Here are three quick ways to improve guest experience at your hotel.
Try Not To Overpromise and Underdeliver
Do your photos spread across your online presence really present your hotel accurately? Do you use photos of your suites or premium rooms as your hero or main images instead of the more realistic standard rooms that most people book?
Your hotel marketing photos should probably be taken by a professional that specialises in hotel photography, architectural photography or as a last resort - real estate photography. But that doesn't mean they should use extravagant special effects, excessive use of Photoshop or color grading to make them look 'out of this world'.
There is a big difference between using Photoshop to remove an ugly fire sprinkler on the ceiling to using Photoshop to paint a scenery outside that doesn't exist.
Resist the temptation to take pictures of rooms with the best views. The most honest and effective photo for a hotel is a room with the vanity curtains closed taken at dusk such as this photo below.
The fact you can see the Auckland Skytower in the background does not take away the impact the room has. In this case, the Skytower is very much in the background.
The photos you use to promote your hotel should show your rooms in their 'best light' but that doesn't mean going overboard. Nor does it mean staging the room with lot's of lovely extra adornments like flowers, chocolates or fruit baskets if that is not what the guest experience will really be like.
Another aspect to overpromising and underdelivering are your facilities and amenties listed in channels online like Booking.com.
Let's say you are having some renovations done in the Fitness Centre (perhaps you are painting the room and having a rubber floor installed). During this time, it would very wise to remove the 'Fitness Facility' reference from your online channels and also main marketing website.
This may seem like overkill, but just imagine how dissapointed a guest will be who books your hotel only to discover it's 'closed for maintenance'.
Just remember to add it back in once the renovations are complete!
What are Your Special Touches?
You have a great location for your hotel, with comfortable rooms that are spotlessly clean. Unfortunately, these days - that is just not enough.
What are the special touches that you surprise guests with that elevate them from posting a 4 star review on TripAdvisor to a 5 star review? This is where your creativity and imagination must come into play.
The problem with offering unexpected extras such as welcome drinks, chocolates, cheese platters, fruit baskets or free bottled water are that guests will expect these every time and may have unexpected consequences. Therefore, they should be carefully thought through, budgeted and most of all - actually appreciated by most guests.
The Not So Welcome Drink
The Welcome Drink on arrival is a classic example of a special touch provided by many hotels throughout South East Asia including Thailand. It makes sense - because of the hot tropical weather.
But it is also an example of a gesture that can actually backfire. Firstly, there is a good chance that the guest doesn't like sweet, carbohydrate laden drinks in the first place. They may have an allergy to mango (in the case of my mother for example) or just hate the sweet, bitter or exotic nature of the drink.
The drink is normally presented by a lovely, smiling staff member on a coaster and placed on the reception counter. The problem for the guest is that they then feel 'bad' for not drinking it! So they take a few sips of the drink to show respect to their new hosts - but deep down - they can't wait to get out of there!
Check-In should take no longer than a few minutes anyway, so there is no way anyone can realistically expect to finish that nice, ice cold drink.
A small bottle of chilled water is a much better offer than a Welcome Drink. Or if you insist on providing Welcome Drinks - ask the guest if they prefer water instead.
Case Study : Landmark Hotel, Bangkok, Thailand.
When done correctly and appropriately, special touches can work wonders. I will never forget the first night I stayed in Bangkok in 2004 at the 5-star Landmark Hotel on Sukhumvit Road.
Upon checking into my room I discovered the most amazing fruit platter waiting for me presented on fine china with silverware, napkin and hand-written (and personalised) welcome note.
Imagine my delight at trying all of these exotic fruits such as mangosteen, star fruit and guava for the first time in my life! It was a flavour and taste sensation that I will never, ever forget. Even 12 years later I can still recall the taste of that delicious fruit and the impression that left on me.
I also vividly remember the front desk staff giving me a free drink voucher for their spectacular 31st storey bar. I was able to stand in awe overlooking the spectacular, endless cityscape of Bangkok. I was totally mesmerised, and that memory endures forever.
Both these experiences (the fruit platter) and the free bar drink had been cleverly designed by hotel management to evoke emotions. They succeeded - and I continue to stay at the Landmark Hotel when I am travelling through Thailand on business to this day.
That free drink in the 31st-floor bar was not about the drink. It was about making that an experience I would never forget. It worked!
The special touches you offer of course do not need to be based on food and beverage, in fact - these are often the most risky due to the tastes and dietary needs of guests.
They do however have to be appropriate for your brand and location. Tourists are looking for new and interesting experiences - not mass produced muffins.
It is not easy implementing a 'special touches' program into your hotel for some of the reasons I have raised above. But also do not underestimate the power and effectiveness a simple gesture when done right can have to propel guest experience into the next online review star.
Personalisation is Paramount
I recently stayed alone at a popular inner city 3.5 Star Hotel in Auckland on business during a photo shoot. I just needed a place to stay and certainly wasn't looking for - or expecting - exceptional service from this budget business hotel.
But even I was shocked when I checked in for about the 6th time this year to discover the same tired old processes for validating my ID (including taking a photocopy of my passport without my approval) and for the reception staff simply 'going through the motions'.
And yes I got that question that front desk staff love to say and then wonder why the guest reacts so badly afterwards.
'Welcome to our Hotel!'
To which I replied 'I think you mean Welcome Back - I have stayed here many times!'.
The response from the front desk staff was immediate and transformational. She was very apologetic and changed her demeanour completely- or in other words, she became much more friendly and stopped treating me like a nuisance and actually like a real guest.
That was very revealing for me because it just showed how your front desk staff - if armed with information that a guest checking in has stayed before, will actually sub concsciously change their demeanour. They are much more likely to 'go out of their way' to make a 'regular customer' feel welcome.
She apologised for not knowing I was a regular guest, but it wasn't her fault. It was the fault of the management who had not thought about personalisation.
This is a huge topic in itself, but suffice to say that with all the information a hotel has in terms of guest names, mobile phone numbers and email addresses - there is no excuse for not knowing if a guest has stayed before.
Instead of asking a guest 'Have you stayed with us before?' which should never be asked, this can enhanced with the much, much warmer 'Welcome Back Mr Smith'.
And of course if you noted on your CRM that the guest requested a late checkout on their last visit, you could proactively offer this at check-in before they can even think of it!
This is also the time to proactively upgrade that guest to a slightly better room if they really are VIP guests.
It is all very well for someone like myself to write up a blog on guest experience. But I completely understand that these suggestions are not easy to implement.
As the old saying goes - if it was that easy everyone would be doing it.
But that doesn't mean it can ignored. Tackle one area at a time with total FOCUS or consider it an acronym like this - 'Focus on one course until success (FOCUS)'.
I recommend picking one area of Guest Experience Improvement such as 'Personalisation' and sticking with it until you start seeing those positive reviews come through on TripAdvisor. Then onto the next one.
The same hotel group that I mentioned above actually advertised their rooms as coming with 'free breakfast pack'. Unfortunately, 'breakfast' which was sitting on the kitchen bench when I arrived consisted of what looked like a kids lunch box - complete with an expired muffin in a plastic bag, bruised banana and yoghurt placed outside of the fridge. Pretty horrible!
This didn't go down well on TripAdvisor either with many guests commenting on how underwhelming this included breakfast was.
So whatever 'special touches' you intend on providing, these should not be listed as 'inclusions' with the room. They should be unexpected surprises that only delight guests and not dissapoint them.
Chris Jack is the editor of Locus Focus and a professional hotel photographer based in Brisbane with over 20 years experience in digital marketing. He also hosts the weekly "Sharper Hotel Marketing" podcast.