When it comes to pre-trip guest communications, the rest of the travel industry has left hotels far behind. As a result, travelers have far higher expectations, even compared to just five years ago. Those expectations are so high because airlines, OTAs, and Airbnb have taken charge and set them there with tailored pre-trip communications.
The reality is, we’ve noticed that hotels, especially independents and small groups, are not communicating with guests between the booking confirmation and the day they set foot on the property. We as hoteliers are missing the opportunity to build the brand relationship between the hotel and its guests, as guests have come to accept, and we are missing out on the opportunity to create upsell opportunities.
Think about it. Pre-travel emails are standard practice for airlines - even budget airlines - to reach out regularly to travelers after the booking and in the weeks and days leading up to a flight.
A typical communications journey with an airline might look like this series my colleague received during her lifecycle as a guest with Southwest Airlines, a well-known budget airline in the United States, when she booked a trip to Phoenix for a conference. Even though Southwest is a large corporation, one thing to note about this email marketing series is, it is totally automated. The airline’s marketing team had to put in the effort once to create the email series, and that’s it. The emails run in the background, and the company rakes in the extra revenue with no additional effort.
Within seconds of booking her flight, my colleague received a booking confirmation email. This was Southwest’s first opportunity to interact with her as a customer. Instead of simply sending her booking confirmation, receipt, and travel itinerary, the brand also included essential travel information, and upsell messaging to their Earlybird Check-in program, travel partners, and a CTA to join their Rapid Rewards program. In other words, Southwest went beyond the simple, concrete validation that her trip had been booked. The airline also seized the opportunity to, on one hand, anticipate her needs as a traveler who needed to know to also book hotel accommodations and a rental car, and on the other, create additional revenue streams.
One Week Before Flight
The next email came one week before her flight with another value-add: a discount with one of Southwest’s car rental partners and the opportunity to earn points with its rewards program. In anticipation of a fast-approaching trip, both of these offers work to build the brand relationship by bringing additional value to a traveler, while at the same time opening revenue streams for the airline.
Four Days Before Flight
Then, my co-worker received a reminder of her flight itinerary and essential flight information four days before her trip, with a much stronger call-to-action on the Earlybird Check-in offer.
One Day Before Flight
The airline sent a final reminder of the free in-flight services the day before the flight, reminding the incoming traveler of the Southwest brand as a friendly, value airline.
Why should we take this approach?
Aside from guest expectations, pre-arrival emails are highly successful for hotels. With our customers, we see average open rates of 57% for pre-arrival emails (60%+ when “upgrade” is included in the subject line). Here are some of the other major benefits of an automated pre-arrival email marketing series for hotels:
1. Impact the bottom line (by, potentially, a lot)
If guests are familiar with your brand and well-informed on the details of their upcoming trip, you are likely to see a direct effect on your bottom line. Pre-stay emails have the potential to create more upsell revenue, more ancillary revenue, and result in fewer cancellations. You can also use them to promote on-property amenities and destination activities.
2. Differentiate yourself from the competition
The great thing is, not many hotels are nurturing guests pre-stay. If you start doing this now, this is a great opportunity for your brand to stand out from the competition. With a tailored service experience from the moment guests book, you can set the tone for a memorable stay, and show them that your brand is special and that you care about creating their ideal stay, by sending them messages that are personal and relevant. Hotels should leverage guest enthusiasm for their upcoming stay (as evidenced by the high open rates of pre-stay emails).
3. Scale your efforts
A set-it-and-forget-it email marketing campaign can be a huge time-saver for small hotels and groups, especially those with solo marketing practitioners. If you set up a set of pre-stay emails to run automatically at certain points leading up to check-in, you’ll have more time to attend to other money-making campaigns - you’re building your database, getting more aggregate data, serving and more guests, all without any additional effort on your part.
But, the question isn’t, “Why should we take this approach?” It’s, “Why must we take this approach now?” And the answer is because those of us that are not doing this in the travel space are already behind. As previously mentioned, it’s not just the airlines who have made this practice ubiquitous amongst themselves. Airbnb sends reservation reminders a week before check-in and allows direct communication with the host. Booking.com and other OTAs have automated pre-booking email series that work to build their relationships with your guests.
In summary, guests have come to expect this level of service. If you don’t offer something similar, your guests may be confused, or wonder whether something is wrong with their bookings. And ultimately, if your hotel is not sending an automated pre-stay email series, you’re missing a huge opportunity to build their trust and set the tone for a memorable stay by offering a seamless brand experience from the moment they book, through the stay, to the post-stay survey email after they check out.
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