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Why Hotels Need to Redefine the Guest Journey's Starting Point

12 March 2024
The guest journey concept has long been envisioned in hospitality as a path paved with inspiration and dreams. Traditionally, this journey commences in the minds of future guests as a flash of inspiration strikes them, whether it be a breathtaking Instagram post, a captivating travel article, or tales of adventures from friends and family. This spark of inspiration is widely acknowledged as the catalyst that sets the entire guest experience into motion, guiding them through stages of planning, booking, experiencing, and sharing their own stories.
However, upon closer examination, it becomes evident that this traditional perspective might not fully capture the guest's initial motivation.
This blog post proposes a paradigm shift, suggesting that the guest journey begins not with inspiration but with recognizing a fundamental problem needing resolution: overnight accommodation. This need arises from various life scenarios—a business trip, a festival or concert, or visiting friends and family. Each of these situations presents a practical challenge that requires a straightforward solution.
The intent of this post is not merely to challenge the conventional wisdom but to offer a new perspective that redefines the beginning of the guest journey. By understanding the journey as starting from a place of problem recognition, hospitality businesses can better align their services and marketing strategies with the real needs of their guests. This shift in perspective promises a more grounded and pragmatic approach to guest engagement, promising insights that can lead to more targeted and effective solutions. By exploring this alternative viewpoint, I aim to open a dialogue on how the hospitality industry can evolve its understanding of the guest journey, ultimately leading to enhanced travel experiences worldwide.

The Traditional Guest Journey in Hospitality

The guest journey within the hospitality industry has historically been segmented into a series of distinct, sequential stages, including these five steps: inspiration, planning, booking, experiencing, and sharing. Each stage is critical in shaping the overall guest experience, from the initial desire to travel to share their experiences with others.


The journey traditionally begins with inspiration, a stage characterized by an emotional and aspirational longing for escape, adventure, or relaxation. Various stimuli can ignite this initial spark - stunning visuals on social media, engaging travel content, recommendations from peers, or the allure of exploring new cultures. Inspiration is deeply rooted in emotion and aspiration, driving the desire to transform daydreams into reality.


Following the wave of inspiration, guests move into the planning phase. Armed with a destination in mind, they delve into the logistics of their trip, researching potential accommodations, activities, and transportation options. This stage is marked by comparison and consideration as guests weigh their options to find the perfect fit for their preferences and budget.


Once the planning phase has provided a clear outline of the trip, guests enter the booking stage. This is where decisions are solidified and commitments are made. Accommodations are reserved, flights are booked, and plans for activities are finalized. The booking stage represents a transition from hypothetical planning to concrete arrangements.


The experiencing stage is where the anticipation built up through the previous stages comes to fruition. Guests live out the adventures they've imagined, from the comfort of their accommodations to the excitement of exploring their destination. This phase is critical, as it directly impacts guests' satisfaction and overall perception of the trip.


Finally, the journey culminates in the sharing stage, where guests reflect on and share their experiences with others. They convey their trip's highlights and possibly the lowlights through reviews, social media posts, and personal stories. This stage can inspire future travelers, contributing to the cyclical nature of the guest journey.
The role of inspiration as the traditional first step is pivotal, setting the tone for the entire journey. It's a stage fueled by emotions and aspirations, where the seeds of a trip are planted in the fertile ground of imagination. However, by reevaluating this approach to consider problem recognition as the initial step, we can uncover new opportunities to meet guests' needs more effectively. This perspective shift challenges the traditional framework and invites hospitality providers to align more closely with the practical aspects of guest decision-making, potentially transforming how services are marketed and delivered.

Rethinking the First Step: Problem Recognition

As we delve deeper into the nuances of the guest journey within the hospitality sector, it becomes increasingly clear that the traditional narrative may overlook a critical initial phase: problem recognition. This phase, often overshadowed by the more glamorous notion of inspiration, arguably represents the starting point of the guest journey. It is the moment when potential guests first acknowledge a specific need or challenge that requires a solution—in this context, the need for overnight accommodation.

The Genesis of Problem Recognition

Problem recognition emerges from myriad life scenarios, each with its unique circumstances and requirements. Consider the business traveler, who must find a place to stay while attending meetings in a distant city; the music enthusiast who plans to experience a festival far from home; or the family embarking on a reunion, requiring a space that can accommodate both celebration and relaxation. In each scenario, the primary trigger for initiating the guest journey is not the dream of travel but the practical necessity of finding somewhere to stay.
This phase is characterized by a clear and actionable need: the individual recognizes that to fulfill their travel-related goal—be it work, leisure, or personal commitments—they must first solve the accommodation problem. This realization marks the beginning of their journey in the hospitality landscape.

Alignment with Consumer Behavior and Decision-Making

Problem recognition as the initial step of the guest journey aligns more closely with established theories of consumer behavior and decision-making processes. According to these theories, the decision-making process begins with recognizing a need or problem. From a psychological standpoint, this need triggers a mental process that culminates in taking action to solve the identified problem.
In travel and hospitality, acknowledging the need for accommodation prompts potential guests to enter the subsequent planning, searching, and booking stages. This perspective underscores a more pragmatic and solution-oriented approach to travel, highlighting the practical considerations that often precede the emotional and aspirational aspects of the journey.

Implications for Hospitality Providers

For hospitality providers, embracing the concept of problem recognition at the outset of the guest journey offers valuable insights into guest behavior. It encourages a focus on addressing the specific needs and circumstances that lead individuals to seek accommodation, allowing for more targeted and effective marketing strategies. Rather than solely selling an idealized travel experience, providers can position themselves as solutions to the real problems faced by their guests.
Moreover, this approach facilitates a deeper understanding of the diverse reasons behind guest travel. It enables providers to tailor their offerings more precisely to meet the varied needs of business travelers, festival-goers, families, and other guest segments. By recognizing and responding to the initial problem that sets the guest journey in motion, hospitality businesses can enhance guest satisfaction, loyalty, and success.
In rethinking the first step of the guest journey as problem recognition, we uncover a more grounded and comprehensive framework for understanding and engaging with guests. This perspective reflects a realistic view of consumer behavior and opens the door to more effective and meaningful interactions between hospitality providers and their guests.

Implications for Hospitality Businesses

Adopting a problem-solving perspective to understand the guest journey represents a paradigm shift for hospitality businesses. This approach can significantly refine marketing strategies, service design, and guest engagement, ensuring that offerings are compelling and closely aligned with guests' needs. Let's explore how this perspective can reshape the way hospitality businesses operate.

Impact on Marketing Strategies

Targeted Messaging: Understanding that the guest journey begins with problem recognition allows businesses to craft targeted messaging that speaks directly to the core needs of potential guests. Marketing campaigns can be designed to address specific problems, such as the need for a comfortable place to stay during a business conference, a family-friendly hotel for vacation, or a luxury retreat for relaxation. This focused approach will likely resonate more deeply with potential guests as it reflects an understanding of their immediate needs.
Segmentation and Personalization: By categorizing guests based on the nature of their problem (business travel, leisure, events, etc.), businesses can more effectively personalize their communications and offers. For example, emails and promotions can be tailored to the interests and requirements of each segment, improving the relevance of marketing efforts and increasing the likelihood of conversion.
Content Strategy: Content marketing becomes more impactful when it addresses the specific scenarios and problems that lead guests to seek accommodation. Articles, videos, and social media content can provide solutions and advice for common travel challenges, positioning the brand as a thought leader and a problem solver in the eyes of potential guests.

Addressing Specific Needs and Scenarios

Customized Service Offerings: Hospitality businesses can design service offerings that cater to the specific needs highlighted by problem recognition. For instance, hotels could offer specialized packages for business travelers, including meeting spaces and high-speed internet, or create family-friendly accommodations with activities for children.
Flexible Solutions: Recognizing the diversity of guest needs encourages flexibility in service design. This could mean offering a range of booking options catering to different budget levels, stay durations, and group sizes, ensuring a suitable choice for every guest's problem.

Meeting Guests at the Moment of Problem Recognition

Strategic Partnerships: Forming partnerships with event organizers, local attractions, or business hubs can place hospitality businesses right at the moment of problem recognition. Exclusive deals or packages tied to specific events or attractions can capture the attention of potential guests as they begin to plan their trip.
Digital Presence: A robust online presence, optimized for search engines and featuring explicit, problem-solving content, can ensure that a hospitality business is easily found by potential guests seeking solutions. Implementing a user-friendly booking system that simplifies the reservation process can effectively convert problem recognition into a booking decision.
Engagement Through Social Media and Forums: Engaging with potential guests through social media platforms and travel forums can allow businesses to address problems and offer solutions directly. Providing helpful advice or answers to questions in these forums can build trust and brand recognition, encouraging bookings.
By embracing a problem-solving perspective, hospitality businesses can significantly enhance their engagement with guests, from the initial marketing touchpoints to the booking process and the stay itself. This approach improves guest satisfaction and fosters loyalty and positive word-of-mouth, contributing to the business's long-term success.

Leveraging Problem Recognition in Service Design

Leveraging problem recognition in service design requires a nuanced understanding of guests' diverse needs and motivations. By focusing on the specific problems guests try to solve, hospitality businesses can create more personalized and effective services and experiences. This approach enhances guest satisfaction and distinguishes a brand in a competitive market. Here's how services and experiences can be thoughtfully designed with the problem-solving journey in mind and examples for different guest types.

Service Design Principles for Problem-Solving

Guest-Centric Customization: Design services and experiences by starting with the guest's problem and working backward to devise a solution. This could involve customizable room features, flexible check-in and check-out times, or personalized activity recommendations.
Proactive Problem Identification: Use data analytics and guest feedback to anticipate common problems and develop pre-emptive solutions. For instance, if business travelers frequently cite poor internet connectivity as a problem, enhancing Wi-Fi services becomes a priority.
Seamless Integration: Ensure solutions are seamlessly integrated into the overall guest experience. This can involve technology, such as mobile apps for room service and local recommendations, or physical amenities, like on-demand fitness equipment for health-conscious travelers.

Tailored Experiences for Different Types of Guests

For Business Travelers: Hotels recognize the problem of maintaining productivity while moving and can offer rooms with ergonomic workstations, high-speed internet, and access to 24/7 business centers. Networking events and relaxed social spaces can also cater to the need for networking and unwinding after work hours.
For Families: Families traveling with children face the problem of keeping everyone entertained and comfortable. Hotels can address this by offering family suites with child-friendly amenities, on-site entertainment options like pools and game rooms, and customized itineraries that suggest family-oriented activities and dining options in the area.
For Event Attendees: Guests attending concerts, festivals, or conferences may seek convenience and enhanced experiences related to the event. Hospitality businesses can collaborate with event organizers to offer exclusive packages that include transportation, special access, or meet-and-greet opportunities, solving the problem of maximizing the event experience.
For Wellness Seekers: Those traveling for relaxation or health reasons might encounter the problem of finding suitable wellness options. Hotels and resorts can cater to this by providing spa services, wellness workshops, dietary-customized meal options, and tranquil environments that promote relaxation and rejuvenation.
For Adventure Travelers: Adventure travelers look for thrilling experiences but may struggle with planning and safety concerns. Offering guided tours, adventure sports packages, and safety equipment rentals can solve these problems, providing guests with excitement and peace of mind.
Hospitality businesses can create profoundly satisfying and memorable stays by designing services and experiences that directly address different types of guests' specific problems and needs. This problem-solving approach meets expectations and often exceeds them, fostering loyalty and positive word-of-mouth recommendations. The key is to remain flexible and responsive to guest feedback, continually adapting and refining offerings to better solve the problems of tomorrow's travelers.

Marketing Strategies for the Problem-Solving Approach

Adopting a problem-solving approach in marketing strategies allows hospitality businesses to connect with potential guests precisely when they recognize a need for accommodation. Businesses can effectively communicate their value proposition and differentiate themselves in a crowded marketplace by focusing on targeted messaging that emphasizes solutions. Here are strategies and tools to reach and engage guests at the problem recognition stage.

Strategies for Targeting Guests at Problem Recognition

Solution-Focused Content: Develop content that addresses common problems guests face and presents your services as the solution. This can range from blog posts offering travel tips to videos showcasing the convenience and amenities of your accommodation. Content should be designed to resonate with the specific needs of your target guest segments.
SEO and SEM: Use search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) to ensure that your website appears prominently in search results when potential guests are looking for accommodation options. Use keywords that match travelers' problem-solving queries, such as "best business hotels in [location]" or "family-friendly accommodations near [attraction]."
Retargeting Campaigns: Implement retargeting campaigns to stay top of mind with potential guests who have visited your website but haven't booked yet. You can encourage them to revisit your site and complete their booking by displaying ads highlighting the problem-solving aspects of your offerings.

Importance of Targeted Messaging

Clear Value Proposition: Your messaging should clearly articulate how your accommodations solve the guest's problem. Whether it's offering a serene escape for wellness seekers or a convenient location for festival attendees, make sure the solution is front and center in all communications.
Personalization: Personalized messaging significantly increases engagement and conversion rates. Use guest data to tailor your messages based on past behavior, preferences, and the problem they are trying to solve. This could be as simple as sending customized email offers or as advanced as personalized web experiences.

Tools and Channels for Reaching Potential Guests

Social Media Advertising: Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn offer sophisticated targeting options that allow you to reach potential guests based on their interests, behaviors, and demographics. Use these tools to serve ads that speak directly to the problems your target audience is looking to solve.
Email Marketing: Segment your email list based on guest interests and past stays to send highly relevant offers and content. Automated email workflows can nurture potential guests from initial interest to booking, providing valuable information at each stage of their decision-making process.
Partnerships and Collaborations: Collaborate with event organizers, local businesses, and travel influencers who can introduce your offerings to their audience when they recognize their travel needs. This can extend your reach and place your solutions in front of guests when they're looking for them.
Review Platforms and Travel Forums: Actively engage on review platforms like TripAdvisor and travel forums like Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree. Offering advice and solutions to travelers' problems can increase visibility and position your brand as helpful and solution-oriented.
By focusing on marketing strategies that target potential guests at the problem recognition stage, hospitality businesses can more effectively attract and convert guests looking for solutions to their travel needs. Businesses can build lasting relationships and drive bookings in a competitive landscape through targeted messaging, strategic use of digital tools and channels, and a commitment to solving guests' problems.

Conclusions and takeaways

Redefining the beginning of the guest journey from a moment of inspiration to recognizing a problem marks a significant shift in how we understand and engage with travelers in the hospitality industry. This perspective highlights the practical and immediate needs that prompt individuals to seek accommodation, offering a more grounded and actionable starting point for guest engagement. By acknowledging that the journey starts with problem recognition, hospitality businesses can tailor their services, experiences, and marketing strategies to address their guests' specific needs and circumstances more effectively.
The implications of this shift are profound, impacting everything from service design to marketing and communication strategies. By focusing on solving real problems for guests, businesses can enhance satisfaction, foster loyalty, and differentiate themselves in a competitive market. This approach meets guests' immediate needs and builds a foundation for lasting relationships and positive experiences.

Embrace the problem-solving perspective

Hospitality businesses are encouraged to embrace this problem-solving perspective, integrating it into every facet of their operations. This means:
  • Developing targeted marketing strategies that address the recognized needs of potential guests.
  • Designing services and experiences that directly solve the problems of various guest segments.
  • Utilizing feedback and data analytics to refine offerings and address emerging needs continuously.

Adopt the problem-solving approach

As we look to the future of hospitality, the opportunity to innovate and improve the guest experience by aligning with their real-world problems has never been more evident. I invite hospitality professionals, from hoteliers to experienced providers, to consider how this shift in perspective can be integrated into their strategies. Reflect on the problems your guests seek to solve and how your services can be tailored to meet these needs more effectively. Experiment with targeted marketing messages, explore new service designs and remain flexible and responsive to feedback.
Redefining the guest experience begins with a simple step: recognizing the actual starting point of the guest journey. By adopting a problem-solving approach, you can unlock new opportunities to connect with guests, satisfy their needs, and, ultimately, drive the success of your business in the hospitality industry.