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Why Did I Stay There? Secrets of the Consumer Decision-Making Process Revealed

Win FREE roundtrip tickets to the Maldives! Just tell us in no more than 15 words why YOU want to visit! Sounds good – so you think for a while, cobble together a plausible sentence, hit send, and wait. And a month later when it turns out you didn’t win, you start to wonder about the lucky person who did. What did they write? And more to the point, why wasn’t it you?

As hoteliers, you might have a similar sense of wonder when you promote your property, run your marketing campaigns, tweak your distribution channels, and then wait to see who walks in through the door – or who doesn’t. One common way to get feedback is through quantitative surveys where you analyze hundreds of questionnaires and learn that location is the key factor for 72% of all guests. Then you remember your location is pretty much fixed unless you’re renting out caravans.

Instead, it might be worth looking at some qualitative research; that’s the type where you interview a small sample of respondents to get in-depth, detailed feedback, so that’s exactly what I’ve done. I stay in lots of hotels, so I interviewed myself – sample size of one. The key point here is that every time I book a hotel I use completely different criteria to make my choice, so let’s find out what you should have done last year to get my business, and what we can learn from the lucky winners.

We’ll start with the demographic information: I usually travel with my wife and 12-year old son, and I’m still in the 21-45 age bracket.

Casa Blanca, Potosi, Bolivia

Keeping the bar rather low to start out, this place had the two key features of WiFi and hot water. There are several central options in Potosi, but unless you want to triple your budget it’s not easy to guarantee yourself both connectivity and a hot shower. Potosi is way up in the mountains and gets seriously cold, so hot water is important, as is Facebook access for The Wife.

Look carefully at your closest rivals and their reviews. Do they offer something you don’t? What can you offer to give yourself an edge?  

Hotel Restaurant Solskin, Vlissingen, Netherlands

When you have a car, you can widen the search a little. You don’t need to be near a station, or think about the cost of a taxi. In this case, anywhere along the Dutch coast would be fine – so is there anything that catches the eye? Yes! “Panoramic views over the Scheldemonding – one of the busiest shipping lanes in Europe.” Look no further – reservations made, binoculars packed, Wife informed, and we’re all set to ogle some freighters.

Think about all your attributes. You might have something to offer that you never thought worth mentioning, but somebody, somewhere, will make a booking for precisely that reason.

Renaissance Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Before you feel too much sympathy for The Wife, I do sometimes look for somewhere “nice” to stay, although it’s fair to say you probably shouldn’t inflict Kuala Lumpur on your loved ones. Twenty years ago, KL was one of the world’s great disappointments, and it hasn’t improved. There’s an almost total lack of interesting attractions, and then the boredom is spread out to force visitors into using a public transport system that makes getting there as tedious as being there. Yes, it has the Petronas Towers, but even if you go all the way to the top you’ll still be looking at Kuala Lumpur.

For this reason I wanted a touch of comfort, luxury even, so we could spend all our time in the hotel and avoid the city. Usually, if I’m going to pay a little bit more than I normally would for a hotel, I’ll try to do it in a country where the money goes a bit further, and Malaysia fits the bill. In this case, the Renaissance lured me in with a “family” promotion for Malaysia’s school holidays. With a Junior Suite, large swimming pool, and breakfast buffet included, we could enjoy a short break without ever setting foot outside the door.

Promotions work best when you can attract customers who might not normally stay with you. And if your local currency collapses, think about targeting visitors from neighboring countries who will love the value you can now offer.

Ibis, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

We were scheduled to land at Rio’s domestic airport, which is right there in the city center, at 9:30 pm. But Rio has a terrifying reputation for violent crime, and apparently the thieves and murderers usually start work just after dark. Rio’s public transport is great by day, but night time is taxi time. It’s never fun, or cheap, dealing with airport taxi drivers, so I specifically picked a hotel just 200 meters from the arrivals door (I checked). You know what you’re getting with an Ibis, and it was perfectly located for the metro and the business district in daylight.

You can’t change your location, but think about how you can mitigate a poor location (shuttles) or emphasize all the strengths of a good one. And perhaps try a little CSR to motivate the local crack addicts to move on.

Hotel Chisinau, Chisinau, Moldova

I always read the review comments. Sometime they mention how slow the WiFi was, or how they loved the hotel cat, in which case I’ll try somewhere else. I want fast WiFi and I’m allergic to cats, and chances are the hotel itself won’t tell me about either. In the case of this Soviet relic, the comment that sealed the deal was simply, “great hotel for people with a sense of irony – make sure to try the breakfast.” I was travelling without The Wife and couldn’t resist. For the record, it was the right decision.

Comments matter, so take the extra step to create memorable moments for your guests – things that some of them will comment on, and those reviews will intrigue or inspire others to try your hospitality.

Airbnb, La Paz, Bolivia

I don’t particularly like Airbnb. I’m not a millennial and I don’t like the hassle of figuring out how I’m going to arrange checking in and out. However, I was planning a full week in La Paz with the family, and I specifically wanted space, a washing machine, and maybe some cooking facilities. This is where Airbnb excels. They will always beat serviced apartments on price, and hotels on space and home facilities. Sure, a hotel might provide a laundry service, but I won’t pay for that when I have a wife – she’s trained me to use a washing machine.

Consider communal kitchens and laundry rooms, so your guests can treat the hotel more like a home for longer stays. Otherwise, Airbnb will eat your lunch.

There is one other rule I use when booking a hotel. I invariably look at the review score and I try to pick from the highest scores I can find. If a property has 200 reviewers giving it an average rating of 8.4, that suggests that people liked it – and if other people liked it, chances are I will too. Location and price are crucial if you want to get into the final reckoning, but after that, there will be one or two key details which swing the decision. How are you going to catch my eye when I’m looking for next year’s accommodation?

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