The Psychological Reason Hotels Should Engage Guests Even More

In the hospitality industry, experience isn’t just good practice — it’s core to your business.

Research from Gallup revealed that engaged customers are more loyal (and therefore more valuable!) than others. The link between customer engagement and key business outcomes is so strong that, for example, fully engaged hotel guests spend 46% more per year than disengaged ones.

But what’s the correlation between engaging guests to elevate their experiences and revenue? Let’s take a look at the psychology behind it.

“If you want to change someone’s perspective or way of thinking, don’t go the rational route. Appeal to their feelings — how they feel emotionally involved with something.”

To better understand why guest engagement works, I sat down with Federico Forciniti, a senior QA analyst at HYP3R and licensed psychologist. He explained that the mental process for making decisions (including purchasing decisions) isn’t as rational as you’d think.

“Emotions have a big impact in how you make decisions,” he told me. “The feedback to the logical center is delivered by the emotional part of the brain.”

In fact, the emotional part of your brain is so powerful that if it’s competing with the logical side, your emotional side will likely win out (We’ve all gone through the “I want to order a hamburger. I know it’s unhealthy, but it will make me happy” thought process, right?).

“If you want to change someone’s perspective or way of thinking, don’t go the rational route. Appeal to their feelings — how they feel emotionally involved with something,” Federico explained.

The Gaylord Opryland Resort sent a complimentary bottle of champagne and special note to the room of a couple who got engaged at the hotel and posted about it publicly on social media.

In a study titled “Evoking Emotion: Affective Keys to Hotel Loyalty,” researchers determined that emotions experienced by hotel guests during their stay are critical components of satisfaction and loyalty. Making guests feel key emotions like “comfortable,” “secure,” “relaxed” and “welcome” significantly strengthens both their intent to return, as well as their eagerness to recommend a hotel brand to others. Guests who experienced these emotions even reported a willingness to pay, on average, $13 more than the rate that they had paid for the recent stay.

The key is to elevate guest experiences when it matters most: while they’re actually at your property.

And we know that engaging guests in meaningful ways can foster those emotions. But in an increasingly competitive landscape, where the best-performing marketers compete on the basis of customer experience, how can you make sure that you’re engaging guests enough, and in the right ways?

Joseph Ogden, professor of communications at Brigham Young University, studies the impact of online reviews and social media on the hotel industry. He explains, “Social media pages and online reviews are the new hotel ‘lobby.’ Making a good impression there really does lead to higher occupancies and higher rates.”

The key is to elevate guest experiences when it matters most: while they’re actually at your property. Don’t wait to engage them after they’ve packed up their bags and left — make good impressions throughout their stay. Here are a few ways you can foster those key emotions while guests are at your location.

  1. One-to-one engagements: Make personalized comments on your guests’ social posts to welcome them to your property, ask them what’s on their agenda for the day, or provide insightful food and beverage recommendations. Even simple comments show that hotels care about their guests. For example: When a guest posted a photo of a cocktail during his stay at the St. Regis Mexico City, the hotel commented on the post praising his choice and recommending another drink. The guest replied that he loved the cocktail and would try that recommendation on his next visit.
  2. Surprise and delight moments: Celebrate special occasions with your guests by sending a birthday cake, balloons, handwritten note or other memorable gift directly to them. A newly engaged couple posted a celebratory picture to social from the Gaylord Opryland Resort. The hotel saw the post, then sent a complimentary bottle of champagne and special note to the couple’s room. They loved it so much that they published an entirely new post just to thank the hotel!
  3. Customer-generated content: Compliment guests on their awesome photos at your property and ask permission to repost them on your own social channels. With HYP3R, Hard Rock International has sourced more than 1,800 pieces of content created by guests on location to use in their own marketing. Those posts garner up to 47% more engagement than their other brand posts (which often required an expensive professional photographer).

HYP3R data shows that engaging customers on location leads them to post 3X more on social, creating a ripple effect of their positive experience among their friends and followers. And all of these hotel brand mentions on social media platforms translate into marketing that consumers actually welcome: Posts from friends and family have more influence on purchasing decisions than posts from brands, and 43% of consumers say they’re more likely to buy a new product when learning about it through their social media network.

The rise of location-based marketing has made listening to and interacting with your guests on social platforms easier than ever. The latter, specifically, is a powerful tool for elevating guest experiences while they’re at your location. The team at the JW Marriott Indianapolis, for example, uses social media to go above and beyond for their guests on a daily basis. One guest was so impressed that he actually wrote about his experience at the JW Indy in his book on brand marketing. Now that’s customer engagement.

Want to learn how global brands like Marriott International, Norwegian Cruise Lines and 24 Hour Fitness use location-based marketing to acquire and engage high-value customers? Watch this video.

Joseph Lage
Author Joseph Lage Director of Growth Marketing