Is homestay a leader in CX?

By Karen Small

This is a controversial question - especially for me, having worked with hoteliers for the last seven years - but it's one I'm willing to put out there to share learnings in the customer experience (CX) arena. After all, we learn from the best.

Hotels were known for providing and leading the way in customer experience, well before we even knew that it was a thing. Hotels are hospitality, and hospitality is CX.

Let's compare retail CX to hotel CX for a moment. How many shops have you walked into and the assistant tries not to make eye contact with you by looking busy? Or the banks with their vacant counters and building queues while the only visible staff carry out their paperwork? Compare and contrast these experiences with the hotel receptionist trained to drop everything to greet you, or the general managers patrolling their lobbies welcoming guests. Which one of these elevates the customer?

It can be argued, of course, that the likes of John Lewis are much better at CX than the average retail outlet, and Metro bank provides more opening hours than other high street banks. And not all hotels are perfect – some fall a long way short. But, in my opinion, an 'average' hotel still trumps even the very best from other sectors.

So why am I putting it out there that homestay may be leading the way in CX?

I've recently returned from a trip to Porto. I booked a 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom apartment with a mezzanine and three balconies. I paid around £140 a night for this beautiful apartment, centrally located and immaculately kept. Yes, it was off-peak, but when I looked for a hotel bedroom for £140 a night during the same weekend, I didn't get a suite, kitchen and three balconies.

However, astounding as they were, it wasn't the facilities that elevated my experience; it was the hosts.

Before arrival, the hosts contacted me to tell me they were 'excited' about our visit and asked what they could do to provide us with 'the perfect stay'. They gave us local recommendations, a virtual Porto brochure and offers of help to get from the airport. I noticed on the Airbnb app that it tells the booker how quickly hosts reply to their guests, and mine said 'less than one hour'- that's impressive!

On arrival, they allowed us to check-in hours before for no extra cost. They waited for us to arrive and provided a guided tour of every facility. Along with this, an honesty bar was available with a personalised wine selection, a local's manual, a complimentary bottle of port, a message each morning to check we slept well, and whether they could do anything to assist - the list goes on! How many hotels are doing this at £140 a night?

It got me thinking: how can hoteliers compete with this personalised experience? How can they motivate staff to go the extra two miles for their guests (because one is no longer enough)? Is it a matter of ownership? For the most part, your Airbnb host owns the property you'll be occupying and it is that owner with whom you interact; its reputation as a property and their reputation as a host are one and the same. Every customer experience, because there are relatively few of them, links directly and doubtless very visibly to the likelihood of getting a future booking. The same is less frequently true of a branded hotel and maybe that's the issue.

A cult-like following

In the Western world, at least, users of Airbnb overwhelmingly become advocates of the concept and the site. I count myself as one; despite hearing about several bad experiences – the sort of experiences you wouldn't get with a hotel – I have no qualms about booking with Airbnb or recommending it to others.

It seems I'm not alone. Our Hotel Guest Survey records relational Net Promoter Scores amongst recent users of the brands it tracks, and in 2021 Airbnb consistently places 'on the podium' throughout Europe and the USA – displaying a level of consistency that most hotel brands would kill for.

So, is homestay a leader in CX? Our research and experience suggest the answer is 'Yes', and it's down to those super hosts who elevate the guest experience with memorable moments.

To learn more about our approach to Customer Experience and how to utilise the power of memorable moments, please get in touch. To find out more about the Hotel Guest Survey, don't hesitate to contact my colleague, James Bland.

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