3 Ways Hotels Can Generate Loyalty on the First Visit

I recently had my tenth stay at two of my favorite hotels, the Napa River Inn and the Westin Portland. Both hotels recognized this milestone with a very nice welcome amenity in addition to the wonderful, personalized service they always provide. This special treatment made me look forward to my next ten visits, but it also got me thinking about how many other hotels I've stayed at where I don't care whether or not I return.

Welcome amenities at the Napa River Inn for our 10th visit

What can hotels do turn first-time visitors into loyal guests?

I spoke with a few hospitality professionals to get their ideas and reflected on my own experience to come up with three simple suggestions. I'm sure there are more ideas -- so please add your own as a comment to this post.

Sign 'em up!
Many hotels have loyalty programs, especially the larger chains. Why not encourage first-time guests to join? This should be standard procedure at check-in, but in practice it doesn't consistently happen.

A few years ago, I checked in to the Hilton Garden Inn in Henderson, Nevada. The friendly front desk associate invited me to join the Hilton Honors loyalty program and even offered to use the information they had on file to complete the application for me. It cost me nothing in terms of time and effort, but over the next year I found myself staying in several hotels within the Hilton family and soon reached their first level of status. All else being equal, points and status will influence guests' decisions, and I recently booked a stay at a Hilton over another brand I wasn't loyal to.

Smaller hotels without a loyalty program can simply collect email addresses and send out periodic newsletters. For example, the Napa River Inn sends out a special discount code just for returning guests. 

I stay in a lot of hotels, but I don't bother to join their loyalty program if I don't think I'll be coming back. It often takes a simply nudge from a helpful associate to get guests like me to join, but when they do, they might start feeling a little more at home.

Engage at Every Opportunity
Quick question - which associates have the most guest contact? In a smaller hotel, it's likely someone at the front desk, but in a larger hotel it might be the valet staff, housekeepers, or even the engineers. All associates, regardless of their position, should be trained to engage guests at every opportunity.

They can start with a simple question, "How is your stay?" In my experience, most of the hotel associates I encounter in the hallway or elevator rarely go beyond saying "Hello." An associate once asked me how my stay was going, but when I said, "Eh," she wasn't sure where to go from there and missed an opportunity to turn a mediocre experience into an outstanding one.

The associates who do get it right can make all the difference. For example, an associate named Darryl took time out from a painting project to engage my wife and I when we stayed at a resort hotel. He asked about our plans and then gave us inside tips on how to best enjoy ourselves. Darryl even encouraged us to come find him if we needed anything and he'd personally take care of it. (Read more about Darryl.) 

I've recently had a four night stay at three different hotels. One was the Napa River Inn and the other two were clearly not. At the Napa River Inn, I frequently encountered associates who were friendly, helpful, and outgoing. At the other two hotels I hardly had any contact with associates after checking in. I found myself feeling very disconnected from these properties, despite the long stay. 

Why take chances? Someone from one of the "other" hotels could have called my room halfway through my stay to make sure everything was going well. They could have sent up a free bottle of water. Perhaps one of the hotels could simply have responded to my repeated maintenance requests instead of ignoring them. Anything to check in and say, "Hey -- we know you're still here." Instead, nothing. No contact, which means no connection. I've already forgotten about them.