Direct channel is the key to Guest Engagement

Here at GuestJoy, we love facts and evidence-based studies on what is happening in the hospitality industry. That’s why we try to provide our partners with articles that are backed by numbers. 

This time around, we’ve combined our data together with that of The Hotels Network (THN) to see how our tools work for hotels when they are coupled. 

THN’s direct channel growth platform helps hotels to attract, engage and convert guests throughout the user journey, while GuestJoy’s welcome emails and concierge platform inform the guests about the services of the hotel. Therefore, even if they do not order online they are familiar with the offers so they can easily enquire about it personally at the hotel.

Our hypothesis was that customers who book directly are more engaged with hotel messages, compared to those who book via OTAs. Essentially, that direct bookers are more likely to spend money at the hotel than OTA bookers. 

Engagement can convert to revenue

This case study was performed with the cooperation of the North Star Hotel, Dublin. We examined a years’ data – the activity of direct bookers online – including peak and low seasons.

Why should you pay attention to your direct channel?

In today’s digital world, the majority of hotel bookings are being made online. With so many options out there for guests to choose from, competing for customers online is harder than ever. 

Undeniably, a large number of those bookings are driven by the major OTAs, where a hotel is just a listing among many others; often completely watering down the distinct personality and diversity each hotel possesses. 

To overcome this obstacle, hotel brands need to build a strong direct channel. This channel is one of the most important platforms for hotels, as it not only helps to lower acquisition costs and increase ROI, but is also the place where you have free rein to personalise the user experience, convey relevant messages, display your brand personality, and establish meaningful relationships with guests. 

THN tools in action

Travellers booking online have their own interests, wants, and needs. Exposed to constant noise in the online world, users can easily skip messages they deem irrelevant. With this in mind, North Star Hotel has been partnering with THN since 2018; not only to refine their direct booking experience but also to ensure they deliver the right message to the right people at the right time.

During the past year, North Star Hotel has been proactively working to build a strong direct channel in order to regain the direct relationship with guests. Let’s have a look at some of the most effective initiatives they have implemented:

A little sneak-peak into THN’s features

Price Comparison with Price Match feature on the Booking Engine

The first step to increasing website conversion and guest engagement is to reassure visitors and provide them with a smooth booking experience. By including Price Match on the booking engine, North Star Hotel was not only able to create price transparency by showing they were offering the best available rate compared to OTAs, but also gave users an extra incentive to book by automatically matching rates in the case of price disparities. 

Another tool employed is the Save your search feature. With this function, those users interested in the property would be able to easily save their booking search and receive a personalised email with the details and a link to return to the website and continue their booking when they were ready to do so. 

These pop-ups can earn you more revenue

Smart Notes – Targeted Messaging

Personalisation is all about showing hyper-relevant content at critical moments to create an engaging user experience. With this in mind, North Star Hotel launched a series of Smart Notes for different types of visitors at various touch-points along the booking journey. 

Using geo-targeting rules, domestic travellers were presented with a Smart Note highlighting their complimentary parking. In parallel, those searching from their phones would be shown a mobile exclusive offer, providing an extra incentive to book right there and then. 

Another clever message was showcased on the restaurant page. Triggered after spending 60 seconds on the page, visitors were urged to make a table reservation with an enticing message displayed as a Smart Note. 

Earn extra revenue by upselling

Exit Intent on the Booking Engine

Some visitors may not be convinced that the hotel is the right fit for their stay and opt to abandon their booking, but this may be simply because they didn’t realise everything the hotel has to offer. 

Aiming to retain bookers about to leave their site, North Star Hotel displayed an Exit Intent on their booking engine. This Exit Intent showcased the exclusive benefits of booking directly to users who were about to abandon the website, grabbing the attention of visitors and keeping them in the booking funnel. 

Welcome layer on the hotel website

Welcome Layer – Black Friday Offer

At certain times of the year, such as Black Friday, guests expect to find great hotel deals and are actively searching for them. Aware of this fact, North Star Hotel created an exclusive Black Friday campaign: 30% off room rates. 

Drawing attention to the offer right from the moment the visitor landed on the website with a Welcome Layer, the property was able to offer guests what they were looking for. By adding a countdown clock to the message, they successfully created a sense of urgency to help nudge users towards making a booking.

Results 

Working with over 5,000 hotel clients worldwide, THN keeps a close eye on how different visitors react to different messages and tools. After running A/B tests over most of their properties, they have seen an average conversion uplift of 32% when comparing engaged vs unengaged online visitors.

Combining THN and GuestJoy findings, we can say that while the North Star had significantly more OTA guests, those who booked directly were more engaged overall. They opened the GuestJoy concierge page more frequently, spent more money, and submitted more feedback. 

Upsell email engagement

Almost twice as many direct bookers opened the GuestJoy mobile concierge page than OTA bookers, and additionally, they spent more time browsing the offers. About 28% of all OTA bookers opened the concierge while the percentage for direct bookers was nearly 67%. We know that both types of guests usually open the page more than once, but direct tend to be more active.

GuestJoy’s upsell email engagement

Orders

Direct bookers were 1.5x more likely to spend more on their stay by ordering something from the GuestJoy concierge. As they spent more time online browsing the hotel’s platform, they were more familiar with what the hotel had to offer, therefore were more inclined to buy those extras. 

“1.5x more likely to order”

Provide feedback

While we didn’t see a significant difference in the scores given between direct and OTA guests, we did see a large difference in the number of online ratings submitted. 

Direct bookers were more than twice as likely to rate the hotel online via GuestJoy. However, it is important to keep in mind that OTA bookers might not rate the hotel via GuestJoy because they may have already submitted their rating via an OTA survey. 

It’s better to ask for direct feedback

But interestingly enough rating averages were consistent between two groups:

Avg rating does not differ

Conclusion

All in all, we see that guests who book directly do a lot more for a hotel than OTA guests, and of course, direct bookings also means no commission fees to third parties. With the help of GuestJoy, the North Star managed to gather more than a thousand reviews over the course of the year, including detailed written feedback from customers. 

Press Release

Today, GuestJoy is formally announcing a new stream of functionality on its platform that will empower hoteliers to deploy online check-in at their properties.

The announcement comes as many hotels across the globe are slowly but surely preparing to either reopen their doors, or expand the number of guests they can host at a given time.

Even with new norms in place like masks, social distancing, and hand sanitiser, it’s completely understandable that many guests would not want to be standing in a line for long, if at all.

I asked Andrew Martin, GuestJoy’s Customer Experience Manager, to explain a bit of the background of the project, as well as how it will work.

Andrew: “It was born out of necessity; a push in product development that was just waiting to be embraced. 

One thing I have always been proud of with our product is that its development has always been shaped by the direct input and feedback from our customers. If it wasn’t something hoteliers needed, or it didn’t work the way they expected, we worked closely with them to form a feature that was fit-for-purpose.

This example is no different. 2020 is a year that has turned out as nobody predicted, and has indeed been devastating for many. There was a time when so many of us were locked down, and unsure of the future.

But the time has come to step out of those shadows and start to move forward. Over the past few months, GuestJoy has been busy fine-tuning some areas of our platform, and completely re-imagining others.

Understandably, when we spoke with both current and future customers, their biggest concern was as guests started to return and occupancy increased, things would start to look as they had before: crowded reception areas filled with guests waiting to check in.

Crowded receptions with long lines needs to be a thing of the past.

Even with new norms in place like masks, social distancing, and hand sanitiser, it’s completely understandable that many guests would not want to be standing in a line for long, if at all.

Flora: “And this is how we decided to focus on online check-in?”

Andrew: “Exactly. And actually, it’s much more than simply the act of checking in. We have added functionality in the app to actually encourage guests to check-in ahead of time”.

Flora: “So, can you give us an idea of how it all works?”

Andrew: “(laughing) Well, that’s tricky in one sense. One of the strengths of our platform is its flexibility, and to behave according to the needs of an individual property! But OK, I’ll give you a common example.

The first thing we did was to add a new pre-arrival email type. This email features a call to action that redirects the guest straight to the online check-in form. 

This complements the lineup of already powerful email types hotels can choose to activate for their property, meaning that any hotel can have a customised, targeted email campaign in place for their guests.

Something else we have been working on since late last year is adding more and more 2-way integrations to our suite of vendor partners. Making this a seamless experience for both the guest and the hotelier is one of our main objectives.

Flora: “Is it possible to have 2-way integrations with any PMS provider?”

Andrew: “In a practical or realistic sense, the answer to that is no. There will always be some vendors who aren’t willing to open up their platform, or the technology just isn’t there to support it.

This is one of the challenges of the hospitality sector; the effect of legacy technology holding large parts of the sector back, coupled with the hesitation by many to change and seek better solutions. But not everyone is like that!

One of the strengths of our platform is its flexibility, and to behave according to the needs of an individual property!

Flora: “Does this mean there are some customers who will miss out on the new functionality?”

Andrew: “The good news is, the answer to that question is a resounding “no”!. Customers can still take advantage of the online check-in functionality even if we don’t happen to have a 2-way integration with their PMS provider.

The alternative is that the information is instead entrusted to the hotel, where a staff member will amend the booking in the PMS. The end result for the guest is still a faster, simpler check-in experience, which is universally what our customers want, so it’s a great benefit for literally any property.

Flora: “You know I have to ask the nasty question about cost, right?”

Andrew: “Ha! I suppose it’s an easy one this time around! The best part of all of this is that we aren’t increasing the cost of the service for our customers. Instead we are increasing the value of our product to them.

Let’s be frank here. Software platforms like ours, and many others, are secondary systems for hotels. Are they important platforms? Sure; but if my PMS goes down, and my upselling platform goes down, I know which one I’m going to be most worried about!

That’s why we see it as vital that we’re always providing value to our customers, and in fact it’s something that continually surprises our new customers. We’re constantly hearing feedback such as “Really? I can do THAT as WELL?!”.

You see, with secondary (but still important!) systems, there are literally hundreds of different providers offering systems for all sorts of purposes. In theory, a hotel could have dozens of systems covering all manner of tasks or services. 

So why not streamline things a little? Save money?

GuestJoy is a truly unique offering in hospitality. No other system can provide industry-standard targeted upselling and cross-selling; automated guest communications; online check-in; guest feedback; online reputation boost, and still more.

Single-purpose systems really do need to justify their existence in this post-Covid-19 world. Now more than ever, hoteliers need to have lean operations and costs reigned in. GuestJoy is the perfect answer to that need.

GuestJoy is all about providing the best possible experience for your guests

When GuestJoy can consolidate several other systems and yet still be so simple to use for any staff member, more and more of our new customers are thrilled that they can cover so many things – in fact, the entire guest journey – on one platform.

It’s one of the reasons I love working at GuestJoy! We have such a multi-faceted app, that no two days are ever the same.

Flora: “That sounds great! So, do you have any sort of closing messages for readers on all of this?”

Andrew: “Sure, definitely. Hospitality, by definition of its name, is a sector where we won’t be hiding at home on Zoom calls forever. We will get back out there and we will see guests once more.

There was a very depressing time for most of us over the past few months, but, you know what? It’s time to move on from that. No more Zoom calls, board games and other fluffy marketing activities, or letting people know about our home office setups.

Keep the new webinars and baking tips, though; they’ve been great! 

But at GuestJoy, we’re all about the push to open up to guests once more.

We’re about recovering, and about helping our customers, and future customers, navigate that road to recovery by providing tangible, built-for-purpose tools that make their staff’s work easier, and make the guest experience fantastic.

We’re about action now. We’re about doing; not just saying. Join us, and you’ll wonder why you ever did things the old way!

Andrew Martin is GuestJoy’s Customer Experience Manager, and bridges the gap between hoteliers, their guests, and technology, ensuring that our tech is invisible at a hotel and only helps, not hinders.

The idea of the Worst Hotel ever struck us when we were brainstorming about how to better show our customers how they get the most out of their upselling and guest communication. So we invented The Worst Hotel, to illustrate how can these be done the worst, with all the possible mistakes, so you can learn from other hotel’s mistakes.

The Worst is a three-star hotel, but they surely don’t deserve any of that. When you booked, you did not receive any information. On the website there is something about a restaurant and in-room massages, which you’d love to buy, but no information about how to purchase it.

There are cockroaches in the room, hair in the sink and the glass in your bathroom has lipstick stains.

If you’d like to have breakfast, it costs extra, but there are no vegan options (OMG) and the coffee tastes like at a gas station. But when you go down to the reception to complain about all this, you find it empty. After ringing the bell, a rude and grumpy staff member will show up, claiming nothing that you have experienced is The Worst’s fault.

So what could this hotel do better? Besides the obvious things, like hiring a cleaning lady, and a competent receptionist they could also start upselling and communicating with the guest properly. Let’s start with the first form of guest communication, the pre-stay email. The Worst hotel decided to do the following:

what NOT to do when communicating with hotel guests

The first thing you probably notice is that it’s a big block of text in tiny letters. It’s 2020, people do not read anymore. Especially not these emails. The Worst Hotel should only include the most important information in the email trying to keep it as short as possible.

What else is bad?

1.) Too much contact information, the guests can anyways reach you because they probably received a booking confirmation, or by answering to this email, or you could have a cool footer where you include your reception phone number and an email address.

2.) Your guests are most definitely already knowledgeable about this because when they decided to book your hotel these weighed in their options.

3.) This is a perfect example upselling done wrong. Instead of having a separate ”site’ where you explain your services in detail with the exact price and some pictures, The Worst just decided to drop this bit of info. Probably nobody will be enticed to buy the massages if they are marketed like this.

Keep it short, your guests only want to recieve a warm welcome with the necessary information and not War & Peace

4.) All the information here could easily be put on the website, only certain guests need to know this and they will ask. Secondly, maybe don’t patronize your guests and assume they don’t know how to behave.

5.) This is information the guest does not need to know pre-arrival and even if they are interested in, they can search for it very easily on their smartphone. This takes up a lot of space and makes the letter longer than necessary.

6.) Upselling! this all could be on the Worst’s upselling page as an offer. The information would look better in the booking confirmation mail.

7.) It’s obvious, everyone always has an ID on them, because we all legally obliged to.

Now, how about the Worst’s upselling?

You receive a letter that shows some offers like this:

Do these seem appealing to you?

Not too shabby, you think. There is a restaurant and a beverage room service. However, there is no link to the restaurant’s website, nor any explanation on what they serve. You just see a plain photo of the actual place, not the food that you will be getting. How disappointing…

Because you are travelling with your partner the champagne delivered to your room seems interesting, it would be such a nice surprise for them, but it’s so plain… could the hotel also add some bonbons? Or maybe a small cake?

Umm… they look the same for me, and probably for your guests too

It would be so nice to take a taxi from the airport to the hotel! How much will it be? Nobody knows and just to see an estimate would make you feel a lot better about ordering it.

Also, there are two taxi offers, which one to take? Oh, yeah, they are for different number of people. Why have two offers though when you can just have one, and set the price to increase by the number of people? Or select different type of cars?

Hotel guests are people, and people dont read anymore

A Sauna offer, wonderful! It’s a great option to relax, as the advertisers at the Worst have said it about 3-4 times in the above text. It also tells you a lot of extra information that you already know – therefore, it’s useless and takes up a lot of space. If you had the energy and time to actually read this offer you would learn such obvious pieces of information as there are chairs to relax at the sauna area, and that it is open during normal hours (who goes to the sauna at 4 a.m? maybe some crazy Estonians). But it’s 2020, and nobody really reads these long texts anymore.

Include information that makes the offer seem valuable and is needed for booking.

While the last offer does not actually require the guests to pay The Worst did not lose much due to the sloppy advertisement, however, with a spa option for payment, it could have been a dealbreaker for some.

What should The Worst do?

Some key takeaways for them would be to think about when is the information needed and when is it unnecessary. Overloading guests with text will just encourage them to skip reading it, and even missing the crucial bits.

What to do when information is needed?
Consider when is it appropriate to present it to your guests and in what format. Do they need to know it months/weeks before their arrival? Or is it enough to tell them a couple of days before? Then think about the format: should it be in an email (booking confirmation or pre-stay)? Or is it better if its simply on your website and those who are interested in it can look for it?

We live in a world where we are overloaded with information at such a fast pace that it is getting harder to process it all. Sticking to just the essentials is key here.

If you need tips on how to communicate with your guests better, read some of our articles:
Common mistakes with upselling
Ultimate and Revolutionary upselling tricks
How to communicate with Booking.com emails