You may well have previously come across the claim that the cost of attracting a new guest to your hotel is around five to eight times greater than the cost of persuading your existing customers to make repeat visits. It would be very difficult to say whether those figures are actually true, not least because the way we define a repeat customer is not always made clear, and the ability of hotels to accurately count exactly who is visiting is also highly variable. Furthermore, when we’re measuring marketing costs, we should also bear in mind the possibility that the perks granted to existing customers may actually bring in lower revenues than those same rooms would generate if they were occupied by new customers, hence bringing an element of opportunity cost into the equation.

All in all, it may be better to state that what we’re really hoping for are loyal customers who might well return in the future, but who will primarily spread the word and encourage others to use our services. To achieve this, you might like to consider the ideas here.

  1. Be excellent.

Perhaps the very best way to ensure that guests come back time and again is to provide a hospitality experience that exceeds their expectations. No gimmicks or clever strategies are needed if you’re good enough – but remember that while exceeding expectations is relatively easy the first time, it’s not so simple to do it for each subsequent visit when the guest is already anticipating something special. In this case you need to…

  1. Personalize your service.

This is the key to creating that special experience which guests will always remember. Get to know your guests and understand their likes and preferences. Remember their names and greet them accordingly. Although this may be difficult in larger properties, one successful approach is to allocate specific staff members to certain rooms or floors, so each employee is responsible for remembering only a small number of guests. It is also important to take the time to ask guests for their feedback in person, rather than relying on impersonal surveys. When you let guests know that you have taken decisions based upon their suggestions, it makes the guest feel that their opinion is valued, that the hotel cares, and that they are now in some way a part of the organization. All of these feelings are likely to result in return visits or recommendations to others.

  1. Introduce a loyalty programme.

The use of a loyalty programme partly depends upon the type of hotel involved. For individual hotels it is important to accept that many of your guests will be one-off visitors. They may never return to your city again, let alone to your hotel, and a loyalty programme will achieve little benefit while adding to your costs. For properties which are part of a national or international chain, the aim should be to become the first choice for guests wherever they go. A loyalty programme is essential in offering small cumulative benefits which make the decision of where to stay a straightforward one.

  1. Give something away.

Obviously a majority of guests like to receive something free of charge – except for the small minority who either figure that they’re paying for it anyway somewhere in the broader scheme of things, or feel a sense of guilt at receiving something they haven’t been asked to pay for. For the rest, a free upgrade, free drink, or other complimentary service can make them feel appreciated. One effective way to achieve this is to offer a small gift as guests are leaving, thereby planting both a happy final memory of your hotel, and a helpful physical reminder to take home. The downside is that it can be hard to keep doing this for every visit – will customers expect an upgrade every time they come back?

  1. Use customer segmentation wisely.

You’ve heard that it’s important to know who your guests are – but what are you going to do with that information? If you know why your guests are visiting, you will know whether they are likely to do so again. The business visitor may make several visits during the year, potentially bringing additional staff. This kind of client is worth your best efforts to ensure that you give them a reason to return. The tourist who will only visit once is important in a different way – you want them to spread the word to others. In those cases the guest’s experience of the destination is important if you want them to recommend your city to friends and family, and by extension to recommend your hotel. One other common mistake to avoid is giving discounts to new customers while excluding your loyal repeat visitors. If you want to encourage new business, be careful that you don’t offer better deals than those available to your loyalty programme members, or you’ll only annoy your existing clientele.

In summary, if you want guests to keep using your services, you need to exceed their expectations, make them feel appreciated, look after their individual needs, and make sure they never have a reason to look anywhere else.