The COVID-19 outbreak brought about an anxiety-ridden climate throughout the world. How can an industry that makes a living selling experiences and emotions thrive in such an environment? In this article, we will explore the post-COVID hotel experience through the wide array of emotions hospitality is built upon.
Ever wondered why the moments you most vividly remember are often tied with strong emotions? Whether it is that time your boss yelled at you in front of the whole office or when a friend congratulated you on a great achievement, these kinds of experiences are bound to leave a lasting impression. Recently, neurological breakthroughs have shown that a part of our brain, the hippocampus, which is responsible for transferring information to memory, is also directly connected to the emotional system. Down the road, scientists were able to conclude that emotions do in fact facilitate memorization through a complicated neuronal stimuli process.
This deep connection between emotions and memories plays an important yet frequently overlooked role in determining a hotel's success. Throughout their stay, guests may experience a wide array of feelings, ranging from excitement and amusement to stress and anger. Later on, positive emotions will likely help generate great memories which, through nostalgia, can be a catalyst for loyalty and recommendation. On the other hand, experiencing negative emotions can lead to resentment, which in turn will damage your hotel's reputation through review websites and social media. Hence the importance of analyzing and perfecting your guests' emotional journey.
The COVID-19 pandemic only reinforced the need for an emotional approach to the hotel experience. In the wake of the strict lockdown measures introduced by most countries, as well as new safety standards, people are looking to get away from ambient gloom. It has always been the hotel's industry moral duty to help guests escape the routine of their daily lives, even more so in such times.
Yet, conditions are probably at an all-time low. How can one earnestly translate empathy when facial expressions are concealed behind a mask? How can one simultaneously foster human relationships and honor social distancing requirements? How can one promise a relaxing environment when a deadly virus is looming?
In a paradoxical turn of events, the COVID-19 outbreak reinforced our needs for positive emotions while hindering our abilities to convey them.
Nevertheless, even though the situation is dire, there are still many ways you can go about enhancing your guests' emotional journey. In this article, we will put forward a strategy to revive emotions throughout the hotel experience, both on and off-site. For each phase, we will include a checklist of concrete actions your hotel can take to improve its range of services. Finally, we will analyze the role the hospitality industry has to play in the world's global recovery.
On the importance of personalization
Before the COVID-19 crisis stole its thunder, personalization was a very hot topic in the hospitality industry, and for good reason. Especially in the upper segments, it is one of the defining factors in distinguishing the average hotel experience from the pinnacle of luxury.
Small attention markers, such as addressing guests by their name and being familiar with their preferences, exemplify this kind of excellence. Moreover, some amenities can also be easily adapted to feature personalization. A TV with streaming services or a sound system connected to music platforms can allow your guests to enjoy their own customized content for example. In the end, the overarching objective is to turn your hotel into a home away from home.
However, the COVID-19 crisis put some aspects of personalization in jeopardy. Indeed, safety measures can lead hotels to automate some processes to save time and comply with new regulations. In doing so, there is a risk of streamlining important interactions and failing to deliver a custom service. While some of the recent safety procedures can feel repetitive and/or tiresome for guests (filling out forms, taking temperature, …), it is essential to accompany them each step of the way. Expressing and acknowledging emotions during these processes can go a long way in establishing a unique bond with guests.
- Know your guests and adapt their experiences accordingly
- Take advantage of built-in personalization for some amenities
- Avoid streamlining too many processes
Envy and uniqueness in the travel world
After addressing the need for guests to feel special and valued during their stay, we can now focus on the other end of the double-sided coin that is uniqueness in the hotel experience. Indeed, in addition to personalizing their offer as previously mentioned, hotels also need to differentiate themselves from the competition, to become unique in their own way. Even though for many years, hotels used to blend into the same kind of design and service everywhere in the world (think of big chains such as Hilton), the new generations' expectations have drastically shifted this paradigm.
It is especially the adventurous nature of the Millennial generation, heightened by the rise of social media, that contributed to the importance of standing out in the hotel industry. If you are looking to cater to this segment of travelers, your hotel needs to offer something that sets it apart. Embracing local culture, innovating with technology (in or out of the hotel) or investing in influencer marketing are some of the ways through which you can approach differentiation in the industry.
As a guest, uniqueness is sought after for reasons closely linked to emotions, most notably envy and pride. On the one hand, travelers seek one-of-a-kind experiences, not only for the sake of it but also so that they can share it with their friends and family. Subsequently, consciously or not, they can become ambassadors for your brand through social media and review websites. On the other, receiving hand, their contacts' network, after seeing pictures and hearing stories, may want to live a similar trip. This profound connection between the feelings of pride and envy is one of the engines that power hotel bookings in our fully digitized world. This is notably why influencer marketing is so effective.
The post-COVID hotel industry has proven difficult to navigate. Competition especially has gotten tougher and tougher as demand shrunk while the room supply remained relatively stable. In this context, the need for differentiation within the industry is more important than ever. Encouraging past guests to keep on sharing pictures and stories of your hotel on social media is one of the ways you can go about standing out and rekindling the desire to travel.
- Turn your guests into ambassadors
- Differentiate your hotel on the market
- Give people an incentive to travel again
A company is nothing without its people, and the saying resonates even more with the hotel industry. If you are looking to deliver a high-end hotel experience, you must give yourself the means to do so by recruiting the right staff to match your guests' expectations. One of the most important skills you can find in a hospitality employee is high emotional intelligence. Being able to empathize and develop a profound understanding of your guests' needs can take your service to the next level. Moreover, thorough training is also key to make sure all your staff is on par with your hotel's standards.
As we previously mentioned, using technology especially amidst the COVID-19 can have a lasting and positive effect on the overall guest experience. Indeed, contactless solutions for example can greatly help restore confidence in your hotel's safety. However, you need to make sure to supplement the use of technology with human interaction, maintaining the professional service that makes hospitality so special. The difficulty, and also the end goal, is to find the right balance between the use of technology and human service, the perfect mix between high-tech and high-touch.
While technology is useful to make your guests' life easier, the human touch is the keystone of a successful hotel experience. Frequent staff-guest interactions allow hotels to build stronger relationships, eventually converting into better loyalty. In a world that is becoming increasingly robotized and dispassionate, the hospitality industry is still standing as one of the last champions of genuine human connection.
Additionally, in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak, the need for human contact might be stronger than ever before. Drastic safety measures, such as lockdowns, took a heavy toll on people's mental health all around the world, teaching them to avoid in-person interactions as much as possible. As such, an emphasis has to put made on the high-touch end of the balance in order to reverse that trend and dip towards a more personal approach to the hotel experience.
- Value emotional intelligence in your recruitment
- Train your staff to deliver the perfect service
- Find the right balance between high-tech and high-touch
Emotions throughout the booking journey
Before guests even set foot in your hotel, emotions play a pivotal role, driving the determination required to book their stay. Indeed, it is well-known that emotions guide decision-making, and the guest online journey is no exception. However, this key aspect of the hotel experience is often overlooked by hospitality professionals. Below we illustrated what a common booking journey might look like:
This graph is rather straightforward, and hopefully, a relatable example. One of the key takeaways from this case and point is that the booking journey is akin to a rollercoaster ride: high ups and low downs. Prior to the reservation, most people are excited thinking about and looking forward to their upcoming vacations. The first friction point comes with the hotel selection which can cause stress due to the wide array of choices. Once a destination has been selected, we reach the lowest emotional point of the booking journey until the payment. Once this barrier is crossed, guests can go back to counting the days left before their trip, building up anticipation.
What hotels should aim to achieve is optimizing the process between the selection up to the payment. In order to do so, they need to guide guests throughout their journey, reassuring and informing them every step of the way. This starts with a good and simple UX/UI on the hotel's website to establish trust and eventually convert users. Moreover, online tools such as special offer banners, chatbots, and/or comparison widgets can capitalize on your guests' emotions and hasten the process between selection and payment.
One more online tactic you can use is to involve your guests more personally in the booking experience. By using gaming mechanisms and price customization (i.e. unique personalized offers, online negotiation) in this key moment between selection and payment, you boost your conversion rate while improving guest satisfaction.
Whilst the hospitality industry is running on very low occupancy rates because of the pandemic, hotels can now take the time to think and review their online channels. In this context, they have a unique chance to reclaim control of their acquisition strategy, which was previously monopolized by OTAs. The first step in that direction is to rethink the online user experience, especially the hotel's internal website, and take advantage of some of the digital direct booking tools available on the market.
- Review your online strategy
- Use direct bookings tools to boost conversion
- Take advantage of gaming mechanisms and personalized offers to enhance your guests' booking journey.
The industry of emotions and parting words
In this article, we analyzed a wide range of emotions that stem from the hotel experience. From our sense of belonging to pride, envy, and empathy, we saw that a simple hotel stay can sometimes turn into an emotional rollercoaster. Later on, we thought of ways to leverage these emotions into concrete actions in order to improve the guest journey amidst the COVID-19 outbreak. We concluded that while the pandemic kept us away from each other both physically and figuratively, it also reinforced our need for a more humane approach to the guest journey.
Looking forward, the hospitality industry will have an essential role to play in the world's post-COVID global recovery. Beyond the purely sanitary impacts brought about by the pandemic, the world has fallen into a climate of almost unprecedented anxiety and mistrust. To help us out of this, hotel professionals around the world need to rekindle human contact and empathy as the heart of the industry. While it might happen under a set of conditions for the foreseeable future (masks, social distancing, …), it is necessary to take people's minds away from the sad reality. And while the world awaits a vaccine, the hospitality industry can play its part in fighting back the numerous insidious impacts of the virus, most notably isolation.