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Windows of opportunity for hotel upselling: Taking advantage of a non-linear guest journey

Jantien Abma

It’s been nearly 2 years since the first lockdown and by now most of us are used to prolonged restrictions. For many travellers, the freedom and excitement of a holiday now seem like a distant dream. But these feelings aren’t only attached to the trip itself, in anticipation of the trip we actually travellers get through a journey of emotions.

A Cornell University study by Kumar, Killingsworth and Gilovich found that, as well as the physical travel experience, anticipating a trip also impacts your mood. The four combined studies in this report demonstrated that ‘waiting for an experience tends to be more pleasurable and exciting than waiting to receive a material good.’

In this post, we’ll look at how hoteliers can consider emotional states to plan for the paths of hotel and guest to cross at ideal times.

The scattered guest journey

Before we get into specific stages, we should consider how perspectives are shifting in the travel industry. In The Visitor Cycle, a report by The Digital Tourism Think Tank, Nick Hall and Michela Gusso question the idea of a linear customer journey for travellers, outlining three major changes in the digital tourism landscape:

  1. The traditional visitor cycle has shifted, from a linear model to a scattered one

  2. Travel consumers are more connected and empowered than ever before

  3. New technology and data are changing the status quo, giving hospitality professionals new ways to address old problems.

According to Hall and Gusso, ‘the online space today is one of a scattered web, a mesh of more than 400 different touchpoints for a visitor before they actually take a decision to travel.’

While this report is geared towards strategies for destination marketing organisations, we can apply this on a more targeted level to hospitality. The scattered model is–especially with Covid-related technological advances–definitely an appropriate model now.

Travel micro-moments

Think With Google, the tech giant’s data insight arm, breaks down the scattered guest journey into travel micro-moments. They describe these as moments ‘when people turn to a device with intent to answer an immediate need.’ They define these key decision-making points as follows:

Travel micro moments of the guest journey Oaky upsell tool for hotels 1 2x
Think With Google (2021). Travel Micro-Moments
  • Inspiration, or I-want-to-get-away moments, when the traveller is dreaming of their holiday and exploring without firm plans.

  • Planning, or Time-to-make-a-plan moments, when the traveller is looking for the right dates, the right flight, the right place to stay and any extra activities or services.

  • Booking, or Let's-book-it-moments, when research is done, the traveller is satisfied with the information gathered and ready to book rooms, travel and extras.

  • Experiencing, or Can't-wait-to-explore moments, when the traveller has arrived and is ready to experience the trip and share it with others.

The first three of these moments can take place at any chronological stage of the scattered guest journey. According to Think With Google,

‘Travel micro-moments start when people begin dreaming of a trip and they continue all the way through the long-awaited trip itself’.

New approaches to the guest journey

The diagrams below depict a linear guest journey and a scattered guest journey. While the linear model plots micro-moments in chronological order, the scattered model allows micro-moments (besides Experiencing) to occur across the journey and more than once.

Linear model of the guest journey old perspective Oaky upsell tool for hotels 1 2x
Linear model, somewhat digital (‘old’ perspective)

*Note the absence of any micro-moments in the passive anticipation in this linear model.

Scattered model of the guest journey new perspective Oaky upsell tool for hotels 1 2x
Scattered model, highly digital (new perspective)

Think With Google’s report then offers a straightforward strategy to harness the power of micro-moments, with these pieces of advice:

  • Be there. Be in the right place at the right time

  • Be useful. Understand what value you can contribute to the guest

Hall and Gusso’s report establishes the core challenge that the hospitality industry faces in this increasingly digital era:

‘[H]ow do we have a relevant voice when there's so many places we can be? (...) [W]e can't be everything and we can't be everywhere, so we need to figure out how to engage with the right people in the right place at the right time.’

How can hoteliers choose the right moments to connect with guests on a scattered guest journey? In addition to Hall and Gusso’s three observed shifts in the digital tourism landscape and Think With Google’s strategy for harnessing travel micro-moments, we believe there are two more pieces to this puzzle.

  • The hot and cold cognition hypothesis on motivated reasoning

  • An analysis of the chronological trip stages, and their stress levels and emotions

Let’s have a closer look at it!

How hot and cold cognition impact guest receptiveness

Hot cognition is thinking that may be biased or led astray by emotions, while cold cognition is thinking that operates independently from emotions. From personal experience alone, most will recognise that the medium to high stress periods of the chronological guest journey are mostly associated with the presence of more external stressors, such as finances, airports and navigation. Don’t take our word for it though; read on for more insight into traveller stress levels along the chronological guest journey.

The effect of emotions along the guest journey

In order to understand how the concept of hot and cold cognition affects the travel experience, let’s first look for windows of low stress throughout the chronological guest journey.

Another study in Tourism Analysis by Crotts and Zehrer shows that while looking forward to a trip may be a mood-booster, the active part of the anticipation stage, including planning and booking, can actually be more stressful than transit. Combining the results of this study with what is known about travel-related stress, we’d argue that the entire trip experience can be split into these stress level groups:

Emotional influence along the guest journey Oaky upsell tool for hotels 1 2x
Oaky (2021). Emotional influence along the guest journey Oaky

The diagram above highlights two key opportunities for the hospitality industry. In order to generate revenue as efficiently as possible, hoteliers should focus on building and/or optimising guest touchpoints in the passive anticipation and stay periods.

Later in this post, we’ll explain how to combine these windows of opportunity with Think With Google’s micro-moment strategy and apply them to the scattered model for guest journeys.

Key periods in the chronological guest journey

In the new scattered approach to creating a trip experience, there is a key guest-driven change: constant inspiration. Travellers plan and book during the waiting stage and throughout their stay, instead of only up until the booking stage. Let’s take a look at these two windows of opportunity for accessing guests while calm, contented, and thinking with cold cognition.

Passive anticipation stage

In the active anticipation stage, travellers are researching, planning and booking. Once the stay and travel have been booked, the guest breathes a sigh of relief. Most of the work has been done and they can now look forward to their trip, marking the start of the passive anticipation stage. In the scattered guest journey of the modern, connected traveller, the passive anticipation stage is a huge opportunity for hoteliers.

This stage has been largely ignored by the hotel industry, owing to a gap in hotel technology. Most approaches to hotel upselling focus on reaching the guest at the planning and booking stages, taking no action between booking and arrival. But travellers are still thinking about their trips in the passive anticipation stage.

The mood-boosting effects of anticipating a trip suggest that the passive anticipation stage is one of the best periods to reach a guest with suggestions to improve their trip. The combination of low stress and high excitement paired with the time to ponder travel arrangements creates optimal conditions for selling.

Stay stage

This stage barely needs an explanation. For many of us, the main reason for taking a holiday is to de-stress. Guests that are unplugged from work and in holiday mode are unlikely to be stressed by external factors, leaving them open-minded and free to make decisions. Plus, you might be familiar with the fact that money flows more freely when on holiday. In fact, some of us are even anticipating it, with 33% of millennials planning a spending budget of $5000+ for their vacations.

On a scattered guest journey it’s important to reach guests when they are in a state of cold cognition. If hotels meet guest needs seamlessly, any associated revenue generation becomes invisible. In a business built on putting guest’s needs first, selling should be transparent, frictionless and complementary to the overall trip experience.

Making the scattered guest journey work in your hotel’s favour

At Oaky, we specialise in hotel upselling, a tricky practice. Our digital upselling platform is inspired by the front desk’s very best: the skilled staff that can read the room while tactfully assessing a guest’s needs. These individuals are extra impressive because they have a considerable disadvantage: they’re upselling at check-in, when guests aren't as receptive. While they might be in a good mood, the guest is still probably tired from their journey and eager to get to their room.

Oaky’s upselling software was originally developed to offer pre-arrival upselling to guests during the passive anticipation stage–to close the gap in communication between guests and hotels during this prime time for selling. Our technology has since expanded to include in-stay upselling, a way to access guests during another period of cold cognition. Guests’ needs don’t stop after check-in and upselling lets hoteliers improve the guest experience while also increasing hotel revenue.

The influence of repeated exposure

According to the advertising industry’s rule of three, consumers need to see a product or service three times to think about purchasing. This idea is also useful for hotel upselling. If a guest is shown an offer for breakfast pre-arrival but doesn’t buy it, they’ll be primed to buy at check-in as they’ve had time to passively mull it over, or even later via in-stay upselling touchpoints. As long as the offer remains available without being intrusive, the guest can book it whenever they’re ready.

Harnessing guest receptiveness for your hotel

Even the most digitally-connected travellers on a scattered guest journey will always have to follow a basic sequence of booking, waiting, travelling, arriving and finally enjoying their trip. While every guest journey is different, in almost all cases, there will be a period between booking and arrival when the guest’s excitement and mood are elevated, but little to no action is taken by the hotel.

According to the principles of hot and cold cognition, hotel guests will not only be more likely to add to their existing booking at times when stress levels are low, but they will also be more likely to make value-based choices independently of their emotional state. The hotel can then offer additional experiences and services to their guests that have real value, through personalisation, convenience or competitive pricing.

In addition to low stress levels, other factors of guest receptiveness are the time and resources to research their options. This was always possible in the passive anticipation stage, but now, new mobile technology allows guests just as much access to their preferred research sources in the stay stage.

Consumer trends show that in 2021 travellers planned to spend more during their trips and particularly on personalised experiences. In the extended absence of travel, consider developing a plan for your hotel to make the most of these windows of opportunity. Work with low-stress periods to create a frictionless system for meeting their needs–for the benefit of both of you!

Any questions about Oaky? Feel free to reach out!

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Olga Vasylieva

Senior Marketing Manager 

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