The Art + Science of Understanding Your Guests

By Kristen Poskitt
April 4, 2016

These days, we receive custom movie and show recommendations on Netflix, based on our ratings and viewing history. Amazon sends us offers based on our brand preferences and shopping habits. Consumers have come to expect a detailed and relevant level of personalization. The same is true for travel planning: we expect a personal level of communication and recommendations from travel brands that match our individual travel needs and goals.

The relevance and granularity of personalization is what can ultimately persuade someone to book at a specific property, book direct and even become a loyal, returning guest.

So as a hotelier, how do you know what messaging is going to resonate on a personal level with your target guests? And between leisure and corporate travelers, how do you create marketing campaigns that don’t exclude one group of travelers? The answer is persona-based marketing. There is a significant volume of meaningful data available to travel brands. This data exists in many areas, including guest feedback, exit surveys, and website analytics. Travel brands have the opportunity to leverage the behaviour and booking data from their past guests in order to better understand and define the unique travel personas of their future guests. Each persona should include the following elements:

1. Custom name – This helps to distinguish/ define a persona at a high level.
2. Demographic information – This information pertains to the age, gender, occupation, household income and geographic region(s) where a persona lives.
3. Psychographic insights – These insights are relevant to the travel motivations of a persona, as well as their lifestyle and attitudes, beliefs and values.
4. Behavioural insights – These insights are relevant to a persona’s travel behaviour, including frequency of travel, reason for travel, duration of stay, preferred room type/amenities etc.

Excellent, you’ve combed through and organized your guest data into unique travel personas; so what comes next? Having an understanding (and data-supported) definition of your travel personas enables you to leverage persona-based tactics and messaging for your marketing. You can put together handcrafted content and creative that appeals directly to one of your unique guest personas. As a result of this focus, your offer will resonate strongly with the target audience it has been tailored for. This will result in higher impact ads, increased direct revenue, and strengthened brand loyalty.

Below is an example that shows how the science and art work together:

You are a hotelier, with a luxury boutique-sized property in Chicago. You have carefully curated decor, unique guest rooms and amenities, including a full business centre and meeting rooms. You have seen a recent increase in competition from Airbnb, especially for your business travel segment. After researching and defining the unique travel personas for your hotel, you identify the opportunity to appeal to one specific set: The Corporate Jet Setter. Thomas, an Account Executive at a global software company, falls into the Corporate Jet Setter persona set.

The Science

Demographic Information

  • Equal mix male/ female; Equal mix of singles and couples
  • Avg. HHI: $100,000 +
  • Well educated: BA, BBA, MBA
  • Live in popular urban areas, mostly condo/ apartment dwellings

Psychographic Insights

  • Believe it is important that people admire the things they own
  • Want to be recognized for their professional drive to succeed
  • First impressions are very important

Behavioural Insights

  • Travels mainly for business; face-to-face is important for professional relationships
  • Looking for a hotel that will keep them connected (reliable Wi-Fi is essential)
  • Business centre is important: need access to services and potentially meeting rooms, to prepare for and/ or host client meetings
  • Expect service that is thoughtful, with personalization that relates to their travel needs for business
  • Will use a hotel website to view the room types offered, business-related amenities, and hotel location
  • Will book online, and prefer to have all communications via email, as opposed to phone
  • Primarily active on Twitter and LinkedIn
  • Never without mobile and/ or tablet device

The Art

You put together a digital marketing campaign that will target individuals conducting corporate-related travel planning. Your creative and messaging will be directed at the Corporate Jet Setter specifically, and will reinforce their value for the importance of first impressions. Thomas is looking for flight information for Chicago when he sees an image ad for your hotel. Your image ad is simple and strategic, with a smart headline, a modern and unique meeting room setting, and a clear call to action. Your message and image resonate with Thomas, and represents the confidence and aesthetic he strives for. Thomas clicks on your ad and arrives on a custom-designed landing page. The page presents information relevant to the Corporate Jet Setter: imagery for the meeting room spaces, details about meeting services and catering, business centre amenities, and a link to the new Corporate Travel Package you’ve curated for the Corporate Jet Setter. After learning about the benefits included in the Corporate Travel Package, Thomas finalizes his booking at your hotel.

Guest Personalization

Before his stay, Thomas receives a relevant pre-arrival email, giving him details about the hotel’s mobile app, business centre details, 24hr dry-cleaning services and upgraded Wi-Fi options. During his stay, Thomas is impressed by the high level of customer service and meeting setup support he receives, as well as the recommendations for the best restaurants in the area where he could take his clients. Upon check-out Thomas receives a follow up email, which prompts him to leave a review for your hotel online. Thomas leaves a positive review, highlighting the value of each personalization action and communication he received. For any future trips to Chicago, Thomas has it set in his mind he will now return to your hotel. Furthermore, there is an impactful ripple-effect, when Thomas speaks highly of his experience at your hotel to his professional and personal circles. Your persona-specific tactics and thoughtfully chosen guest touch-points have helped to drive immediate direct revenue, and helped to build a long term guest relationship.


Now, more than ever, it is critical to deliver personal service, especially with competitors like Airbnb disrupting the industry space. The success of travel brands like Airbnb is largely attributed to the fact that they offer a ‘product’ that perfectly meets the unique needs and goals of each individual guest. With data-driven travel personas, hoteliers are better enabled to build strategic and thoughtful marketing campaigns, and build stronger connections with each guest. Ultimately, creating unique travel personas will enable your travel brand to create truly exceptional customer experiences, and build a lasting foundation for brand loyalty.

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