Transactions Vs. Experiences; What Does Your Property Offer?

With the never-ending parade of brands, sub-brands, soft brands, and more that enter our competitive marketplaces on an almost daily basis, it can be challenging to maintain focus on the day-to-day operation of our properties.  As competition continues to grow, both in properties and in brands, it can become increasingly difficult for us to focus on those things which truly separate our properties from those of our competitors.  While those things that we have done historically in order to effectively compete still hold true, we must also come to grips with the fact that we must learn to compete differently.  No matter who you listen to or who you read, the data is everywhere: today’s guest wants more of an experience than a transaction.  How are you addressing this in your properties?

There has never been anything wrong with a guest checking in, having a pleasant stay in a clean room while enjoying a good meal, and departing without drama.  Importantly, there is still nothing wrong with this scenario, except for the fact that an increasing number of customers both Group and Leisure now want and expect more from their hotel stays.  The buzz word is “experience” and it is a word that we are hearing more and more.  But what does it mean in this context?

Because a guest’s experience will always be highly personal, it is not realistic to establish a standardized definition for that experience.  Rather, the challenge for us as hospitality leaders is to create an experiential environment in our properties.   This environment must take into account the desires of all of our guests, which of course is no easy feat.  This same environment must consider some of the following elements:

Check In Experience – this is more than just speed and efficiency.  When the newly registered guest steps away from the Front Desk to move towards his/her accommodation, how have we influenced his/her state of mind?  Our ability to have this influence has a direct bearing on the guest’s mindset for the remainder of their stay.

In-Room Experience – yes, cleanliness and neatness count, but they are far from the only measurements.  How quickly, easily (and inexpensively!) can I connect to the internet, can I comfortably watch tv or work at the desk are all very personal questions which impact the guest’s in-room experience.  Have we thought all of these through?

Dining Experience – there are plenty of variables here; urban hotels may have a more difficult time keeping guests in-house for meals whereas suburban properties may deal with just the opposite.  Regardless, a meal in our hotels needs to be an experience, not simply a “refueling stop.”  How creative is our menu, how conducive to individual seating is our outlet, how sensitive are our servers to the varying needs of individual guests?  Too often, hotel meals are viewed by our customers as a commodity, even a task.  How well we understand that guest’s dining experience matters in how that guest feels when they finish their meal.

Value Experience – yes, the value experience.  Most customers do not have a problem paying a certain price for what they perceive to be an exceptional experience.  Do we understand what our guests believe to be truly valuable during their visit?  Is it the availability of a doorknob menu so that I can order my morning coffee the night before rather than having to worry about IRD being slammed at 6:45am?  Is it the easy ability to have copies made of my document at 9:30pm because my colleague’s inbound flight was just cancelled and they won’t make the morning meeting? 

Like so many things in the hospitality business, our ability to distinguish between a transaction and an experience can create countless new opportunities, completely depending on our own perspectives.  Conventional wisdom tells us that a fast and efficient check-in, a clean and up-to-date guestroom, and good food and service in the restaurant are what matter most to the guest.  But what if that guest actually wants more, even if they don’t realize it themselves?  This level of deeper understanding of the guest on the part of hotel leadership is far more valuable in retaining or stealing market share than many of us have considered.  Understanding this, are your hotels transactional or are they experiential?