What is the guest life cycle in hotels?
Basically, the guest life cycle is the various stages guests move through in the life of their relationship with a lodging establishment. While it’s typically ascribed to hotels, the concept and its practical uses apply to everyone:
If you’re new to hospitality, you may not have heard of this concept. I worked for years in the industry without understanding it.
But the guest life cycle is one of those things that people that don’t work in the industry just don’t get. While you can work as a hospitality professional without understanding it, you won’t be as effective as you can be.
From personal experience, I remember people applying for jobs that claimed, “I stay in hotels, so I can work at a hotel.”
That’s simply not true. Understanding how to effectively provide a great guest experience requires much higher-level thinking than your experience as guest. So much goes on behind the scenes of which you’re not aware.
That is, unless you’ve acquired the experience to help you know where to look.
You can (and should) start understanding and thinking about all aspects of the experience, not just when you’re physically in the hotel.
What does that mean?
Why, understanding the typical guest life cycle in hotels, of course.
What are the stages in the guest cycle?
That depends on who you ask.
Below is a complete list, from start to finish. Bolded ones are the most typical. However, the others are important to consider when planning a marketing strategy to acquire and retain guests.
Check-out / Departure
What do each of the above guest life cycle stages mean?
Alright, let’s start with the pre-arrival stages:
For us, this is called the “Dreaming” phase of the travel life cycle. But the more technical term is research.
This is the step between a potential guest decides they want to go on a trip, but before the decide where they’ll be staying.
Sometimes they’ve already decided to which location they’ll be going, sometimes not.
This is where marketing resources are devoted into attracting potential visitors to find and do research on your property. Channels to attract them include:
The goal is that once a potential guest completes this stage, they’re comfortable and ready to book with you, specifically.
Not your competitor down the street.
Not one of the OTAs.
This part is straight-forward, so we won’t dwell on it.
But it’s just as important as the others!
Make sure that guests get the information they need to be comfortable with their decision of booking with you. Look at your booking engine, for example, and ensure that there is little to no friction for potential guests when booking.
If there is, you increase the likelihood of them going elsewhere. The cost of switching properties is much lower to guests now than it is when they step foot on your property, so be ready to keep flighty people from making a decision you don’t want.
Draconian cancellation policies can freak people out, for example.
Just going to put that there.
What to communicate to guests immediately after booking:
Send a booking confirmation with other important details like:
- check-in and check-out dates
- contact information
The goal of this is to assuage any concerns that you’re not a legitimate business and that you didn’t just take their money and run.
They likely found you online, remember?
Some people gloss this stage over, but they shouldn’t!
This is often the period in which guests get buyers remorse, or get nervous they made the wrong decision.
Reaching-out to guests in this period is a great time to reassure them of nominal charges on a booking modification. About 3 days before their arrival is the best way to reduce that buyer’s remorse I mentioned before.
At the same time, share information with guests of top things to enjoy during their visit with you:
- Things to do
That way, you’ll help remind them of why they booked in the first place, and get them re-excited about their upcoming visit.
This is also prime-time for upselling potential guests from their original reservation.
First impressions are everything. And if guests haven’t heard from you since they booked, this is super important.
If they heard from you between booking and now, this is still not the place to drop the ball!
While staff need to do the standard things:
- Assign guests to accommodations
- Collect method of payment
- Registering the guest
- Direct the guest to their accommodations
There’s still plenty of opportunity to provide a unique experience. Some inns make a point of taking each guest on a tour of their property and amenities before leading them to their room. Some hotels make sure guests have everything they need before directing them to the floor their room is on.
Attending to guests when they first arrive is important. But it doesn’t have to be the same as how you’re tended to when you arrive at another hotel.
Just like the pre-arrival stage, making the guest feel welcomed and well informed right before they check-in can make them feel valued. Besides, this can also help create a positive attitude towards your lodging business and its services.
This is the period in which the guest is staying in their accommodations. In this stage, staff handles providing information and supplies to the guest.
And why does this one matter, beyond attention to it ensures guests will come back for a second or third visit?
Guests will be more receptive to any cross-selling and upsell offers while on the property. That holds especially true immediately after waking from a more restful, vacation, sleep. This stage also opens communication with staff to take advantage of concierge services.
Departure, also known as Check-out
The check-out process, like every other stage, needs to be seamless and optimized to remove frustrations on the part of the guest. This is when you typically collect guest feedback and use it to improve operations.
Once the guest has left your property, there is ample opportunity to stay in touch. The hope is that you can entice those guests to come back, give referrals, or even just buy from your gift shop.
If you’ve been giving them lots of tender love and care throughout the stages of their life cycle, getting them to come back should be easy.
But don’t leave it up to chance. Sending hospitality email marketing campaigns enticing them to return, for example, is a necessity.
Why is the guest life cycle in hotels important?
Knowledge is power, of course. And understanding the individual steps and what guests typically are wanting and expecting at each stage is a fantastic tool.
How do you use that tool?
Use it to proactively provide anticipatory service and to meet or exceed guest expectations at each stage. Doing so will encourage guests to repeat visits to your hotel, bed and breakfast, or vacation rental.
That’s why it’s so important!
Look at each stage individually, as well as how your business attends to guest needs in that stage. Constantly look for opportunities to optimize and improve. There are sure to be prime opportunities to improve systems using better workflows, or by using technology to improve the guest life cycle.
A hotel we work with used to force its front office staff to write-down reservations on paper. After hanging-up the phone, they would then type them into their property management system.
Reviewing the booking stage of their guest life cycle, they determined that the above step was muda, or the Japanese business term for waste.
Muda is used in business to apply to anything in a business’s operations that does not add value to the customer.
Now, the staff of this hotel simply types reservations directly into a computer. That frees-up their time to call guests back and help guests plan their stay.
The next round of review may result in that communication switching to an automated email with the information guests need.
Or it may not, as that personalized touch is so important to this hotel.
Every business’s guest life cycle is different. Keep measuring, checking, adjusting, and improving to work towards your perfect version.
Colin Pearson | Director of Marketing Services
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