How Guests Purchase After The Path-To-Purchase
Consider the five states of mind each travel customer experiences after they book their hotel room and before they arrive on-property
By Larry Mogelonsky, Managing Director Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited
A sound channel strategy is all about reaching customers with the right price on the platform where they are searching for accommodations. This can mean putting inventory up on the online travel agencies, listing great incentives for booking direct or, more recently, trying your hand with a suite product posted onto a home-sharing platform. But how are you interacting with guests after they've made this initial purchase?
With some exceptions in the groups segment, it's in this interval that guests start to think about all the other expenditures that accompany a trip: food, amenities, transportation—aside from airfares that are typically booked first—and activities. And therein lies a literal goldmine. So, let's break down what's going through a guest's mind at each of the five major stages from post-booking to pre-arrival.
Stage one: Buyer's remorse
Good hotels aren't cheap. If this wasn't an instrumental factor for the average customer, then why are the price filters within the OTAs and metasearch websites so popular? The fact remains that most people struggle with finances, travel or otherwise, and this not only influences what property is ultimately selected but also how the individual feels after the reservation is confirmed. Oftentimes, a dent in the wallet also incurs a dent in one's psychological armor. In other words, the emotional trauma of a stressful monetary decision causes physical pain which also manifests as fear or regret.
My advice during this opening salvo is to congratulate the guest on his or her purchase. Dissuade any post-booking anxiety by making them feel welcome and getting them pumped up for their stays. Don't push the sales button; simply reassure them that they chose well and that every day with you will be time well-spent.
Stage two: Renewed exploration
The pain of purchasing will eventually subside. You can't stay mad forever, as the saying goes. Whether the cooldown takes several weeks or a full fortnight, eventually guests will resume the search, but this time for ways to round out their trips aside from which beds their heads will land. This exploratory phase can include just about everything, and it will vary by the individual and his or her specific reason for traveling.
It's important to note, however, that this part of the customer pathway doesn't necessarily mandate additional purchases; it is mostly just discovery. Nevertheless, now is when you seize the chance to enlighten your guests on all the other possibilities available during their upcoming stays. Guests' mindsets have shifted positively enough by this point that they will be more inclined to entertain your additional offers, be they specific room selections for an incremental fee, suite upgrades, use of on-site amenities or experiential programs.
While guests might already have an idea of what they want or they may only wish to casually browse, the key is to put yourself out there for guests to see. And as you will likely have an email address attached to each reservation, developing one-to-one marketing materials isn't hard. Imagine receiving a personalized notice from a hotel shortly after making a reservation that invites you to view 360-degree tours of rooms, public spaces and other facilities to develop the narrative of what's possible.
Stage three: Acquisition with reservations
The pain of the initial acquisition has evaporated but the memory of that depletive expense has not. As such, there will be some hesitancy toward additional purchases. But if you've done your job right in the previous stage by letting guests shop from afar without being pushy for the immediate sale, they will be more likely to come back to you when they feel ready to fork over some extra cash.
Sometimes, though, they will need another jolt to spur them into action. A system to monitor communications thus far should clue you into the ideal time to re-establish contact. Blast your customers with any promotional offers, any events you are trying to fill or any packaged activities. Now is also when guests are most inclined to seriously consider a suite upgrade or putting a few extra dollars down to guarantee that corner room.
Such technology that enables exploration and post-booking acquisition is no longer mere fantasy either. Circling back to that email you sent out prompting customers to view virtual tours of your spaces, it isn't rocket science to also bolt on a direct portal to purchase any of the additional offerings on display within a 360-degree video system. You can facilitate exact room selections based on features like the views or access to a club lounge, or even the layering on of in-room arrival enhancements like wine and chocolate truffles for a romantic getaway.
Stage four: Remorse redux
Another bill, another headache—the anxiety of scope creep comes into play at this juncture as customers start to notice all the mounting expenses associated with this particular trip that were far beyond the initial estimate for airfare and accommodations. Nevertheless, you can always make more money but never more time, so the pain from purchasing additive experiences will hardly be indominable. It, too, will soon reach acceptance in the quest for time maximization.
What this also means, however, is that trying to sell even more at this point is not necessarily a good idea—or it will fall on deaf ears. Costs aside, too much structure turns travel into a martial drill, so once the initial batch of ancillary sales are complete, let your customers play it by ear. Revert to your relaxed demeanor during the second phase and invite spontaneity in your messaging by talking about all the cool happenings that guests can only uncover once they are on-site.
Stage five: Approach anticipation
No matter the trip, no matter the loyalty status of the traveler, everyone feels some degree of excitement as they enter the final stages before leaving. For the road warrior who's in a different city every week, this duration could amount to the night prior to travel. For the head of a nuclear family unit who is preparing for the quartet's first weeklong beach vacation, it might be two weeks of preparatory errands to get all affairs in order.
Knowing your customer and his or her travel purpose will let you capitalize from this positive anticipation because these details will inform you on the best time to broadcast any last-minute deals, promotions, unsold events, open reservations at your signature dining outlet or leftover room inventory that's available at higher rate.
From the above two traveler types, it's obvious that a room-selection sale promotion aimed at the businessperson won't get nearly as enthusiastic a response rate if delivered three weeks out rather than three days out. Conversely, for the family on holiday, a similar offer may simply be too much to juggle in the days beforehand because there are simply too many other odds and ends to wrap up.
It's all about knowing when to strike as well as empathizing with your guests in terms of what stage of the emotional purchasing rollercoaster they are currently on. Just because someone isn't in the mood to buy at that exact moment doesn't mean he or she wouldn't mind just shopping for pleasure. The journey is often as rewarding as the destination.
Adopting an attitude that's aligned with this philosophy will result in more awareness for all your hotel's ancillary features and, of course, more revenue. From there, it's a matter of making your systems work for you—most likely your CRM interacting with your PMS—to design and test timely offers under the broad strategy of maximizing each current guest's utilization of your property's offering instead of merely trying to get new customers. I've identified a seamless bolt-on system that can be deployed for the specific room selection, room upgrade and merchandizing functionalities addressed above—Koridor, based out of Atlanta, as well as other emerging platforms in this niche such as Hotel Room Chooser.
Thinking broadly, though, perhaps it's time to stop using the term 'path-to-purchase' altogether for hospitality because it incorrectly insinuates that purchasing ends with the initial reservation. Instead, to realize your property's full potential, adopt an attitude whereby the customer life cycle of booking, pre-arrival, on-site experience and post-departure are in reality a never-ending wheel for sales.