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Colin Nagy, a marketing strategist, writes this opinion column for Skift on hospitality and business travel. On Experience dissects customer-centric experiences and innovation across the luxury sector, hotels, aviation, and beyond. He also covers the convergence of conservation and hospitality. You can read all of his writing here.
The hospitality industry is full of standard operating procedures, checklists, and processes that can sap joy and creativity. Instead, the process of improving things end-to-end can be a highly creative endeavor and not just a list for rote memorization and blind adherence.
As hoteliers seek to make an impact in 2019, a ripe opportunity is a re-thinking of guest experience. The small, micro-moments as a guest moves between planning, arrival, and checkout.
Sure, there are methodologies that already exist to analyze data around each potential guest touch point, gathering feedback and making operational improvements. But there is also a much more joyful, creative approach that creates moments of delight and also echoes into the online comments and guest feedback.
Not every step along the guest journey needs to be mind-blowing, but a smart g.m. knows the key moments in their experience that are poised to make a disproportionate impact. By creating simple systems of leverage, huge outcomes can happen with minimal adjustments to existing systems.
Jesse Desjardins is an experience and hospitality strategist that is trying to codify and demystify what goes into creating guest experience moments, and how hotel teams can arrive at them in a systematic way.
Desjardins has created a methodology called the “Guest Experience Map,” stemming from his tenure running social and content at Tourism Australia, where he noticed too much emphasis in the industry on short-term campaigns and disconnected tactics and not enough systems thinking that produced scalable and repeatable results.
But this systems thinking doesn’t need to be dry and McKinsey like, it can be joyful and fun for teams.
“The hospitality industry — or any service industry, for that matter — is filled with checklists and processes, says Desjardins. “This is great for keeping things running predictably, but not so great for innovating…”
So how do general managers and their teams systematically innovate and create great or even game-changing moments? Desjardins suggests it is a team effort. “Insights can come from anyone who is engaging with the guests every day. When teams start designing moments with crystal clarity on who it’s for and what problem it solves for guests then that’s when you can create something remarkable.”
The goal is to not only exceed what the competition offers but exceed what guests expect. And when these moments all come together in harmony, it adds up to something interesting, and ideally addictive. There are countless examples of taking ordinary moments and turning them into the extraordinary: How the Upper House in Hong Kong has perfected the car transfer on arrival after a long haul flight with a highly trained member of staff and an excellent driver (down to what is playing on the radio), to how Bawah Reserve coordinates a pickup, a seaplane, and arrival, to make a distant island destination feel close and accessible.
But how can every hotelier achieve such heights?
As part of the entire methodology, Desjardins suggests the following questions for hoteliers seeking to improve their offerings, along with a few best-in-class examples of the outputs.
How might you help build even more excitement for your guests pre-arrival?
For example, confirmed guests at Saffire Freycinet in Tasmania receive a beautifully designed Concierge Compendium PDF ahead of their stay.
Inside is an overview of complementary and signature experiences that each guest can choose from, an invitation to Saffire’s airport lounge, and a map of interesting stops along the way to the lodge. For Saffire guests, the compendium elevates pre-arrival excitement before they’ve ever set foot on the property and sets the tone for the upcoming experience.
How might you elevate an unremarkable (even boring) moment?
For example: At the Fairmont hotel at Vancouver’s busy international airport, guests have views out their window of planes taking off and landing. The hotel elevated this seemingly unremarkable moment into a remarkable one by including binoculars in each room and providing guests with a plane spotting guide. Fairmont turned the otherwise boring act of looking out a hotel window into a peak experiential moment for guests. And maybe even created a few new aviation geeks in the process.
How might you turn the most painful part of your guest experience into a highlight?
For example: At the heart of historic Marrakesh is Le Foundouk, a Moroccan restaurant named by CNN as one of the world’s best rooftop restaurants. The arrival process, however, was a major problem moment. Guests dropped off by taxi would have to navigate the busy and chaotic medina to find the restaurant. An impossible task for visitors. Le Foundouk installed guides, wearing traditional Moroccan fez hats, who not only shepherd guests to the restaurant but also give tours to the arriving and departing guests, turning what was the worst part of the experience into a major highlight.
How might you make departing guests part of the family?
For example, a beautiful tree shades the courtyard at XVA in Dubai, and the hotel cuts small branches from this tree, allowing them to grow in small vases on each table. When those branches sprout their own roots, the hotel offers the young tree to departing guests. XVA has created a physical GEM for guests to remember the hotel and XVA, literally, has extended its own roots all over the world.
Creating Business Value
It’s not just about creating joy. There are business results to also be unlocked in terms of incremental revenue (hotels communicating pre-stay to offer up bookable experiences), as well as the power of advocacy in terms of driving repeat bookings and actual loyalty. And, it is an egalitarian process — it is not just the hotel leadership that can contribute. Sometimes the most valuable insights on friction points to be improved come from the most junior staff. They are incredibly well poised to make an impact and improve the experience.
And this isn’t just for the top-tier hotels in the world (many of whom have most touchpoints dialed in). It means an independent hotelier or bed and breakfast host can find something to improve. Desjardins has open sourced his guest experience map methodology tools for everyone to use for free here.