This has given me the opportunity to observe how different operators are creating and updating guest experiences for the digital age.
Here are six notable mistakes hotel operators make that I have encountered during my travels.
1. Going all-in on app-based experiences
A growing number of hotels offer native mobile apps for guests. These apps generally promise a more streamlined experience, such as the ability to interact more efficiently with staff and more easily take advantage of amenities. In some cases, apps can even replace the need for key cards.
To be sure, these apps can be especially valuable, especially for larger hotel chains that have guests who might stay frequently and/or at multiple locations, but hotels should also ensure that guests who choose not to use an app don’t lose out.
For example, one budget hotel chain I stayed at does not include phones in its rooms. To contact the front desk, guests either have to download the hotel’s app or physically go to the front desk. Inconveniencing guests who don’t want to download an app in this way is not a sensible practice.
2. Pushing guests to email sensitive information before check-in
In what I was told was an effort to speed the check-in process, several smaller, independent hotels I stayed at requested that I send sensitive information, such as a scan of my passport and the credit card I used to book my reservation, via email prior to my arrival. Sometimes this was done with the promise that I could skip check-in and access my room with a code that would be activated once the information was received.
While the desire to expedite the check-in process is admirable, asking guests to send sensitive information or personal documents via an unsecured channel like email should be avoided. If providing these before check-in is really important, hotels should consider offering a secure web-based experience through which guests can submit the information.
3. Requiring guests to provide a lot more information than is necessary
Data is incredibly valuable and it’s no surprise that hotels want to collect as much of it about their guests as they can. But all businesses should be thoughtful about the data they explicitly require customers to provide, balancing their desire to know their customers better with their customers’ reasonable expectations for privacy.
In a couple of instances, I have been required to provide information that significantly exceeded what was necessary to provide accommodation to me. For example, one hotel in Asia asked me a series of questions about my travels, including my purpose, length of current trip and itinerary before and after check-in. These were required fields in a digital check-in form I had to fill out. When I asked the staff why I was being forced to provide information not pertinent to the hotel’s ability to provide service to me, I did not receive a satisfactory answer and was told that there was no way to complete the check-in form if I didn’t complete these fields.
This was very off-putting and the hotel did not benefit. Not only did this result in a not-so-great online review, I didn’t provide accurate information so the hotel received something worse than no data: bad data.
4. Not protecting privacy when using electronic devices to collect information from guests
Hotels that ask guests to complete their check-in using hotel-owned electronic devices, such as tablets and kiosks, should ensure that these devices are not potentially making data guests provide accessible to other guests or worse, individuals or groups who might misuse it.
On multiple occasions, the forms that I was asked to fill out on hotel-owned devices had fields that auto-completed with information clearly belonging to guests who had filled in the forms previously. For obvious reasons, this was quite disturbing.
If hotels are going to ask guests to provide information via hotel-owned devices, they need to make sure that these devices are not potentially leaking guest data.
5. Directly requesting a positive review straightaway at checkout
When checking out, I have frequently been asked if I could leave a positive review, sometimes on particular websites. Given the importance of online reviews, it’s not surprising that hotels want to be proactive in encouraging guests to leave favorable reviews.
But asking every guest to do this is presumptuous as obviously, not every guest will have had an experience that he or she feels justifies a positive review. For instance, I had discovered a cockroach in my room at one hotel that asked me to leave a review and even gave me a TripAdvisor card at checkout.
Instead of making the assumption that all guests will respond favorably to a request for a review, hotels should train staff to first ask guests about their experience at checkout. Staff can then politely ask for a review in cases where it seems appropriate.
6. Not sending or waiting too long to send a follow-up email after a stay
Post-checkout communication can be a critical way for hotels to cement direct relationships with guests. This is especially true today because many travelers, myself included, frequently book hotel accommodations through online travel agencies (OTAs).
After a pleasant stay, a thoughtful email communication from a hotel can increase the likelihood that a guest will at least consider staying again in the future, either at the same location or, in the case of a chain, another location. Such communication is an ideal way to promote a guarantee that rates for direct bookings will always be the lowest available, to drive awareness of loyalty programs, and to offer incentives, such as a discount or room upgrade, for a future stay that is direct-booked by a certain date.
Unfortunately, in my experience, a surprisingly high number of hotels do not communicate after checkout or they communicate too long after the stay for the message to carry a lot of weight.