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The guest journey: How guests find, book, and experience your property
The guest journey: How guests find, book, and experience your property

The guest journey: How guests find,
book, and experience your property

The guest journey begins the moment someone decides to take a trip. Depending on their preference, a traveler may start researching places to stay on their favorite OTA or do a quick Google search for top hotels in the area. 

Once a traveler has found the perfect place, next comes the booking. No matter where a reservation is made, this process needs to be as seamless as possible. For direct bookings, this includes a user-friendly booking engine and integrated payment process. 

After booking, confirmation emails and pre-arrival communications containing important property details and upsell opportunities help establish trust and connection ahead of time. 

Upon arrival and throughout the stay, lodging businesses have the opportunity to make a significant impact, delivering exceptional service and guest experiences. After a guest has left, the journey isn’t done. Proper follow-up and nurturing are crucial for a continued relationship. 

In this article, we explore how to cater to guests throughout the entire journey and deliver positive guest experiences that will keep them coming back (and referring their friends). 


What is the hotel guest journey?

The guest experience journey, also called the traveler or hotel customer journey, is the path people follow when planning a trip, from the inspiration stage right through to the post-stay travel experience. While it’s called a journey, it involves much more than travel; it also includes pre-arrival planning, the booking process, and post-trip sharing.

The guest journey can be divided into several stages or phases, which are often referred to as dreaming, planning, booking, experiencing, and sharing. Each stage presents opportunities, or touchpoints, for hotels to connect with travelers, influence their decisions, and ensure guest expectations are met.

Understanding the guest journey is critical to hoteliers and hosts because it helps them build their marketing, distribution, and customer experience plans. This, in turn, drives more bookings, incremental revenue, and higher guest satisfaction.


The guest journey: A funnel or a circle?

Traditionally, marketers have used a purchase funnel model to illustrate the customer journey. In this model, the journey starts at the wide end of the funnel when buyers are just beginning the shopping process and considering a broad array of choices. As buyers move through the process, eliminating some and homing in on others, the funnel narrows. At the end of the funnel, the buyer purchases a product, and the journey ends.

But what happens after the purchase? Several years ago, McKinsey & Company put forth an alternative, circular model that encompasses the post-purchase stage and the cyclical nature of purchasing and repurchasing over a customer’s lifetime. This model features a “loyalty loop” that is highly applicable to the hotel business. When guests are happy with their accommodation choice, on their next trip they may skip the dreaming and planning stages and go straight to rebooking the same property.


What is a guest journey map? 

Whether you prefer a funnel-shaped or circular model, it’s a good idea to create a guest journey map to illustrate the typical path your guests follow to find and book your property. This will help you visualize the key phases of the guest journey and the potential touchpoints along the way to deliver positive experiences.


The Traveler Journey Infographic


Download the guest journey map.


5 stages of the guest journey

Marketers use various labels to describe the steps of the customer journey. In the hotel industry, Google’s Five Stages of Travel can be particularly helpful. Below, we explain what happens at each stage and how hotels can connect with travelers and guide their choices at every touchpoint. 

Today, many of these touchpoints take place on digital channels. With the help of hospitality technology, hotels can automate tasks to save time and ensure opportunities aren’t missed.


Stage 1: Dreaming

In this initial research stage, travelers are looking for inspiration. They are open to ideas and exploring a variety of options. They might be considering several destinations and comparing options for transportation, accommodation, and activities in each. In this stage, search activity tends to be broad and destination-oriented, favoring platforms like Google, Tripadvisor, destination marketing organization (DMO) sites, and social media.

Strategies for hoteliers and hosts in the dreaming stage:

  • Make sure your Google Business Profile is accurate. Information from these listings is displayed in popular travel research products like Google Search, Google Hotel Search, and Google Maps and will help a traveler discover your property.
  • Revisit your Tripadvisor listing to ensure the content is fresh and current.
  • Ensure you’re listed on the websites of local, regional, and national destination marketing organizations or tourism bureaus.
  • Your listings on each of these platforms should be complete and up to date with details about your location and amenities, quality photos and videos, and appealing descriptions that answer the questions travelers may have at this stage of the journey.
  • Share photos, videos, and other content on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube to promote your destination and local activities. Encourage your guests to do the same.


Check out Cloudbeds’ comprehensive guide to hotel marketing.


Stage 2: Planning

In this decision-making stage, potential guests narrow down their options, select the destination, and evaluate options for accommodations and activities. Online travel agencies (OTAs)like and Expedia and review sites are especially popular during this phase for comparing location information, amenities, pricing, and reviews. Travelers also check out hotel websites to find out more.

Strategies for hoteliers and hosts in the planning stage:

  • Diversify your distribution. The more channels you’re listed on, the better the chances travelers will find you. This includes not only the most popular OTAs but also metasearch engines, the GDS for travel agent bookings and other providers, and, if applicable, alternative accommodation sites like Airbnb, Homeaway, Vrbo, and Hostelworld. Use a channel manager to efficiently manage rates and availability on multiple sites.
  • Ensure your OTA listings are complete with descriptions, photos, amenities, and other helpful information, such as your wifi availability. The quality of your listings is important because it affects your ranking on OTA sites. The higher your quality score, the greater your visibility. It will also help conversion rates by giving travelers the information they seek.
  • Respond to negative and positive reviews promptly, fix issues that come up in complaints, and incentivize your team to earn five-star reviews. Traveler reviews and ratings also affect OTA rankings and can have a major impact on booking decisions. You want to make it clear that you care about your guests and that your property is equipped to fulfill travelers’ needs.
  • Optimize your website. Content should be easy to navigate and SEO-optimized, with all the information site visitors, need to make a booking decision. Consider using a chatbot to make it easy for users to contact your property and respond quickly to inquiries.
  • Focus on visual storytelling. Travel planners tend to scan text quickly and spend more time viewing photos and videos. Feature imagery captures the imagination, gives a sense of place, and inspires emotions like desire, nostalgia, relaxation, productivity, and a sense of fun.
  • Make sure your digital marketing strategy includes a paid search campaign to reach travel planners with targeted ads on Google, Facebook, and Instagram.


Stage 3: Booking

Now, the moment of truth. Travelers have narrowed the options to one property and are ready to book. Will it be your property? During this phase, travelers tend to visit and revisit numerous sites, such as OTAs, metasearch platforms, and hotel websites, to compare pricing and offers before they make their final choice.

Strategies for hoteliers and hosts in the booking stage:

  • Maintain a dynamic pricing strategy. Your goal is not just to sell rooms but to sell them at the highest rate travelers are willing to pay. This means constantly adjusting rates to reflect changes in market demand, occupancy, and competitor pricing. Revenue management software will help you optimize and automate this process, ensuring you always offer the right rates to the right guests at the right time.
  • Play the metasearch game. Platforms like Google Hotel Search, Kayak, and Trivago are especially popular at this stage for comparing prices across booking channels. A hotel metasearch marketing strategy will help you maintain rate parity across channels and compete with OTAs for bookings.
  • Diversify your offerings. Offer a variety of room types and packages to appeal to a broad range of traveler types, from budget travelers and business travelers to attendees of special events and last-minute bookers. Remember that traveler preferences change over time. 
  • Make direct bookings easy. A fast and reliable hotel reservation system with an integrated booking engine will enable travelers to check availability and make a booking in real-time on your website using their credit card or other payment option. Offer a best-rate guarantee and incentives to book directly and limited-time offers to create a sense of urgency to book now.
  • Send a confirmation to summarize the details of the guest’s stay using email automation.  


Stage 4: Experiencing

Your work doesn’t end with a booking; in some ways, it’s just beginning. This stage starts with the guest’s arrival and continues through to departure. Here are some ways to enhance the hotel guest experience.

Strategies for hoteliers and hosts in the experiencing stage:

  • Ensure a seamless arrival experience by sending an automated pre-stay text or WhatsApp inviting the guest to check out the digital concierge. Include an opportunity to secure room upgrades, add breakfast, reserve a table in the dining room, or schedule airport pick-up. 
  • Make the check-in experience hassle-free for guests by offering online check-in to skip the line upon arrival. Guests can upload all relevant information, take a selfie for ID purposes, and pay, all on a web-based app. Implement door locks so guests can open their room from their phone. 
  • Reimagine the welcome experience. If using digital check-in, give your staff the chance to welcome guests in unique ways. Whether that’s crafting personalized itineraries or giving guests tours of the property and its amenities upon arrival. 
  • Use guest messaging functionality to keep in touch with guests and send them important notifications during their stay on the channel of their choice, whether by text, Messenger, or WhatsApp. You can also use this channel for guests to reach out with any questions, concerns, or requests they have during their stay. 
  • Check in with guests partway through their stay using an in-stay survey solution. This will give you the opportunity to resolve issues while the guest is in-house and find ways to turn a good stay into an unforgettable experience.
  • Utilize an integrated point of sale system (POS) so that guests can easily make contactless on-site purchases charged back to their folio. That way, guests don’t have to be concerned about carrying cards around the property and can pay for everything during the check-out process.
  • Use internal workflows and communication channels to automate and streamline tasks. If a guest texts the front desk asking for an extra towel, automatically route this request to the housekeeping team. 


Stage 5: Sharing

This stage begins after guests depart and continues through to their next trip when the traveler’s journey recommences. This is the time guests are most likely to share their experience with others through word-of-mouth, on social media, or in online reviews.

Strategies for hoteliers and hosts in the sharing stage:

  • Send an automated post-stay survey to solicit guest feedback or ask to post an online review on their travel site of choice.
  • Invite guests to follow you on social media and share photos and comments about their stay.
  • Invite them to join your loyalty program to take advantage of special perks, rewards, and incentives.
  • Using your customer relationship management (CRM) system, set up targeted marketing campaigns to entice guests back.

And that brings us to the end of the guest journey in the hospitality industry, although it’s certainly not the end of your relationship with the guest. If you’ve done a great job communicating with guests and taking care of their needs at every touchpoint, they may bypass the Dreaming and Planning stages and go directly to rebooking your property on their next trip. The more guests who follow this loyalty loop, the more you will save in marketing costs and the more long-time, loyal guests you will earn.


See how Cloudbeds helps thousands of properties reach more travelers.


The upsell playbook

Discover how to use guest engagement software to increase revenue throughout the guest journey
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