Our Guests Love
We’re hoteliers and experience makers who make art
Our guest experience is defined by moments
A great guest experience will always be our best form of marketing.
When I say a great guest experience, I’m really talking about creating a collection of greater moments.
We call these our GEMs -- our Guest Experience Moments.
Just as a true gem is something of value, the GEMs we create for our guests are valuable not only to them … but to us.
These GEMs are moments that are meaningful and memorable, and by finding and refining them we’re creating great art.
To create GEMs requires the best of our bravery, creativity, empathy to solve our guests’ problems -- problems that, in the moment, mean everything.
These GEMs, then, are what our overall experience is measured on.
Some of our moments are great, some need attention and, I believe, there are still groundbreaking moments in our experience that are waiting to be uncovered.
We in the travel and hospitality industry have gone through incredible change and will continue to do so.
Our biggest competitive advantage is our ability to observe and understand our guests. Those observations and understandings allow us to design moments that our guests love in small and big ways, and that allows them to become better, more fulfilled versions of themselves.
We’re here, essentially, to create art.
Art is not just a Picasso.
Art is how we know what guests wants before they do.
Art is how we make our guests the heroes of their own experience -- an experience we help shape.
Art is how we make guests feel part of our family.
While artist might not be on our business card, it’s what we’re here to do.
Signed by you, the one who will champion innovative GEMs in your business
Our Guest Experience Moments
As a leader, you have to make increasingly complex ideas more clear, and you have to make decisions on those ideas more quickly and more persuasively than ever.
This is what the GEM is designed to help you do.
The GEM is a two-pronged tool that, through visual collaboration, empowers us as hoteliers and makers of unique experiences to create breakthrough moments in our guests’ experiences.
The first GEM is the Guest Experience Map -- the overall story of how our experience comes together for a specific guest type. By mapping out and narrating our experience we’re able to identify areas that need focus and areas where we can create strategic breakthroughs.
The second GEM is the Guest Experience Moment - which focuses on key individual moments in the guest experience.
For now, let’s focus on our moments.
You can’t create a great guest experience without first having a great team experience.
What I know for sure is that the best ideas often come from team members who interact with guests day to day. Team members have incredible visibility and insights into problems that guests have, which gives them numerous opportunities to design solutions to those problems.
The GEM is used by hoteliers globally to sketch and map out defining moments that are worthy of investment, and which have the potential to transform the experience for each guest.
This toolkit is the same 50-min session I run with teams. In each section, I’ve suggested the time to spend on each exercise. You can do this individually or download the PDF attached below and host a session yourself.
Here’s how a GEM Finder session takes shape:
Ready? Let’s start.
What moments should we focus on?
When we look at our experience, it’s easy to point out problems and immediately come up with great ideas to solve them.
The idea part is just way more fun.
We humans just don’t seem to like problems. So we try to solve them as quickly as possible and move on. But quick solutions often fail to tackle a problem’s root cause. The same problem keeps recurring (sometimes worse, or even bigger!).
So, let’s not immediately jump to a solution.
Instead, let’s take the next 5 minutes to look at what problem areas or opportunities exist in our guests experience. You’ll see that ideas for potential solutions will flow much better when we first start with real problems.
Research tells us that when our guests recall their experience, they tend to forget or ignore its length — a phenomenon called duration neglect.
Guests ignore most of what happened and focus instead on a few key moments.
Guests remember and talk about their experience based on the best or worst moments, and on how their experience ended.
So let’s define these moments to better address each individually ...
What are minor problem moments
Small annoyances our guests mention or that we notice regularly.
What are major problem moments?
Moments that create negative emotions in our guests: anxiety, frustration, sadness or anger
Moments our guests absolutely love, or moments we can redesign to be remarkable.
How does a guest’s experience end?
Many businesses never make the leap toward creating remarkable moments for a guest because they spend too much time scrambling to fix minor problems. A complaint-free experience is something to aspire to, but only focusing on minor problem moments prevents us from designing extraordinary moments.
We can earn about 9 times more revenue if we strive to elevate the positives (e.g. move a guest’s rating from 4 to 5), rather than focus on eliminating the negatives (e.g. move a guest’s rating from 3 to 4).
So let’s not try to be all things to all people -- that’s a game we’ll never win.
Instead, we want to create exceptional moments for our ideal guests.
And that’s where we begin with our GEMs.
GEMs won’t emerge naturally. They must be designed and built intentionally. Built with purpose.
This is what we’ll do next.
Designing remarkable GEMs
A great guest experience is a generous act of helping a guest solve a problem -- their problem -- such as:
How can I have a great night sleep?
How can I disconnect and relax?
I do I reconnect with my partner?
How can I find my community?
How can I be a better version of myself?
These are all problems for which we can design not just any solution, but a remarkable solution.
If we understand our guest, what their wants, needs and desires are, then the solution to delighting those guests will always be more obvious.
A great GEM is always clear, and it always addresses three components.
It tells us:
Who it’s for (the guest)
What’s it do (the problem)
How it work (the solution)
The GEM cards help you structure your thinking around these 3 questions.
Let’s look at each section.
Who it’s for?
Designing great Guest Experience Moments always starts with a clear picture of who the GEM is for.
We definitely, certainly, and surely don't have enough time and money to build an experience for everyone.
We can’t and we won’t try.
So our GEMs need to be very specific, and each needs to target a particular kind of guest and that guest’s particular context.
Potential guest on Facebook
Families who are checking in
Past hotel guests in conversation with friends and family
Each guest at a certain stage has their own unique need. And each represents an opportunity for us to create the right GEM to elevate that guest’s experience.
What’s it do
This is a description of what problem your guest has or what they are trying to accomplish in a particular moment. Generally What’s it do will fall into 3 categories.
What our guests are trying to accomplish?
(sleep, eat, shop, etc.)
How our guests want to be perceived by others
(look good on social media, look good with friends, etc.)
How our guests want to feel
(welcomed, happy, surprised, deepening ties with loved one, doing something exciting or new)
What are our guests really buying?
Guests don’t just book a room at Saffire in Tasmania for a weekend away. They pay a premium to disconnect from their world and reconnect more deeply with their loved one.
Guests don’t book 6 months in advance at Gaggan in Bangkok just to eat a meal. They buy exclusivity and the social status they will enjoy when they post pictures on Instagram of their over-the-top 25-course meal.
A great GEM moves your guest up Maslow’s pyramid of needs, where you have the opportunity to transform how your guests feel and how they’re perceived by others.
It’s an art to work at the pointy end of a pyramid, but it’s also less crowded at the top.
Every hotel guest today expects a comfy bed, good food and wifi. That’s that basic stuff.
Our great opportunity is to create something more, something with exceptional value that exceeds not just our guest’s basic expectations, but what they never knew they dreamed of.
Designing for emotional and social needs is all about answering one big question:
How do we help our guests become a better, more fulfilled versions of themselves?
Emotional — How our guests want to feel
Makes guests feel connected to other people. Helps them experience friendship, love or intimacy
A sense of achievement
Helps guests accomplish something of personal value
Helps guests feel part of something bigger
Gives guests time and space to reflect on and learn from their experiences
Allows a guest to step away from their busy life and disconnect
Social — How our guests want to be perceived
Helps our guest gain attention from people they care about
Helps our guests look good on social media
A sense of status
Helps guests gain a sense of value within their own group dynamic.
How’s it work
The last step of a great GEM is a quick sketch of what a memorable Guest Experience Moment might look like.
Might being the key word because we’ll want to consider various other solutions along the way.
Headlines can really help bring your GEM to life. In a few short words, a headline idea can describe exactly what a GEM might look like and what it’s designed to accomplish.
See? You get it right away.
You instantly know this GEM is about producing a summer beach guide for guests.
Don’t stress -- this is not an artistic contest. It’s a thinking process.
Drawing out your ideas, no matter how basic…
With these basic shapes you can illustrate almost any experience:
Now let’s look at some real GEMs…
12 GEMs in the Wild
GEMs are roaming free, everywhere. We just need to know where to look.
A few good places:
What’s been successful for several years?
What’s a category-dominant experience?
What’s new and grabbing lots of attention?
What’s being heavily reviewed online?
What are current guests excited about?
What are businesses in or outside your category doing?
What do you currently love?
When we spot one, observe who’s it for, what’s it do and how’s it work.
Here are 12 GEMs in the wild to get you started…
Symbio Wildlife Park 🇦🇺
The family-run wildlife park outside of Sydney generated an impressive 132% growth in attendance since 2016, off the back of several million views of their adorable koala videos. The park created a, pre-booking moment for families and partners by providing video content that not only inspired visits, but the park designed this moment in such a way as to make those that shared the videos look good in their social media circles. The breakthrough here was that Symbio provided this video content to other partners such as Tourism Australia, who, in turn, shared the videos as well, accumulating millions of additional views.
Saffire Freycinet 🇦🇺
Confirmed guests receive a beautifully designed PDF concierge compendium ahead of their stay.
Inside is an overview of complementary and signature experiences that each guest can choose from and book ahead, an invitation to Saffire’s airport lounge, and a map of interesting stops along the way to the lodge. For Saffire guests, there’s a high level of excitement built up even before they’ve ever set foot on the property.
137 Pillars House 🇹🇭
To target potential guests, the hotel group created a special, direct-booking offer targeted to visitors of their website. By offering extras not found on sites like Expedia and Booking.com, Pillars House captures more direct bookings on their website, and doesn’t lose a potential guest who might have come through an OTA but checked the hotel’s official website for additional information.
Ace Hotels 🇺🇸
Guests booking at any of the Ace Hotel properties receive a beautiful confirmation email that evokes the hotel’s unique personality; it feels like a real human wrote the email rather than a corporate communications department. It includes answers to guests’ most-frequent questions, as well as a list of events happening during a guest’s stay. It’s all aimed at elevating pre-arrival excitement.
The Form Hotel 🇦🇪
When bookings go through OTAs, hotels often miss the chance to communicate directly with guests beforehand or after. The Form Hotel addresses this by sending confirmed guests a direct welcome message through that guest’s chosen booking platform. The message provides valuable pre-arrival information, as well as a link to upsell extras that elevate the guest’s experience and, in turn, allow The Form Hotel to capture additional revenue before the guest has even arrived.
Heritage Hotels & Suites 🇰🇭
By picking up guests at the airport in a vintage Mercedes, the Heritage Suites Hotel in Siem Reap, Cambodia, not only creates a smooth and efficient first impression for guests, it also gives the guest a test drive of a key bookable experience that’s available during their stay: Renting the same vintage car for private excursions.
Le Foundouk 🇲🇦
At the heart of historic Marrakesh is Le Foundouk, a Moroccan restaurant named by CNN as one of the world’s best rooftop restaurants. The arrival process, however, was a major problem moment. Guests dropped off by taxi would have to navigate -- alone -- the busy and chaotic medina to find the restaurant. Le Foundouk installed guides, wearing traditional Moroccan fez hats, who not only shepherd guests to the restaurant, they give tours to the arriving and departing guests, turning what was the worst part of the experience into the highlight.
Four Seasons 🇺🇸
The Four Seasons Hotels have stunning, over-the-top flower arrangements that guests can’t resist sharing on social media. By creating something so remarkable in every lobby, the Four Seasons created a signature first impression that they’ve become known for ... and found a unique way to generate invaluable free advertising across social media.
Fairmont Vancouver Airport 🇨🇦
At the Fairmont hotel at Vancouver’s busy international airport, guests have views out their window of planes taking off and landing. The hotel elevated this seemingly unremarkable moment into a remarkable one by including binoculars in each room, and providing guests with a plane spotting guide. Fairmont turned the otherwise boring act of looking out a hotel window into a peak experiential moment for guests.
Freycinet Experience Walk 🇦🇺
Separately, once a guest departs, Freycinet sends an email with a group photo taken of the final meal. The email also contains a map of the guest’s journey, making it easy for each guest to share their story on social media, and recipes from the meals they enjoyed, extending post-trip excitement and memories well after the guest has departed.
Freycinet Experience Walk 🇦🇺
Separately, once a guest departs, Freycinet sends an email with a group photo taken of the final meal. The email also contains a map of the guest’s journey, making it easy to share your story on social media, and recipes from the meals they enjoyed, extending post-trip excitement and memories well after the guest has departed.
XVA Art Hotel 🇦🇪
A beautiful tree shades the courtyard at XVA, and the hotel cuts small branches from this tree, allowing them to grow in small vases on each table. When those branches sprout their own roots, the hotel offers the young tree to departing guests. XVA has created a physical GEM for guests to remember the hotel … and XVA, literally, has extended its own roots all over the world with this GEM.
The GEM Finder
What’s the difference between these two sentences?
We’re not good at keeping in touch with guests
How might we make departing guests part of our family?
Both sentences acknowledge a similar problem: How to maintain contact with our guests.
But one is framed as a complaint. Something that is just fact, and it presumes no action is taken to address the issue. It just is.
The second frames the problem as a question that both presumes and invites solutions.
The right question is always the first step to designing a better GEM.
And a question that begins with how might we is the key to innovative thinking.
The GEM Finder is a tool to ask how might we tackle a certain moment in our guest experience. It reframes the current problem, moving it from accepted fact to a question that moves the team toward solutions.
Here’s a list of powerful how might we questions that we can use to create more memorable GEMs:
How might we predictably attract our ideal guests?
How might we take a leadership position and dominate our market?
How might we make it easier for our partners to share our experience?
How might we partner with other businesses to create groundbreaking experiences for guests?
How might we create a bigger story around what is unique about our experience?
How might we build up pre-arrival excitement for our guests?
How might we surprise and delight our guests on first contact?
How might we create a remarkable first impression?
How might we create a remarkable check-in experience for our guests?
How might we create the perfect Instagram moment for our guests?
How might we turn an underutilised asset into a profit centre?
How might we make our guest rooms not just more comfortable, but more exciting?
How might we more quickly and creatively solve guests’ problems?
How might we make the checkout experience super smooth?
How might we help our guests look good when recommending us?
How might we say goodbye to our guests in a remarkable way?
Of course you can also use how might we to address problems or opportunities we’ve already discussed previously.
Here are a few examples:
In the above examples we framed a problem area as a how might we question and came up with a number of alternative solutions.
Not all solutions will be brilliant or practical. They don’t have to be.
We’re looking to brainstorm as many solutions as possible, knowing that as with mining for physical gems, the GEM we’re looking for will be found amid a lot of the stuff we can throw away.
Generally, you don’t want to spend too much time on a single GEM at this stage. We want to use the GEM Finder for quantity right now, not quality. Quality comes later -- when we’re executing the perfect GEM for the problem we’re addressing.
20-minute GEM Finder
You can do this individually or with your colleagues.
Find a comfortable spot, agree on a how might we question, then come up with 10 GEMs that offer potential solutions to that question.
No more than 2-min on each GEM. If you get stuck, just move on to the next one. You can always come back later.
Again remember it’s not an art contest, it’s a thinking process.
Put on a 20-min timer, and some music.
Other uses for GEM cards
GEM cards can be used in a number of ways.
Sketch a single GEM
Use a single GEM card to sketch out and explain a specific moment in your guests’ experience. By outlining who’s it for, what’s it for and how’s it work, you’ll give your audience clarity on your idea, which will help create alignment and support.
Group GEMs together to map out key moments
Use a number of cards to map out key moments in your guest’s journey, such as GEMs in your check-in process, or key GEMs found when guests are in-residence.
Radical originality is very hard and can wear you out.
Scrapbooking GEMs you see from leading examples or other businesses in your category can give you a starting point to develop your own original GEMs for your guests’ experience.
A quick 2-min sketch of a GEM you see out in the wild can lock that image in your head, so that when the right problem presents itself, you have a reference to use as a starting point in designing your own GEM.
Wrap up & Next steps
To close off any GEM session we’ll want to commit to a few next steps.
To narrow down our focus, categorize each potential GEM as a:
Prototype & test
Very easy to implement
Too costly to implement
Not aligned with our goals
Need more insights
Put off until ____
The 3 judges of a great GEM
The sweet spot for a great GEM is one that is:
A desirable experience that our guests really want or need.
A feasible experience that leverages the strengths of our current operational capabilities.
A viable solution that is profitable (or at least cost-neutral) in a sustainable business model.
Before moving our ideas to the next stage of testing and prototyping, we need to ask ourselves if our GEMs will stand up to the tests of:
Is this something our guests will want and love?
Does it create high-value for our guest, either functionally, emotionally and/or socially?
Can we technically make this experience happen?
Do we have the right partners to help us make this happen?
Will making this GEM take our focus away from more-important areas?
Would this GEM have a positive return on investment under our current business model, or will it negatively impact profitability?
Can an investment in this GEM yield higher returns over time?
At the very least, is it cost-neutral?
What would Oprah do?
Oprah would have been a great hotelier. Why? She understands people.
The legendary host has done more than 35,000 interviews in her career, and the common denominator she found in every one of those interviews is that we all want to be validated, we all want to be understood.
After interviews, when the camera was off, guests would turn to Oprah and in their own way inevitably ask, “Was that OK?”
She heard this from presidents and heros, from housewives and sports stars, from victims and perpetrators of crimes. She even heard it from Beyonce.
Oprah interprets this as a guest asking: “Did you hear me? Did you see me? Did what I say matter to you?”
Understanding that one principle -- that everybody wants to be validated -- has allowed Oprah to create an incredible platform that has moved millions of people, and that has proven an incredible force for positivity in the world.
Oprah’s great insight -- that people want to be validated -- is also the core of hospitality.
Hospitality is not just our beds, ours tours, ours meals and so on ... hospitality is how we make our guests feel … not just about their experience, but about themselves.
That’s what a great GEM can do!
The GEMs we create at key touch-points throughout the entirety of our guest’s journey can validate everything great our guest expects and wants to feel about themself.
In creating GEMs, we are saying personally to each guest that walks through our door “I get you … I know what you need and what you want.”
We are, in short, making art that shows true empathy.
And in our increasingly cluttered world, empathy is our ultimate strategy.
We are at our best when we can take our guests on a journey filled with GEMs, each one designed to help that guest become the person they’ve dreamed of becoming, little by little, even if just for a short moment in time.
It works for Oprah, and I guarantee it will work for us too.
Now let’s go make some GEMs
Download the tools and get started
When you’re ready,
here’s how we can help
One-on-One: Mapping out your Guest Experience Map and Guest Experience Moments
We run remote and in-house sessions with you and your teams.
Using the Guest Experience Map and Guest Experience Moment tools, we’ll teach you everything you need to know to make this one of your business’ most-valuable innovation tools.
Every session produces a plan with clear next steps that are well-defined.
Prototyping and testing your GEMs
How do you move your GEMs from idea to a working prototype to test or implement? We help with that.
We provide the tools, structure and follow up you need, not just to be great at coming up with ideas for your business, but in implementing those ideas successfully.
We work with a limited number of hotels and destinations to host Guest Experience Masterclass.
In a collaborative setting, we help you master the tools that can turn you into a leader who influences and drives innovation in your business.
Want to learn more? Get in touch.
About the author
Hospitality & Experience Strategist
Jesse is the creator of the Guest Experience Map and is a leading advisor to the global travel industry. Jesse leads a consultancy that develops communities, strategies and products for travel brands. During his seven-year tenure as the Global Manager, Social & Content at Tourism Australia, Jesse and his team spoke to millions daily via Tourism Australia’s digital platforms, and created strategies that made Australia the leading destination on social media. Named as one of Skift's most-influential people in travel, Jesse has accumulated several industry accolades, including 3 Cannes Lions, and has collaborated with leading brands and innovators in the business, including Facebook, GoPro, DJI, Buzzfeed and City of Sydney. Jesse has shared his knowledge at various conferences around the world and holds an MBA with a focus in Creative Leadership