How can hotels give guests a good first impression when they’re checking in or interacting with the brand for the very first time? The short answer is preparation. The long answer is in this blog post. From online to in-person, there are lots of opportunities to wow guests using the tips we’ve learned from hospitality experts. Here are some things to consider if you want to craft amazing hotel first impressions.
Why hotel first impressions matter:
People form first impressions very quickly. In fact, studies have shown that most people take 50 milliseconds to form an opinion about a website and seven seconds to form an opinion about another person or business.
There’s still no definitive proof about how accurate or inaccurate these impressions really are. But generally speaking, there’s a consensus that first impressions aren’t very reliable. They are, however, long-lasting.
For example, according to The Society for Personality and Social Psychology, having a so-called guilty look can be the difference between life or death. And once a first impression is made, “people apparently have great difficulty overcoming this bias,” according to their research on the high-stakes subject.
When, and where, is a hotel's first impression created?
According to Alex Miller, Founder & CEO of travel website UpgradedPoints.com, there are four key areas where hotel first impressions are made: online, in the lobby, through housekeeping, and at the restaurant or other food service options. In an email with Cvent, Miller went into detail about each one.
“When hotels reach out to customers before their stay, it sets the tone for the stay. Consumers are well connected, and most will book their travels online. A hotel can easily create impressions on their website, during the booking path, and after booking by following up with emails or other contact,” says Miller.
Miller goes on to explain that “with such a high percentage of consumers booking online, a first impression here is even more important than the impression set on-site.”
We’d also like to add that review sites and other offsite branding tools such as Quora and YouTube also factor into hotel first impressions online.
“After a consumer received any initial welcome before arriving, their next touchpoint is usually the front desk and lobby,” notes Miller. “A warm smile, a ‘thank you’ for business is important — it welcomes the traveler in with a positive attitude, and encourages the traveler in receiving positive impressions throughout the stay.”
Staff should also use their CRM or guest profile details with their booking system to quickly see if the person they are speaking with is a return customer. “This is especially important for travelers with loyalty program status,” says Miller, “these members are frequent guests, but are a considerable portion of the company’s revenue.”
“The first night a room is cleaned is important, as it needs to be done right and includes above-and-beyond touches to create a positive impression,” says Miller. “Things like laying out slippers by the bed, putting a bottle of water on the nightstand, folding clothes, etc. Doing this, especially on the first night, allows guests to feel satisfied and encouraged to stay again.”
4. Restaurant or food service
And last but not least, guests can solidify their first impression of your hotel when they interact with another critical aspect of your brand: food.
“Servers need to be friendly and welcome guests when dining at the hotel restaurant," advises Miller.
“There can’t be a differentiation between a hotel guest and a restaurant guest, and there needs to be a seamless experience, from recognizing hotel loyalty status, knowing a guest’s preferences and habits, or differentiating the restaurant experience from other non-hotel restaurants.”
So as you can see, there are plenty of opportunities to surprise and delight guests when they first interact with your hotel. The trick is figuring out how to improve your first impression using what you already have or can afford. To help you discover fresh new ideas, we interviewed even more hospitality professionals who provided practical tips based on their own experiences.
7 important lessons to maximize hotel first impressions:
Lesson 1: Improve reception design
Have you ever asked yourself what you can use at the reception desk to create a positive first impression? If not, now’s the time. The good news is you may not have to overhaul your entire setup to improve your hotel's first impressions. According to The Broke Backpacker, Will Hatton, simply having your hotel Wi-Fi information displayed at reception might even be enough.
In an interview with Cvent, Hatton said, “Give the customers what they want. From being a traveler and now a hotel owner, I know how crucial it is to have great Wi-Fi. Hotels that cater to travelers specifically can live and die on their Google reviews, which mention the Wi-Fi.”
Hatton went on to say that, “the best first impression is to have the Wi-Fi name and password on the front desk, so everyone can log on while they are being checked in.”
This approach has a few benefits. “Not only does this give them something to do with the time while they are waiting for the receptionist, it also prevents the next/first question that the receptionist is normally asked, saving them time too. They can focus on showing the customer around or explaining the guidelines.”
Create a small yet attractive display that lists the network name, password, and any other important selling points such as cost (especially if it’s free!) or strength.
Lesson 2: Keep it tidy
Clean and spotless should be the target keywords for your hotel lobby. Train front desk staff to regularly check for trash left on entry tables and by lounge areas. Ask housekeeping to dust, disinfect, and sweep the threshold often. And have a plan for keeping floors attractive on rainy or snowy days — and no, laying towels down doesn’t count.
Lesson 3: Optimize your homepage
While your entire hotel website should be in top shape, Soaring Eagle Lodge Owner Mike Flores told Cvent in an interview that “your property's homepage is your chance to shine and show potential travelers what your property has to offer.”
Flores also said to “be specific” and offered some example scenarios:
“If your brand identifies as luxurious, use images, fonts, and colors that capture its excellence at first sight. Affordable and family-friendly? Use images with children. Adventure-oriented? High-quality imagery and action-packed videos will likely capture the attention of your ideal consumers.”
Lesson 4: Send information packs
Hotel guest experience consultant Victoria Taylor recently spoke to Cvent about crafting a strong “pre-experience” journey.
First, “send an 'information pack' to your guests,” says Taylor. Whether it’s physical or digital or both, an information pack is a helpful branding tool that guests will appreciate. Taylor explains that “this could detail local restaurants, amenities within the area, places that are a 'must visit,' and recommended local shops and attractions to explore.”
And if your goal is to get more app downloads, you can add the packet there too. Taylor told Cvent that “a great platform that many hotels use to provide their guests with information is Touch Stay. It allows you to create a 'digital welcome book' for your guests and it is pretty cost-effective too.”
Lesson 5: Provide packing lists
Taylor also added that guests might not know much about the climate your hotel is located in. “Give them an example packing list! I've received these a couple of times and it is a really nice touch (and different).”
Taylor says this is important because “you know your area well, if you're in the country you may want to advise your guests to bring Wellington boots, for example. If you are on the coast and the evenings get cold, you may want to advise them to bring a light sweater. They don't know your location like you do, so sharing this information shows that you care.”
Consider adding details about:
- Drought/flood conditions
- Regionally-specific seasonal concerns
- Bug/mosquito conditions
- Anything else that guests can use to better prepare for a great stay
Lesson 6: Personalize communication
Yes, you should include first names in your emails and text messaging. But guest experience expert Victoria Taylor emphasizes that the updates should also be personal to your hotel.
For example, “Why not tell your guests in an email to look out for 'Tom the bartender,' who makes the best cocktails, or to make sure that they say hello to 'Sally the chef,' who makes the best eggs in the area?"
It may not seem like much, but details like these matter. According to Taylor, “Doing this gives your soon-to-be guests a feeling of familiarity with your team. People like to feel welcome and this is a great and simple way to do that and to introduce your employees early on.”
Lesson 7: Remember the day before
This is one of the most important and overlooked days during a guest’s stay. “On the day prior to their visit, send them an email detailing the predicted weather forecast for their stay with you.” Taylor also says “a predicted travel time from their home address to your hotel (this is simple enough to do by popping their address into Google Maps)” or even “let them know if there are any roadworks in the area, so they know any potential traffic spots to avoid.”
Now you know why hotel first impressions matter and how to improve your own!
Want to appeal to all five senses when making a first impression in your hotel lobby? Take a look at this guide to hotel scents.