Understanding the Guest Journey

August 23, 2021

Think about it … very few of our favorite life memories are based on material things. They are primarily based on human interactions, memorable moments, and unique experiences. Studies show we find more happiness and satisfaction from experiences than material purchases and, while material things may enhance our experiences, it’s the experience itself that brings great happiness and creates the lasting memory. It is also through experiences shared with others that we connect, bond, and build relationships.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed the customer experience across all industry sectors forcing brands to make significant changes to their online and in-person customer experiences. The vacation rental industry has always been guest-centric but increased competition from newcomers, wealthy investors, big brands and OTA’s means we need a deeper understanding of the guest journey to compete and embrace the guest experience (both online and in-person).

The digital and technology era continues to advance, and travelers now have access to more options, with a world of opportunity at their fingertips. They are prioritizing unique travel experiences and expecting an excellent interaction with your brand. The importance of guest experience is driving growth, and delivering a top-notch customer experience at all touchpoints increases guest satisfaction, boosts traffic to your website, improves brand loyalty, and impacts your bottom line. The experience you offer your guests is critical to your brands’ success!

The Value of An Experience

The value of an experience begins the moment the travel seed is planted in our mind. A good experience creates memories, a bad experience makes us wiser (and nobody forgets a bad experience)! Research shows that customers are willing to pay up to 16% more for a great customer experience, 32% of customers will walk away from a brand they love after one bad experience, and 60% of consumers will stop doing business with a brand simply over unfriendly service. The value and return on investment of a good guest experience is evident!

A Holistic Approach to the Guest Experience

In a recent GuestX podcast, Brian Hamaoui and Xplorie’s Matt Loney spoke with award-winning vacation rental pioneer Simon Lehmann on exploring a holistic 3600 approach to the guest experience. When asked to define the guest experience, Simon got straight to the heart of the matter, confirming our industry needs to offer so much more than a vacation rental.

“The guest experience is 360 degrees, it starts when you hit the web page or Google, that’s when the guest experience starts, and it ends when you put your feet through the door coming home from vacation … and then hopefully you get a reminder to book again and finish that circle … from the time you start thinking about having a vacation rental as a holiday until you come home, that is guest experience”

Vacation rental demand has gone crazy in the past year, but a high percentage of travelers have never even considered a stay in a vacation rental and are still set on the services and amenities offered by hotels. It’s time to reimagine and rethink the way we present the guest experience to potential guests, leverage all touchpoints (website, mobile, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google … even TikTok) and let our guests know the value we offer over a hotel for a personalized, tailor-made vacation experience with the privacy and comforts of home. It’s great to see the big OTAs using their marketing budgets to promote vacation rentals! Now let’s focus on capturing guests from the moment the travel seed is planted in their mind and keeping them engaged for all their travel days without losing them to another brand!

Creating Moments & Memories through the Guest Experience

Automation is key and streamlines your day-to-day operations giving you more time to engage with your guests, focus on the guest experience, deliver exceptional service and create awareness of your brand. Your website should pique their interest, pricing should be enticing, the booking process should be simple and your local knowledge immediately evident. The guest experience begins with the first impression.

Website: The guest experience begins with a seed, then a search. The traveler happens upon your website, what do they find and what is their first impression of your brand? Does your website cause that seed to root and grow, or do they move on? The search process is the next stage of the guest journey and a modern, visually pleasing, and easy to use website that answers their questions, feeds their travel bug, and encourages the potential guest to “dwell” (and book direct!) should be a priority for every vacation rental property manager.

Easy Booking: Now you’ve got their attention there are a few more things to consider, are your property descriptions engaging with local tips, enticing (and accurate) images, and virtual tours, is your pricing clear with an incentive to book direct and is your booking process easy and secure.

Use your Homes: The quality of your homes is an important part of the guest experience. Encourage your owners to allow your team to stay in the home, experience the complete vacation experience from a guest perspective, and then encourage your owners to update their homes accordingly. Their home is a representation of your brand. There are simple steps that can be taken to enhance a home and ultimately the overall guest experience.

Prior to Arrival: Hopefully, your website and portfolio of homes has secured the booking and you move onto the next stage of the journey, guest communication. You’ve earned the trust of your guest through the booking process, now it’s time to meet their expectations. Offer your guests a choice of communication channels to suit their preference, send clear communication for arrival instructions (but don’t spam), and use the opportunity to customize their stay with grocery delivery, personal chefs, luggage delivery, family gear and equipment, and value-added packages that enhance their vacation experience.

On Arrival: While some guests embrace a warm welcome, others are still concerned about social distancing and insist on a contactless stay, this is where it’s good to know your guests and meet their personal expectations (a little homework goes a long way!). Know your guests’ arrival time and prepare the home for a warm welcoming (or invest in a smart home and set the timer and temperature!) no one likes to arrive at a cold, dark home. Remember, first impressions count!

During the Stay: The guests (and luggage) have arrived, the fridge is fully stocked, personal chef and private massage booked, what more is needed? This is the point in the guest journey where you can make the most impact! Offer complimentary tickets to local attractions, restaurants, and services, provide a personalized concierge that guides them through the property and the destination, and be available!

After the Stay: The guest experience is 360 degrees and should travel full circle, it should never end. Follow up on the guest stay (via their preferred form of communication), thank the guest for their stay and request a review, address any issues the guest had immediately, offer incentives and discounts for repeat guests and referrals to family and friends, and invite them to sign up for your newsletter to share travel blogs, local events, future specials and keep the circle going.

If you’re passionate about creating unique guest experiences stay tuned to the GuestX podcast for inspiring insights with vacation rental industry leaders on how to take your guest experience to the next level.

“You want to treat your guests the way you want to be treated, end of story!”

Simon Lehmann