The United States is quickly reopening from the COVID-19 lockdowns and the pent-up demand by travelers is almost palpable. In the Myrtle Beach area alone, we are seeing nearly 100% increases in daily revenue, as shown in this graph. However, this is not a long-term trend, this is a short correction of bookings due to the abbreviated booking window.
From a hotelier’s perspective it means your potential guests are going to be playing catch up and booking a vacation in a very compacted timeline. It also means that if you are not proactively reaching out to your past guests, and leads, you will end up losing them to competitors. Once you lose them, it’s going to be very difficult to get them back. This is why having a powerful guest messaging solution is going to be fundamental in making the most of the COVID recovery.
In this article we are going to look at two parts to the guest messaging solution. Part 1 will be choosing your guest messaging system and ensuring you have the capabilities for success. Part 2 will focus on putting those capabilities to use in their fullest to drive bookings. If you already have a great guest messaging system, feel free to skip right to part 2 here.
Part 1: Choosing The Right Guest Messaging System For Your Hotel
Having a great Customer Relationship Management system, and using it to its fullest, is going to decide who thrives, who just survives, and who doesn’t make it moving forward. But what do you need to look for when choosing a great guest messaging solution? Here’s what you need to know to pick a winner.
A Hotel’s guest messaging system is only as good as the data going in, and no data is better than actual guest bookings. Any guest messaging system will handle integrations with popular email and SMS systems, but not all will integrate with your PMS easily. Spend the time to make sure your data is all collected and stored properly. Your salient questions to your PMS provider and potential guest messaging solutions are:
- Does my PMS provider integrate at all with my guest messaging software? Obviously, you need to move along to another provider if the answer is no.
- Will all my data sync properly? This is a more important question than you might first think. If all your PMS data is not syncing, you can’t market effectively. This includes personal information, room information, past purchases, and more.
- Does this guest messaging solution understand the needs of a hotel? Most guest messaging systems are flexible and capable of managing leads, however not all have the architecture to make the many facets of hotel operations work together. Be sure your solution knows the difference between RevPAR and TRevPar or ROAS and ROI.
Effective Delivery Platforms
A guest messaging system absolutely must be able to deliver the message to your audience successfully, when and how the customer expects. This goes way beyond just a dumb email delivery system. When shopping for your guest messaging system confirm the platform has text/SMS capabilities, push messaging integration, and lead exporting tools. These systems mean email becomes just a single component to your permission marketing plans. Your guest messaging software at a minimum must be able to:
- Deploy Emails: This one is obvious, does the guest messaging software make it easy to create a one-time email as well as setup a triggered message based on user behavior.
- Send SMS Messages: Don’t forget the importance of triggering an effective SMS message to a guest. More about managing a hotel SMS campaign can be found here.
- Push Messages To Your Property Mobile App: If you have a hotel mobile app (and you should) sending data to the app is very important, make sure that capability exists.
- Feed Data To Your Social Platforms: Your guest messaging system should do more than push messages to guests; it can also help convert potential guests. Data integration with your paid social campaigns can take your targeting to another level.
- Feed Data To Your Paid Search Systems: Just like feeding data to your social platforms, getting data to your paid search systems is also a force-multiplier when it comes to targeting.
AI and Machine-Learning Powered Targeting
Making the right marketing decisions has gotten more and more complex. Personalization has revolutionized the industry and the right choice for one customer may be the exact wrong choice for another. This is why automation, based on AI and Machine Learning, becomes so important.
Your guest messaging system should be digesting digital cues from your PMS, site, social, and past guest behavior to help you identify and trigger the right message at the right time. You could do this on an individual basis with a single guest, but you could never do it at scale to engage all your guess at the right time with the right message. That’s where a powerful AI engine built into your guest messaging system becomes so important.
Reporting That Leads To Decisions
As we say at Fuel, “Always Be Testing.” But you can’t test if you can’t report and you won’t know what should be tested if you can’t pull the data to make those decisions. This is why having a strong analytics and reporting suite is an important factor in your guest messaging solution choice. I would break these two types of reporting into two groups:
Customer Metrics: Customer metrics include broad analytics such as database size, list health and customer groups to more granular (action-oriented) items such as customer segments likely to book within the next 30 days. These are the analytics tools you need to identify opportunities and create campaigns.
Campaign Metrics: The second type of reporting you need in your guest messaging solution is specific campaign metrics. These include data like an email click report, SMS response rate, or revenue by campaign.
Both of the analytics types above should be first and foremost easy to create and use. When a guest messaging system has great reporting out of the box it gives you more time to create the custom reports needed for a hotel’s success.
Ease Of Use
Ease of use is the last item on our short list of things to consider when choosing your hotel’s guest messaging solution. Fact of the matter is if it takes too long to pull a report, too long to setup an automation, or too long to learn how the system works; it just won’t be used in the fullest. When shopping, talk with references who already use the system and have the people who are going to actually be using the system sit in on the demos.
Find out before you buy if the guest messaging software you’re considering can not only do what you need, but you can actually manage it on a day to day basis.
Part 2: A Guest Messaging System Game Plan For Hotel Marketing Success
After selecting the right guest messaging software it becomes time to actually use the system to engage your potential guests and drive more bookings. Below you will find a step by step guide to using your hotel’s guest messaging system to its full potential.
Start With A Plan
In our scenario we have an incredibly high demand for travel in a short window of time. We know our potential guests are shopping, booking, and traveling within just a few weeks. This means whoever gets to them first has a defined advantage in converting them into a guest.
Before we dive into your guest messaging system marketing plan, you will want to review your site and set yourself up for success. Change your messaging and offers to focus on how your property is a safe and sanitary place to visit now. This is the time to move beyond the disaster and focus on instilling confidence and creating the urgency to book at your property.
Once you have your site ready to go start following the below plan to engage your potential guests through the effective use of your hotel guest messaging system.
Executing The Plan
The first thing to keep in mind here is marketing via your guest messaging system is about engaging those who you know are already interested, even slightly, in your property. Personalization is the name of the game.
Engage Your Lost Bookings:
This is the easiest thing for your guest messaging software to do to help you get some heads in beds. By creating a simple segment/report of guests who cancelled a booking will give you the opportunity to reach back out and bring them back. We covered several strategies for engaging your lost bookings in this article with a summary below:
- Create a personalized email acknowledging their cancelled reservation on their date with their room type along with a compelling offer to come back.
- Set up a follow up text/SMS campaign to those guests if they do not engage with your email. This is important to have your delivery systems synced with your CMS to set the proper triggers. For instance, if a user gets an email to return and does not open that message, trigger a text message with a similar message in 48 hours.
- Create a paid re-engagement campaign to display your property and their specific room in your social and search channels.
- Export this guest segment, along with phone numbers, and start dialing.
Connect With Past Years’ Guests:
Just like your lost bookings, you will have a high volume of guests who have stayed at your property in the past but not yet booked this year. These are the guests you need to focus special attention on to bring them back to your property… before they book elsewhere.
- Create a similar “come back” email campaign highlighting their past stay and a great offer for a return visit. If your data is really integrated, you can tailor this message based on their previous post-stay survey and either accentuate the great time they had or address any shortcomings they shared.
- We do not recommend a SMS/text campaign to past guests who do not have any recent relationship with your property. SMS/text messages are very personal, and you may be perceived as violating their personal space.
- Similar social and paid search campaigns to your cancelled booking strategies can also be applied here, just crafted to this specific audience.
Ramp Up Your Communications Plan
At this point you’ve already addressed the low hanging fruit with past and cancelled guests. Now we are going to start expanding our communications to our in-house databases of people who have shown an interest in your property and shared contact information with you. Your customers, in this post-COVID world, are going to be looking for good news, reassurance they will be safe, and that they can change plans as needed. If you can convey these three things to your potential guests, along with a great deal, you’ll secure the booking. To do that we recommend:
- Personalize where you can as much as you can, just don’t make it creepy
- Send messages out slightly more often than you would typically send. If you are now sending once a month, consider testing biweekly or even weekly. Your analytics will determine the right frequency.
- Craft your messages to best speak to the four key decision makers: good news, safe location, worry-free cancellations, great deals.
- For more information about your specific email marketing strategies check out these tactics for post-crisis recovery.
Engage Your Site Visitors
Your guest messaging system can go beyond just contacting people who have contacted you already. When a person first visits your site, your system should begin collecting data and building a profile on you visitor so that you can communicate with them moving forward. Better yet if you able to match that web user with someone who has opted-in to your database you can then trigger a personalized message back to the guest. For this to work you will need the following:
- Tight integration between your guest messaging system and website
- A message template designed to be triggered when a visitor comes back to your site after a certain period of time. This message should be personalized based on the activity the user undertook on the site, such as dates searched, rooms viewed, etc.
- A proper GDPR/privacy acknowledgement on your site to ensure your users know you are collecting and using their data.
Turbocharge Your Paid Search And Social Campaigns
Your guest messaging system is not, I repeat not, just an email delivery platform. It is a data powerhouse that can improve every aspect of your marketing. Nowhere is this truer than in your paid search and social campaigns. Your guest messaging system should allow easy export or syncing with your paid accounts to help you target your customers throughout the web and bring them back to your site to book.
In Conclusion, Your Guest Messaging System Is Your Ticket To Post-Crisis Success
Surviving and thriving in this post-crisis world is going to mean using the tools you have in the best way possible. Your guest messaging system is going to be the backbone of your success and using it to the fullest will help you spend your marketing dollars more effectively, spend your time more efficiently, and attract guests more aggressively.