As we come to the end of the summer season, it is time to talk about travel – good and bad travel experience. And how the sharing economy has both democratized the act of travel and elevated customer expectations. Today, a host in Pereira, Colombia, or San Juan, Puerto Rico, can define guest expectations for a house rental stay in Varna, Bulgaria. In fact, this is exactly what happened to me this summer.
Before the sharing economy took off, hotels were the primary choice for travel sleeping arrangements. In most cases, the consistency of that experience was ensured by the consistency of the hotel brands. In contrast, the emergence of the sharing economy transformed each individual host into his/her own hospitality brand. These hosts, of course, do not know each other. Nor do they operate in the same cultural constructs. The traveler, however, moves from place to place, staying at their properties. And as a result, that traveler defines the acceptable hospitality standards for them. Naturally, a traveler’s better (or even best) experience becomes the expected global experience.
What Do Changing Traveler Expectations Mean for Hosts?
If you are a host, you can no longer trust that what you accept as a great experience is what your guests expect. Further, if you want your guests to keep coming, you must invest in things that your guests expect. Even if you think those things are excessive or, more to the point, expensive.
For example, our host this summer told us that just because the outdoor barbecue is part of his listing, it is not his job to explain how to use the barbecue. Or to have the barbecue set up and ready to use. Now, this host may be right in his mind. Historically, in communist Bulgaria where he lived, great hospitality existed only for the members of the Party. Generally speaking, the working class went on vacation and packed everything they could possibly need (think towels, soap, toilet paper).
Today, 20+ years after the regime is gone, with a Bulgarian like me who has traveled the world as a guest, our host failed to meet basic expectations. And that failure will result in a bad review for his property. In the future, he will need to choose to spend the extra money to buy coals and other supplies or risk losing a future booking.
Travel Experience Goes Beyond the Stay
In a rental interaction, guest experience starts upon arrival. Even though you may have been paid 50% of the total cost upfront. Hosts need a mindset shift. They must recognize that guest arrival is a defining moment of the vacation rental experience.
So, what do you need to do to ensure a good arrival experience? Start by thinking about how your guests are getting to your property. Provide accurate driving or taxi directions. Present an easy way to access the property. And outfit the home with all the basics your guest needs. Hosts who do these simple things create great experiences. The kinds of arrival experiences you want us to talk about with our friends.
A friend of mine who hosts vacation rentals always puts a little vase with flowers on the kitchen table. That doesn’t cost much. But it makes a warm, welcoming first impression. Especially to a tired traveler.
What Does it Mean to Host?
Now, let’s talk about the role of the host in the context of renting an apartment or home. The word host, alone, signals that this is an actual job. It is an important role with responsibilities to meet traveler hospitality expectations. It is not called “payments department” or “housekeeping.” In other words, the host’s job does not begin and end with collecting payment for the transaction and changing the sheets after the stay.
A host’s unspoken job description goes much deeper in relation to guest expectations. From the guest’s point of view, the host is a problem solver, a facilitator; someone who teaches guests about the area and how to find the best local activities and restaurants.
Further, the host should care about the wellbeing and safety of guests. This includes checking in on them. Simply put, to be a host is not an easy job. It requires patience, comfort with logistics, and a large dose of empathy. Now, if that is not what you want to do, that is absolutely fine. You can always hire someone to do it for you. What you should never do, however, is skip out on all these duties, because you do not like the job description. Or your guests’ expectations.
Impact of Bad Travel Experience
How does all this connect to customer experience and making money? Let’s run the scenario in which my hosts did the job I expected them to do, rather than leave my loved ones and me to our own devices in Varna.
My daughter is two years old, and I want her to have ties to my home country. Had we enjoyed a great experience, I could have made this house my annual family retreat. This year, I paid $1,200 for six nights. Because of my bad travel experience, I am never going back. Let’s do the math. Over the next 10 years, these hosts lost a minimum of $12K, just from me. Had this been a great experience, I would have also stayed longer in the future. That brings the total loss closer to $17K.
Additionally, I told 10-15 people about my bad travel experience. Imagine if those same people heard about a great experience. At least a few of them would have considered renting the same house. They would have told their friends about it. And suddenly, without the host doing anything other than meeting my hospitality expectations, he would have been able to bring in at least another $5K.
So, this family lost the potential to secure earnings of more than $20K, because they could not pick up their phone when their guests needed help, and they could not even stock their barbecue. This is what I call penny wise, pound foolish.
I went through this calculation because I am so often asked what is the business case of customer experience. The answer is – lost revenues. This is especially true for the travel and hospitality industries. You are literally not going to make money if you are a bad host.
One final note before we close the 2021 summer season: please stock up on toilet paper. I have no idea why I have to say that, but it still amazes me how few places I go to have enough. Hosts, how much are you saving by skimping on such a basic necessity? Whatever it is, it is not worth the loss of revenue of future bookings. Trust me.