David Allison is a bestselling author, international speaker and the Founder of the Valuegraphics Database.
The other day, I was reading a press release from one of New York’s most luxurious hotels. For decades, it’s been a bastion of wealth and privilege. I was curious, with the city beginning to reopen, how this particular establishment would approach its messaging to customers.
The release spelled out, in rigorous detail, how the hotel was going to extreme measures to keep guests safe. The staff would all be wearing protective equipment, and patrons would receive their own masks, gloves and hand sanitizer in a branded tote. Rooms would be empty for 48 hours between guests so the staff could deep clean and sanitize.
As more hotels reopen, we’re going to see hundreds of press releases just like this one — and I believe each one is going to totally miss the mark. The people who run these hotels think guests want to hear every detail about the precautions that they’re taking, but after surveying 1,850 people who frequently stay in hotels, my company has found that this is not the case.
What these frequent hotel guests value — and what could drive their booking decisions as hotels begin to reopen — goes far beyond their concerns related to health and well-being (which still ranks high on the list of values). Hotels should reframe the narrative so that the safety discussion fades into the background rather than taking center stage. In its place, they can talk about the values we’ll cover in this article and, by doing so, appeal to what guests really care about.
The Values That Drive Hotel Booking Decisions
My company found that at the top of the list of values for this group are what we call togetherness values: family, relationships and belonging. With those three values ubiquitous for all Americans surveyed, we can realize they are there, respect them, and find ways to reinforce them, but ultimately move past them to see the values that make this group unique.
The top distinguishing value is personal responsibility, which means these are planners who like to get stuff done. Health and well-being is next, and this is where safety measures will be appreciated.
You should also acknowledge and reward their loyalty, which is the next unique value, and help them achieve personal growth, which means leaving your hotel a better person than when they came.
As part of our survey, we also asked respondents to tell us what they love, hate and wish for when staying at a hotel. There was one outlying data point that caught our attention up around the 70th percentile: Respondents wished for custom packages from the hotels where they choose to stay. In fact, 2014 Gallup research found that “if employees can create an emotional connection with guests during their initial stay, they’ll be more likely to return the next time they need a hotel, even if another brand is offering a better price or a more desirable location.”
How To Speak To The Values of Guests
It’s not enough for hotel owners and managers to know the values of their guests. The next step is connecting the dots between those values and the hotel offerings. This will drive the desired behavior: new bookings from guests. As Gallup explained, “Winning repeat business comes down to understanding what is important to customers of your hotel and its market segment, offering products and services that matter most to guests, and ensuring that your staff members understand and can deliver on guests’ preferences.”
The first step I would take combines the value of personal responsibility with the wish for custom packages. Let’s say someone calls to book a room, and when I ask them what they’ll be in town for, they tell me it’s a quick client visit. They’ll be here and gone in less than 24 hours.
Armed with that knowledge, I prepare directions for the fastest route to and from the airport, and I look up the best spots for a quick client lunch. I put those materials in an envelope with the guest’s name on it and leave it in their room with a note: “We know you’re in town for a short time, so we thought this information might be helpful.” I also make sure the guest’s morning coffee is in a to-go cup — perhaps even a branded and reusable one.
Regardless of price point, you should also emphasize the aspects of your facilities that will allow guests to leave your hotel better off than they were before. In other words, leverage the value of personal growth. Some amenities guests may appreciate knowing about include:
• The spa, where they can blow off some steam.
• The exquisite bar — and if you were to offer them a drink ticket as a thank you for being one of the first guests back, they’d appreciate you for it.
• The wide selection of pay-per-view (PPV) movies, which you could offer for free to the first 500 guests who make a booking.
These are just a few examples that illustrate a larger point: It doesn’t take a lot of money or time to use values to activate your audience.
The Path Forward For Hotels
As the world begins to reopen, Americans will slowly begin to book hotels again for both work and play. The temptation for hotels will be to highlight how they’re going to keep guests safe. This isn’t wrong, but it ignores the fact that every hotel is saying the exact same thing.
To stand out, especially in this new context, you should also double down on the values your guests hold close and the things they are looking to find in everything they do. If you want people to book a room, focus on what they actually care about, and give them more of that.
For hotel owners and managers who weave this into their decision-making process, they could not only attract more guests, but they could also find those who book want to stay there.
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