. 


Depending on the line of business and the target segment, this journey varies, although its generic stages are the same. For example, the "journey" a user follows to place a fast food order from an app is much shorter (in time and in the number of channels visited) than the one a person takes when booking a room in a hotel. 


The tourism sector is one of the most complex to understand and analyze. In a sector as competitive as the hospitality industry,0 identifying the steps and stages of the Customer Journey is essential in order to establish a marketing plan. 


Knowing the guests' purchase path, a hotel can define its attribution model and prepare the touchpoints for each stage of the Customer Journey. It is about preparing an omnichannel marketing strategy and delivering the right message, to the right person, at the right time and influencing their purchasing decisions. 


Graphic:
InterContinental Hotels Group recently stated that "mobile devices will account for 40 percent of online travel sales by 2020." According to McKinsey, one in four consumers also use social media to make purchasing decisions.


Customer Journey Map 


The Customer Journey is composed of 5 different stages, which in turn include internal sub-processes and brand touchpoints that interact with the user according to the product/service that we commercialize.


A common mistake is to think of the process as a one-way straight line, because of its comings and goings, advances and setbacks. The end is not the purchase or consumption, nor the use of the service. A good loyalty strategy encourages the consumer to repeat the cycle in a long-term relationship and to repeat the Journey. 


In hospitality, establishments can make a big difference in their sales strategy by understanding the paths their customers take. The good news is that most companies already have the data they need; they just need to understand it and use it in a strategy, even if it's not perfect. 


Steps and Stages of the Customer Journey in Hospitality

First stage of Customer Journey: INSPIRATION 


The first phase or stage of the Customer Journey is known as "Inspiration" where the need and desire to travel is discovered. It all starts with the inspiration that strikes us unawares and awakens our desire. When we find a trigger that makes us dream, projecting that long-desired trip into reality. 


In the offline and online world, we are constantly bombarded with ads and content that seek our attention, inspire and trigger our next trip. But also word-of-mouth recommendations from a friend or family member can be the trigger. 


Social networks, with Instagram as one of the protagonists, is a place where the desire to travel is naturally transmitted. A high-impact image with a breathtaking landscape or a friend sharing a romantic photo of his or her partner, resting on the sand of some beautiful beach, move our feelings and our curiosity. Our desire is awakened, we also want to be there and live the experience. 


There are many places where users can get travel inspiration. For example, specialized blogs about destinations, a YouTube channel that shares first-person travel experiences, OTAs and their content related to experiences and locations, Google searches, advertisements, among others. 


It is important for the hotel to understand the nature of its buyer persona and what their characteristics and interests are as a market segment. In order to produce valuable content that is relevant and timely at this stage. 


Touchpoints in the Inspiration stage must be oriented to the senses, seeking to awaken non-rational emotions that impact and "move" users. 


Some of them are: 

  • Specialized blogs about the destination and with a well-defined SEO strategy. 

  • Valuable content in social media; experiences and lifestyle. 

  • Influencers Marketing 

  • Organic positioning for "long tail" keywords.

  • Display Campaign 

  • Facebook Ads 

Second stage of Customer Journey: DECISION


The user has finally decided to take the trip, giving way to the second stage of the Customer Journey, the "Decision". We have reviewed this and the next stage of "Purchase" in depth in the Booking Journey blog that you can consult in this link.


Generally speaking, the Decision stage is composed of the following sub-phases. 

Planning

With the decision to travel in mind, the planning of the trip begins, which means, what will be the duration, what is the destination, the itinerary, the budget and the ideal accommodation that fits the needs of the trip. 

Search and Research

The search process is extensive. Although it depends on the market segment we are targeting (national or international market, age range, socioeconomic level), it is estimated that a user can begin his research up to 6 months before the trip, intensifying his search as the date of his trip approaches. 


At this stage, the user reviews a large amount of information, using metasearch engines and OTAs as a starting point due to their ease of use and wide range of offers.

Consideration

Unlike the "inspiration" stage, which is emotional, the "consideration" stage is mainly rational. 


With all the available information on the table, the user begins to compare and discard options to generate a shortlist of accommodations according to their interests, expectations and needs. Metasearch engines are a widely used tool in this stage because of their ease of comparing options, segmenting the information through different filters such as rates, location and rating. 


This stage is the perfect opportunity for the hotel to make guests fall in love with the hotel through arguments that only they can offer; quality information about the property and the destination, a preferential rate, exclusive benefits for members and personalized attention through their customer service center.


Some Touchpoints in the DECISION stage that the hotel may consider are: 


  • OTAs.

  • Meta search engines. 

  • SERps

  • Google Hotel Ads.

  • Direct Channel: Hotel Website and Call Center.

  • Retargeting 

  • Online reputation; testimonials and comments.

.

Third stage of the Customer Journey: PURCHASE

The third stage or phase of the Customer Journey is the purchase. After consulting and evaluating a large amount of information, the user has decided on an accommodation and is ready to make a reservation.  We have reviewed this stage in depth in the Booking Journey blog that you can consult in this link.


Generally speaking, the sub-phases considered in this stage are: 

RESERVE 

The Hotel faces the most crucial moment of the sales process: getting the traveler to book on the hotel's own website. For this there are 2 key pillars; to have an updated and functional Website, which provides confidence in its navigation flow and to offer the best rate available on the Internet. 


With a well-defined booking flow in a functional, easy to use and visually attractive booking engine, plus a competitive rate, the Hotel can obtain the most desired reservation. Reducing intermediary costs, getting a better return for the same occupancy and establishing a direct relationship with your guests. 

PRE-ARRIVAL 

The Pre-arrival covers the period of time from the moment the reservation is made until the guest arrives at the hotel to begin his or her stay. 


In its essence, it is the ideal moment to make the most of the guest's anticipation for their upcoming trip by offering consumption associated with it. Such as a better room category, exclusive packages such as one for "honeymooners", breakfasts, or activity options for a family traveling with children, "last chance" offers, among others. 


Touchpoints in the PURCHASE stage are characterized by being a direct contact with the customer. Some of them that the hotel can consider are: 


  • Upselling and Cross Selling

  • E-mails 

  • Text messages 

  • Direct phone calls 


Fourth stage of the Customer Journey: SERVICE / STAY 

The time has come for the hotel experience. The fourth stage or phase of the Customer Journey begins when the guest arrives at your accommodation to begin their stay, carrying all their expectations on their shoulders. 


It is time for the hotel operation to live up to its promise of value, embodying each experience as unique as possible. A welcoming smile or a complimentary drink while waiting to check in are small details that make a difference and personalize the experience into a memorable one. These can later translate into positive reviews, recommendations and a long-term relationship with the guest. 

Destination Experience 

When the guest is already enjoying the Hotel's amenities. Their experience is made up of two specific factors: 


  1. The expected benefits, which initially enamored the customer and have to do with the services provided by the accommodation, its value offer, spaces, attention, among other factors. 


  1. The surprise or differentiating factor; which considers the value options offered by a hotel that the guest did not know about, which do not necessarily have to be free but are differentiating. That is to say, hey must have the potential to positively surprise the guest, such as a transportation service, an activity guide with preferential prices at the destination, gifts when certain conditions are met, benefits for birthdays, among others. 


Hotel operation is complex and involves a multiplicity of factors to measure its quality. What is certain is that the focus of the operation must be the guest and the hotel's value offering that meets their needs. 


Fifth stage of Customer Journey: POST-JOURNEY  

The post-trip is the last stage of the Customer Journey (which, if well managed, can be the step prior to a new reservation). It starts from the moment the guest leaves the hotel facilities at the end of their stay, thus ending the service. 


It is no mystery that retaining existing customers is much more profitable than constantly investing to acquire new ones. This implies a challenge and a predisposition on the part of the property to create and maintain long-term relationships with its clientele, making the most of its database and kardex of each client. 


At this stage, we can distinguish these valuable tools: 


Satisfaction survey 

When a stay is about to end or ended relatively recently, it is important to give the customer the option to rate their stay. 


Online reputation is one of the most significant intangible assets today. Customers have to say and can empower or send to the bottom of the abyss companies that do not look after their interests and/or mislead their customers with false promises. 


No one wants to stay in a hotel with a bad reputation, which directly affects the hotel's occupancy and future.  Conversely, a hotel that has a good reputation online (social networks - its own and those of its guests -, on OTAs, on Google My Business tabs, word of mouth) is a hotel that has a guaranteed full occupancy and more importantly, take control of your rate and lead your bookings through the direct channel generating a higher margin of profitability. 

Loyalty Program in Hospitality 

Loyalty programs are a marketing strategy designed to encourage customers to continue consuming in exchange for rewards and exclusive benefits. 


A loyal and brand-loyal customer is a customer who establishes a long-term relationship with the hotel and through their cumulative consumption can access a scheme of rewards and exclusive benefits, such as free nights, breakfast included, Wi-Fi, better room categories, even benefits associated with other businesses in a network of business partners. 


Within the industry, the work done by Marriott Rewards and its loyalty program serves as an example. The program allows the guest to earn reward points when staying at one of the 29 affiliated brands, with additional points by making purchases with one of the Marriott or Ritz-Carlton affiliated credit cards. As benefits, points can be redeemed for gift cards, cruise vacations, car rentals or concerts and sporting events. 

Database; Offers and promotions 

After the guest's stay, the hotel has (or should have) all the valuable information about the guest in a customer kardex. Basic information such as personal and contact information, tastes, preferences, type of trip taken, reservation anticipation, average expenses, among others. 


This database allows the hotel to establish a unique conversation with each client, with personal messages such as a special offer for a birthday or a promotional package to celebrate again the anniversary of marriage in the hotel. 


It is not about invading people's privacy with a constant bombardment of useless offers, but about maintaining communication with customers in a personal and genuine way, understanding the characteristics, tastes and preferences of each one in order to bring them value propositions.  


Don't worry, technology is on our side. With a good organized and segmented database, and a platform to automate messages so that they are triggered at the right time, you can achieve great benefits at a low cost. 


Touchpoints in the Post Trip stage are characterized by being a direct and personalized contact with the client. Some of them that the hotel can consider are: 


  • Emails 

  • Text messages 

  • Phone calls 




Conclusion

The customer has been at the center of the scene for decades. Understanding their buying journey in the hospitality industry is not only important, it is essential to empathize with the customer's needs, joys and frustrations and to be a viable option when it comes to their decision and purchase. 


A marketing plan without a defined Customer Journey is a waste of time and money. It is not about finding a single model that works forever, but about understanding and continuously optimizing this ever-changing journey. 


The Customer Journey in the travel industry is complex when considering a multiplicity of variables in the marketing and operation of the hotel. 


But don't worry, we are here to help. We have helped small and large hotels consolidate their direct sales and strengthen their operations. Contact us and find out what we can do for you. 






By Francisco Nuñez

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