How to decipher what your guests really want

Fiona Adams By Fiona Adams
Uploaded 1 week ago

Knowing your guests, understanding their wants and needs and adapting your services and offering to meet those requirements has always been the holy grail of delivering exceptional guest experience, says Fiona Adams of The Know.

In this new digital era, hoteliers have a plethora of information at their fingertips at all times.  Naturally, hoteliers would be right to think that they know what their guests want and how they understand and cater to their needs.  So why is it that when we think about our own hotel experiences and listen to those of our friends, colleagues and families, there is often disappointment?

General managers are bombarded by TripAdvisor and OTA reviews to read, process, reply to and hopefully act upon.  In addition, many hotels still collect data directly from their guests, either on checkout or via post-stay email surveys. Add to this the latest move towards gathering "big data" on guest activity, coupled with the sentiment analysis and collation tools that extract internet-wide comments about your hotel and helpfully put it in one place, and there is certainly no shortage of information for general managers and their teams to sift through and make sense of.  So with all this information why are there still occasions when luxury hotels fail to meet our expectations?

Part of the issue are the expectations themselves. Guest expectations seem to be on a never ending upward trajectory to the extent that hoteliers are expected to anticipate a guest's every whim before they even think it. Guests don't want good service anymore, it has be exceptional AND it has to be different from their prior service experiences so as to surprise and delight them. A delicious meal is not sufficient, it needs to be delicious, healthy, sustainably sourced AND look good on Instagram!  Everything should be one-click quick, as we have become accustomed to in this fast moving digital world, but guests still want to be made to feel special with those all important personal touches that we have come to expect from luxury hotels.  Todays hoteliers need to run the gauntlet between numerous wants and needs to get the balance just right.

There are external factors too.  Trends move faster than ever.  What was hot news yesterday is distinctly lukewarm today.  In the majority of cases, gone are the days of hoteliers providing the same great service, in the same classic surroundings, with the same values and concepts for 20 years.  Those that stand still, are actually losing ground.

And the final factor - the competition is greater than it has ever been.  New hotel openings, breakthrough brands and fresh ideas such as AirBnB and experience based hotels are continuously emerging to satisfy the insatiable guest need for something different when looking for the perfect hotel stay.

With so many challenges, truly understanding guests, pre-empting their needs and gaining insight in to what they REALLY want has become more important than ever for todays hotelier.

The Know recently commissioned a detailed study into the preferences and priorities of luxury hotel guests which focused on key experience factors before, during and after their stay.

A comprehensive survey was conducted, comprising of a global population of respondents across Asia, US and Europe.  All respondents were well travelled with 62 per cent spending over 15 nights a year in luxury hotels and 12 per cent spending over 30 nights.  The surveyed population consisted of individuals with a high-end disposable income and spend demographic to appropriately represent the target market of luxury hotel guests. 

To supplement to the survey results, The Know team also collated information from its own team of highly vetted "Knowers" drawing upon trends, evidence and examples which have emerged via The Know's own confidential hotel reviews.  All Knowers are also of the target market demographic for 4 and 5 star hotels and have significant prior experience of the luxury hotel market globally.

The analysis confirmed a number of well-recognised influences on the guest experience, but also some interesting and surprising insights in to the luxury guest mindset and how this can change with trends or with the reason for stay. 

Key themes emerging from the study included:

• Guests seek a trusted source for recommendations and reviews

Whilst both personal recommendations and TripAdvisor reviews continue to dominate the influencing factors of hotel decision making for luxury guests, one important difference was highlighted:

"87% of luxury hotel guests would trust a friends positive recommendation over negative reviews on TripAdvisor."

• Guests value the basics even more than expected

"88% of luxury guests felt like "the basics" were not always performed to the standards they expected"

When asked about the most memorable positive aspects of a hotel Service, Friendliness of staff and personalisation of experience were at the forefront.

Conversely, the most memorable negative aspects of a hotel stay again included service and treatment by staff as well as maintenance and wear and tear.

• The purpose of a visit significantly impacts guest priorities and preferences

Whilst interestingly there were a number of factors scoring highly across all purposes of visit - Business Trips, Romantic Breaks and Family holidays - such as Wifi and Food quality, 85% of guest preferences changed, as their purpose of stay changed.

• How the perception and awareness of being eco-friendly has changed

"81% of The Know's survey respondents consider themselves either "Eco-friendly" or "Very eco-friendly"

And more importantly:

87% consider themselves more Eco friendly than they were 5 years ago with 52% stating they are "significantly" more eco friendly

However the key to successfully implementing such strategies is ensuring no possible detriment to guest experience and in implementing choice.

• What technology enhances a guest stay? 

With the exception of Wifi, the overall importance placed on technology (in comparison to other aspects of a hotel stay) is actually very low - not a single in-room technology enhancement was considered very important by more than 50% of luxury guests. 

However when including Wifi in the question, "92% think tech is important when staying in a hotel" confirming that connectivity is still key but supporting the anecdotal evidence that luxury guests do not want tech-overload.

The Know's study offers valuable detailed insight from a relevant target market population. It confirms some industry truths, upends others and offers General Managers ample food for thought in the quest to ascertain what it is their guests really want.

Fiona Adams will be presenting the highlights of the study in a session, "What do guests want?", at the Independent Hotel Show 2018 on Tuesday 16th October at 11am, followed by a panel discussion on the findings. The complete white paper will be available at the Independent Hotel Show from The Know (stand 359).

Boutique Hotel News will be on stand 410 at the event too - come and say hi!

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