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By Margaret Mastrogiacomo, VP Strategy

This article is the final contribution in a five-part series that uncovers top strategies for reaching potential guests in meaningful moments throughout every stage of the travel planning journey to increase direct bookings. This article focuses on the fourth stage of travel planning: the experiencing phase.

So, you’ve won the booking. What’s next? Travelers are filled with anticipation and excitement for their upcoming trip, and now your hotel brand must deliver the best experience possible. While winning the booking may seem like the end of the customer journey, guiding the guest experience through meaningful digital touchpoints, and ultimately building a meaningful relationship to retain and increase the lifetime value of guests is the ultimate goal.

Below we explore the experiencing phase of our five-part series, “How to Capitalize on the Full Travel Planning Journey to Drive Direct Bookings,” to understand how hotel marketers can provide useful information and digital content to build your brand relationship, create brand advocates, and increase guest loyalty. We will uncover the online behaviors that are most common in this phase, the marketing and communication channels that are most effective, and how to measure success. 

How does the experiencing phase take shape?

The experiencing phase begins the moment travelers start to look forward to their planned vacation, it continues when they arrive at your hotel’s destination, and with a well-executed strategy, the experiencing phase lives on long after their stay. Google refers to the micro-moments throughout this phase as “Can’t-Wait-To-Explore” moments that occur after a traveler has booked his or her accommodations.

According to Google, in this stage 85% of leisure travelers decide on activities only after having arrived at the destination. More importantly, now that your hotel brand has provided useful information to help travelers plan and book their trip, guests also expect you to help curate their experience. In fact, according to Ipsos Connect, nearly nine out of ten travelers expect their travel provider to share relevant information while they are on their trip, and 67% of travelers feel more loyal toward a travel company that shares information during their trip that improves their travel experience.

Guiding the guest experience on mobile.

According to Google, travelers increasingly rely on mobile to start exploring when they arrive in a new destination. Smartphone searches at hotels increased about 30% year over year, and since smartphones are location aware, travelers conduct simple mobile searches like “things to do near me” or “places to eat near me.” This begs the question: If travelers are mobile connected while exploring your hotel’s destination, is a mobile app the best way to guide the experience? According to further research from Ipsos Connect, only 23% of travelers say they have downloaded the app for travel brands they use the most. This reveals that your hotel website and digital content must be fully responsive and easily accessible on the mobile web.

What digital touchpoints are making an impact throughout the experiencing phase?

The average traveler encounters just over 40 digital travel touchpoints over two weeks leading up to and during the vacation. Of these 40 digital interactions, 17 were digital touchpoints across Google, and 100% of these touchpoints occurred on mobile.

A study conducted by Think with Google offers the following breakdown of time spent across different touch points throughout the experiencing phase:

  • Google Search: 30%
  • Maps & Navigation: 23%
  • Lifestyle Content: 16%
  • Flight Provider: 11%
  • YouTube: 9%
  • Restaurant & Reviews: 7%
  • Weather: 4%
     

With a little over half of mobile touch points taking place on search engines and maps, having a strong organic search presence throughout the experiencing phase is a great way to guide and shape guests’ vacation. With 16% of time in this phase spent on lifestyle content, editorial blog content is also a great way to reach travelers and curate the trip experience, thus allowing your guests to explore your destination and local neighborhood through the lens of your hotel.

What type of content are travelers looking for in the experiencing phase?

During the experiencing phase, travelers are typically searching for things to do and unique experiences during their trip. The most common searches in this phase are keywords surrounding the local destination on mobile:

  • Things to do near me
  • Places to eat near me
  • Best things to do in [destination]
     

Similar to the dreaming phase, it’s important to own top searches regarding your destination and your hotel’s local neighborhood in order to be present throughout meaningful digital micro-moments in the experiencing phase. To narrow down dining and local attraction options during their trip, travelers often visit Yelp, Google My Business, and similar websites to read reviews from locals. With dining and things to do in such high demand, a strong organic presence and rich website content for your hotel dining and spa options are essential in driving awareness and ancillary revenue. CRM is also an important strategy in this phase to bring top in-demand content directly to guests’ inbox.

The best marketing mix to reach travelers in the experiencing phase:

  • Google My Business Published Posts: A new feature of Google My Business allows you to publish posts promoting your events, products, and services directly to Google Search and Maps. By creating these posts, you can place your timely content in front of customers when they find the Google business listing for your restaurant or spa during the experiencing phase. With 30% of time in the experiencing phase spent on Google Search and 23% of time spent on Maps and Navigation, this is a great way to drive awareness of your latest spa and restaurant specials. It is important to note this feature is not yet available for hotel Google My Business listings, so these updates would need to be posted through a dedicated Google My Business listing for your restaurant or spa.  
     
  • SEO Destination Content and Travel Guides: Offering destination and neighborhood guides on the hotel website is a great way to spark the imagination of guests in the dreaming phase, and it’s also one of the best ways to engage and guide guests throughout the experiencing phase. The same content that helped them imagine their stay at your hotel can now help guests live that experience to the fullest.
     
  • Lifestyle and Editorial Blog Content: With 16% of travel consumers spending time with lifestyle content during their trip, valuable editorial content surrounding the hotel destination, local neighborhood, and unique features of a guest’s stay plays a critical role in shaping the guest experience. Destination editorial content, like “Top Five Ways to Explore [Destination] like a Local” or “What to See and What to Skip in [Destination],” is a great way to help guests build their trip itinerary each day.
     
  • Rich and Interesting Spa & Dining Content Sections: With top searches in this phase focused on places to eat and things to do, having rich and optimized content surrounding your hotel’s dining and spa options is crucial to driving ancillary revenue. Consider featuring unique parallax websites within your overall hotel website to highlight everything your property restaurant and spa have to offer. These parallax sections should feature rich imagery, videos, specials, and packages, and offer an easy way for visitors to book a table or spa treatment directly from your website.
     
  • Destination Video: While destination video plays a stronger role in the dreaming phase, the same video content can influence the trip experience itself.  With 9% of online time during the experiencing phase spent on YouTube, a destination video focused on attractions and things to do is a great way for your hotel brand to shape and influence the guest experience.
     

Social Media: Prompting guests to share their experience via social channels like Instagram and Facebook is a great way to inspire other potential new guests who are in the dreaming phase of the travel planning journey. Having a website Instagram feed with a dedicated hashtag, which someone can monitor and approve guest photos before publishing, is a great way to blend official hotel imagery with consumer-generated content from guests that will ultimately influence the dreaming and planning phase for future guests.

  • CRM Strategy: Communicating with guests before, during, and after their stay is one of the best ways to shape the guest experience and build a customer relationship.
     
    • Pre-arrival Email: One week before arrival, be sure to provide the opportunity for guests to upgrade their accommodations, highlight spa and dining options, feature the weather for packing and planning, and any other important information that help guests plan.
       
    • Arrival Email: Upon arrival, welcome guests to their stay with important hotel information such as check-in and check-out times, key amenity details, and upcoming events during their stay, and once again highlight any spa, dining, or on-property features that add value to guests’ stay.
       
    • Post-Stay Email: Within two days of guest check-out, thank guests for their stay and prompt them to leave a review on TripAdvisor or provide feedback via a guest satisfaction survey. If your hotel has a loyalty program, prompt guests to sign up for future perks. 
       
  • Guest Portal: By now it’s no secret that during the planning phase website visitors’ number one focus is on accommodations, and in the experiencing phase website visitors’ number one focus is on the property and destination experience. In light of this, serving different content to website visitors while on property is a highly effective strategy to shape the guest experience. HEBS Digital offers a Guest Portal product that serves relevant hotel and destination information based on a website visitor’s geo location and proximity to the hotel. If a guest visits the hotel website while on property, they will receive hotel information such as check-out time, room service details, events during their stay, spa and dining specials, and any other important property information or news.
     

Staying connected after check-out.

The experiencing phase doesn’t end when guests check out. To retain customers and turn every new guest into a repeat guest, hotel brands must engage customers long past their stay and add value to their everyday lives. This is where having a comprehensive loyalty program, ongoing CRM communication, and interesting editorial content that adds value to guests’ daily lives comes into play. 

  • Loyalty Program: A loyalty program with valuable rewards and perks helps keep customers connected to your brand and keeps your hotel in the consideration set for future stays. An effective loyalty program includes personalized offers and perks based on members’ likes and interests, exclusive rates for loyalty members, “surprise and delight” perks that go above and beyond standard loyalty rewards, and a community surrounding the loyalty program that keeps guests engaged with both the brand and other members.
     
  • Ongoing CRM Communication: Triggered, automated emails are another effective strategy in staying connected to guests. Sending past guests an email and exclusive offer on their birthday, the anniversary of their stay, and other milestones and special occasions is the best way for your hotel brand to be there for the moments that matter most.
     

More importantly, once you have valuable information about guests’ preferences, demographics, stay history, and more, you can use this information to segment emails and send more personalized messages.

One great way to do this is by capitalizing on recency, frequency, and monetary (RFM) data. Based on how recently a guest stayed, how frequently they stay, and how much they’ve spent with your hotel brand, you can segment past guests into RFM categories and send them offers that are more personalized to their price preferences and stay history. For instance, a premium best guest who stays often at a high ADR is more likely to book a suite, while a frequent smart shopper who stays often but at a lower price point is more likely to book an economy room with a stronger interest in destination and experiential hotel content.

  • Value-Add Editorial Content: While we’ve already covered the power of hotel and destination-focused editorial content, it’s important for your hotel brand to provide interesting content to keep people engaged even when they aren’t planning a trip to your destination. Editorial content that focuses on guests’ interests and passions is a great way to add value to their everyday lives. For instance, if your guest data reveals that 75% of guests love wine and purchase it frequently throughout their stay, article content such as “Top Five Wines Under $30 That Will Bring Back Vacation Vibes” will entice past guests to read even if they aren’t engaged in the travel planning process.

Measuring the Experiencing Phase: KPIs that Shape the Guest Experience.

In the experiencing phase, it should be no surprise that KPIs are mainly engagement focused. Top metrics include:

  • Impressions/awareness
  • Engagement metrics (likes, comments, etc.)
  • Click-through rate
  • Overall website traffic
  • Unique website visitors
  • Time spent
  • Spa and dining reservations
  • Ancillary revenue
     

Overall, shaping the guest experience and building customer loyalty is just as important as winning the booking. Turning new guests into repeat guests is one of the best ways to increase revenue, and building a successful loyalty program results in past guests ultimately skipping the dreaming and planning phase and moving right into the booking phase. Since you’ve already won their heart, you’ll win their dollars more quickly.

The end of the journey, but not the end of the story.

As this five-part series comes to a close, the most important consideration to keep in mind when engaging guests throughout the entire travel planning journey is that all of the touchpoints, insights, and guest data collected fuels future guest acquisition, making your marketing efforts smarter and more cost-efficient. As one guest’s travel planning journey comes to a close, another begins. Be there, be relevant, and your strategy will be successful. 

About HEBS Digital

Founded in 2001, the firm is headquartered in New York City and has global offices in Las Vegas and the Asia-Pacific. Through its Smart Guest Acquisition Suite, including the smartCMS®, Smart Personalization Engine, Smart Data Marketing, and full-service digital consulting and marketing solutions, HEBS Digital helps hoteliers drastically boost direct bookings, lower distribution costs, and increase the lifetime value of guests. Its diverse client portfolio consists of top-tier luxury and boutique hotel chains, independent hotels, resorts and casinos, franchised properties and hotel management companies, convention centers, spas, restaurants, DMO and tourist offices.

Part of NextGuest Technologies, HEBS Digital and Serenata CRM, the most comprehensive Hotel CRM Suite today, are the creators of the hospitality industry’s first Fully-Integrated Guest Engagement & Acquisition Platform.

Contact HEBS Digital’s consultants at 1 (800) 649-5076 (North America), +64 (0) 9 889 8489 (Asia Pacific) or success@hebsdigital.com.

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Contact: Garrick Lee

garrick@hebsdigital.com / (212) 752-9425

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