The Hospitality Flywheel - How Technology and Communication can Dramatically Boost Bookings and Growth.
Tech, and the massively expanded capabilities for communication it offers allows managers of hotels, vacation rentals, and resorts the ability to engage with their guests in ways which were never before possible. These types of tech-driven engagements are proven to drive more reviews and bookings, and to provide these hospitality establishments with an incredible amount of actionable insights and data which is critical to scaling and staying ahead of the curve.
There’s a huge push in e-commerce and sales to transition from a funnel to a flywheel model, and we’re going to be introducing and presenting a version of this flywheel for the hospitality and industry.
Simply put, the flywheel is an incredibly powerful tool to keep customers and guests happy, leverage these happy customers to drive more bookings and revenue, and get actionable insights about what you can do to improve your product and offering. It’s a concept that relies on continued engagement, and is proven to build a large community of loyal visitors and guests - a community which tends to be very engaged and does a great job of promoting your brand therefore driving more bookings.
In its most basic form, the flywheel is a powerful business tool for hospitality because it brings customers and guests into the growth process in a very impactful way. Think of it as a journey your guests embark upon. But unlike previous journeys, once they’ve finished, they’re still involved, and they’re still contributing.
In essence, there are three main phases of the Hospitality Flywheel:
The cycle goes a little something like this: better exposure on social media, more word-of-mouth and network based awareness, and a higher number of great reviews lead to a significantly larger number of bookings. Using thoughtful and smart communication channels, guests stay significantly engaged during the course of their stay. This engagement and great experiences and ‘wow’ moments that go along with it continue after they have checked out, and work to drive more exposure on social, word of mouth growth, and more awesome reviews. Guests entering the flywheel invariably contribute to its growing and moving faster. Feeding any part of this cycle moves the whole thing forward, not just the phase or segment that you’re directly pushing.
Travelers and guests are making their buying decisions in a much different way now than they were 5 or 10 years ago. Part of this comes from the massively increased diversity in hospitality offerings, and part of this comes from the larger role social media and personal networks play in the buying decision. Thankfully, there’s a lot you can do very quickly to see growth in these areas, but we’ll get back to that later.
The moment a guest has booked, you can inject them into the flywheel. Automated emails and text messages are fired off at this point. Content in this early phase should be focused on the area which your guests are planning to visit, lists of awesome things to do, and tips & tricks on how to make the most of their stay. This accomplishes two very important things - first it shows your visitors and guests that you genuinely care about them having a great time, and it establishes a certain level of trust and familiarity for any further communications and engagements.
The one thing which should never be done at this state is any sort of selling, upselling, or aggressive marketing. People generally respond very negatively to this type of engagement - remember, they’ve already done their research, and have decided to book based on careful consideration. Engagements should be friendly, conversational, and above all, provide them with useful content. Chatbots can be especially beneficial here as they allow guests to have a genuine conversation with your establishment, without you needing to spend answering questions, providing them with information, etc.
As their arrival date approaches, you should have a few more conversations with your guests, and provide them with additional useful content which helps make their stay more entertaining. Thankfully, a lot of this stuff can be automated so you’d never have to do much beyond initial setup. Calendars of cool local events and happenings are a great example of things you can send.
Most importantly though, especially if you’re managing vacation rentals, is providing guests with instructions on getting to your rental, and getting into the rental once they’ve arrived. Most vacation rentals don’t have people on-site, even if they’re managed by a large property management company which might have hundreds of units in its portfolio. This type of engagement is extremely well suited to an interactive chatbot, because it allows guests to confirm that they’ve received and understood the directions and information, and to ask for any clarification if something is confusing.
Once your guests have arrived, you’re going to need to continue engaging with them. There are two categories of engagement which typically happen during a guests stay. The first is standard question answering and support. We see these types of questions all the time, and they’re generally related to in-rental things like finding extra paper towels, kitchen supplies, etc., to local area questions like what sorts of bars, attractions, restaurants, etc. the host would recommend. It’s important to note here that while this type of information is generally available on the internet, a disproportionately large number of people are still looking for that ‘local’ touch which is something a thoughtful host or property manager can provide.
Like with pre-stay communications, this type of messaging is very easily automated through a chatbot. People love an interactive, conversational experience, and are proven to engage with such an experience much better when compared to something static like flipping through a guidebook or welcome book. Of course, if you’re only managing one or two rentals, all this communication can be done manually, but engaging in such a way doesn’t scale well beyond one or two.
Highly responsive communication while your guests are in-stay can also help mitigate any potential issues and problems which can arise. Misunderstandings are resolved more quickly, and issues with the rental itself get triaged immediately, and are given to the host to resolve.
Experiences are Becoming Huge
Trends over the last 18-24 months indicate that more and more, guests and visitors are looking for ‘experiences’. These could best be described as activities led by expert hosts. They go way beyond what a guest would typically see during a stay, and generally include things like guided hikes, tours, classes, bar hops, and restaurant samplings.
While it’s going to be very difficult for most hosts to personally provide this level of guidance and involvement, technology can expand the in-stay part of the flywheel to include experiences. While the tech isn’t all the way there yet, we envision a near future where these ‘experiences’ can be made available through conversational channels like SMS, Telegram, WhatsApp, Messenger, and others. Of course, this means hosts are going to need a bot smart enough to handle situations like this, and we’re hoping to roll one out soon!
Because so much of what goes into a grew review and continued engagement after a guest leaves is directly tied to the unexpected yet pleasant ‘wow’ moments which guided experiences can provide in great quantity.
The flywheel approach to running and growing a rental business never ends when your guests check out. After all, your guests are your greatest asset in further expanding your business and your brand. The possibilities for engagement after guests leave are endless, as are the benefits.
Because you’ve been engaging and communicating with your guests since before they checked in, they’re generally going to trust you enough and have enough of a rapport with you to continue chatting after they’ve left.
Here are the most important ways the post-stay phase ties into the flywheel:
1 - Your ability to solicit actionable feedback is greatly improved. This feedback and the insights it provides are critical to a host or property manager looking to improve their establishment. In addition to the public reviews (which you’ll probably be able to get more of), this internal feedback is often more honest, targeted, and therefore, more useful. You can also follow up, get more clarity on the things they did or didn’t like, and use this information as well.
2 - Drive engagement on social channels. A strong presence on social media - twitter, facebook, instagram, is becoming such a huge part of the booking process, especially for leisure & vacation travelers, that ignoring it is impossible. Following up with guests and asking them to post about you these channels will come naturally after you’ve been communicating with them since before they’ve arrived, and the data strongly suggests that guests are much more receptive to promoting you on social after you’ve already established this type of relationship with them.
3 - By keeping guests in this flywheel, you’re going to have a much easier time soliciting return visitors. You’ll be able to send periodic emails or messages reminding them to come again, as well as keeping them informed of any promotions or deals a repeat visitor might be able to take advantage of.
As you’ve probably noticed, communication and engagement is critical to getting a flywheel like this moving. Unlike ecommerce or tech, the ability for a hospitality establishment or rental to collect enough information to make a flywheel like this possible is limited unless hosts or managers are a) very rigorous about keeping schedules and notes, or b) take advantage of amazing new tech like chatbots and conversational AI. Thankfully, these types of technologies are making their way over to this industry, and are already being injected into various phases of this flywheel.
At the end of the day, messaging is going to be your number one way of getting the data you need to get this flywheel moving. Automating this messaging and your communication is the only way to scale a flywheel like this, and to keep it running even though your hands might not be directly on it.