This is our
Guest Experience Map
It’s how we simply and beautifully understand, design and share how our experience comes together
The experience we create has greatness in it
Every segment of the travel and hospitality industry has a leading player.
No matter the economy, the competition, the market condition, in every category you can think of you will find at least one great hotel or experience that is doing well -- one that’s dominating its target market.
Our experiences and the moments we create for our guests have the potential to be great.
That greatness comes from our ability to not only deliver remarkable experiences guest love, but to extend those experiences in moments that take place well-before a guest even knows about us, and well-after that guest has left us.
Like a great chess master, we must understand all the moves and how our game is played in order to win.
But let’s face it, the guests journey is messy. It is nonlinear and it’s dynamic. While we may never fully understand precisely the path our guests take, we can understand the general direction they are going in.
Great guest-experience designers, therefore, are great systems thinkers. They see the experience they’re creating for guests as a collection of moments, and they can simply and beautifully explain the story of how these moments come together.
That’s what our Guest Experience Map helps us do.
It helps tell the story of how we systematically attract the right guests and get them to the point of booking, how we create remarkable guest experiences and incremental revenue-generation opportunities, and how we make our guests part of our family and earn lifetime fans.
Let’s get started,
Signed you - The Guest Experience Mapper
This is our experience,
and this is how it’s made
How It’s Made is a mesmerizing TV show.
Since 2001, the Discovery Channel show has documented how everyday items are manufactured … items such as handbags, chewing gum, engines, guitars and snowboards.
No matter an item’s complexity, the show boils down the process to a beautiful simplicity.
Something can have 50 steps or more, but by focusing on the core 10 steps, How It’s Made shows us the story on how an item comes together.
That’s what we as great guest experience designers do. We know all the parts, and we know how they all work together, and we know how to beautifully explain it all.
And we use the Guest Experience Map to define all the key elements that will bring all those parts together.
The map is created from a specific set of universal ideas, and it’s designed as a big-picture assessment of our guests’ experience. Its purpose: To provide us with a framework for creating breakthroughs that elevate our guests’ experiences to memorable and meaningful.
We can break down how we deliver our experiences into three parts:
1. What happens BEFORE the guest has booked.
2. What happens DURING the guest’s in-residence time with us
3. What happens AFTER the guest has departed
Each of these is an independent unit of the business or the experience, and each has its own operations, objectives, metrics and financial contribution to the business as a whole. But the complex story of how it all comes together can be told very simply.
When we define our guest experience as Before, During and After, we can start to identify opportunities to make the entire experience great by making each of the components great.
In this toolkit we’ll use Sunny Beach Hotel, a fictitious hotel using the map. Just know that for any hotel, any tour, any experience or any other service or customer-oriented business, the same principles apply, though the names for some steps might be slightly different.
Here’s how we can use the Guest Experience Map
Tell the story of how our experiences come together
This could be our overall guest experience in general, or a map for specific guest segments, or experiences within our business.
With Sunny Beach Hotel, management wants to tell the story about how key experiences are delivered to guests coming from Australia. They use the map to create alignment amongst teams
Create a map for offering a new experience
Launching a new experience? The Guest Experience Map helps us create a plan for how we will deliver this experience.
Sunny Beach Hotel is launching a new tour for guests, and uses the map to map-out how that experience will come together within the current business plan.
Identify strategic opportunities in our experiences
By mapping out our current experience, we identify opportunities for strategic breakthroughs. We apply the 10 Profit Activator to each major component of our map.
Sunny Beach Hotel uses the map and the 10 Profit Activators quarterly to review their experience, and to consider and scout for new opportunities.
Traditional customer-journey maps come in all shapes and sizes. Unlike those, however, our Map focuses on the big, strategic blocks that move the guest predictably along each of the three units of our experience -- the Before, During and After.
The Map is a tool that provides clarity and alignment, and it grows stronger the more we use it.
Let’s get started.
The Guest Experience Map pinpoints better ideas
This tool is not about us flawlessly executing a plan.
It’s about helping us identify ideas that can elevate our guests’ experiences. Because, ultimately, implementing a better idea -- even if it’s not perfect -- always trumps flawlessly executing a poor idea.
The hospitalitty industry -- or any service industry, for that matter -- is filled with checklists and processes.
That’s not what this is about. Instead, this map helps us identity better ideas so that we can fill our guests’ experiences with moments that are a better fit and that not only exceed what our competition offers, but exceeds what our guests expect.
The Guest Experience Map explained
Think of each block on the map as a parking spot for our great ideas.
Stickies will help prioritise and allow you to shuffle ideas around. Yes, we can draw directly on our map, but that’s not ideal if we make a mistake or need to move our ideas to a different, better spot.
Let’s look at each section of the map.
If you’re familiar the GEM cards, you’ll know that the foundation to any great guest experience built on a solid understanding of who’s it for, what’s it do and how’s it work. The same holds true for our map.
When we have absolute clarity on those key questions, everything else falls into place.
Let’s look more deeply at each.
Who’s it for
Designing a great map always starts with a clear picture of “Who’s it 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 map needs to be very specific.
In this box we can provide a picture of who our guests are and where they’re coming from.
Examples might include:
Each guest has a unique need. And each need represents an opportunity for us to create the right map -- the right experience -- for that guest.
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)
Some examples of good “What’s it do” opportunities:
The 3 Units of our
Guest Experience Map
The BEFORE unit
The BEFORE unit focuses on systematically attracting the right guests to our experience.
The DURING unit
The DURING unit begins once a guest has made a booking and encompasses all activity between that initial interaction and their departure.
The AFTER unit
The AFTER unit focuses on making departing guests part of our family and earning lifetime fans.
The 10 Profit Activators
The 10 Profit Activators are simple, yet very powerful questions that help us design, deliver and capture more value, well before a guest arrives and well after they’ve left.
While some terminology might be different in our experience (i.e. check-in instead of sign-in, or in-residence vs in-house) the principles remain the same.
They 10 Profits Activators are:
Profit Activator 1: How we predictably attract our ideal guests
Profit Activator 2: How we educate and motivate
Profit Activator 3: How we create irresistible offerings
Profit Activator 4: How we communicate to guests pre-arrival
Profit Activator 5: How we create a great first impression
Profit Activator 6: How we create a ‘world-class’ in-residence experience
Profit Activator 7: How we say goodbye
Profit Activator 8: How we communicate post-departure
Profit Activator 9: How we make our guests part of our family
Profit Activator 10: How we orchestrate referrals
How might we make this even better?
What’s the difference between these two sentences?
Our pre-arrival communication email is terrible
How might we make our pre-arrival communication a work of art?
Both sentences acknowledge a similar problem: pre-arrival communication needs help.
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.
Questions are always the first step to a better guest experience.
And a question that begins with how might we is the key to innovative thinking.
So in areas of our map where remarkable solutions should live we can ask ourselves how might we.
The Before Unit
What we do to get a guest to the point of booking
Profit activator 1: How we predictably attract our ideal guests
Does your marketing sometimes feel like a slot machine -- you put money in, pull the lever and hope for something good to come out at the other end?
Predictably attracting an ideal guest is, instead, about building a vending machine -- one where we put money in and we know with predictability what we’ll get back in return.
Online Travels Agents (OTAs) in essence are vending machines.
Facebook and Google can also be great vending machines. However, hoping for organic reach on social media is slot-machine thinking.
When we’re crystal clear on the guest segment we aim to dominate, creating a mechanism to attract those guests becomes easier.
Here’s how Sunny Beach Hotel could attract their ideal guests with predictability.
Listing of boutique hotels - A ruthless focus on ensuring the hotel shows up on blogs and websites listing the best boutique hotels in their region. Through guests feedback, the hotel knows this is a key discovery source.
Primary focus on Booking.com - This OTA delivered the most volume of high-value guests, thus a primary focus is put on ensuring best practice and listing that stands out above the rest.
Secondary focus on Expedia.com - As above, this OTA is a secondary focus.
Facebook ads - Showcasing ads narrowly focused at the hotel’s target guest. The goal of these ads aim to move guests to the next phase at a known costs.
Which OTA sends us the highest-value guests? How might we dominate in this OTA?
How might we attract our ideal guests through Facebook and Google at a known cost?
Putting ourselves in the shoes of our ideal guests, how do we rank in key OTAs and in Google searches? How might we improve (even dominate) in our key languages and markets?
Profit Activator #2: How we educate and motivate
Once we’re clear on how we attract our ideal guest predictably, it’s time to educate and motivate them to pick our experience.
Our website and social profiles are a great way to educate and motivate our ideal guests. This includes:
Great use of imagery on our website
Putting ourselves in the guest's shoes and answering their most pressing questions
Sharing real guest stories
Showcasing a typical day for a guest
Highlighting the destination
With guests using multiple touchpoints (social media, Google, websites, blogs, etc.) as proof of their own beliefs, it’s important to not just tell a great story on our own channels but to provide a story on all other channels where our potential guest might make that booking decision.
A 3rd party validation, like a story raving about our offering in a key channel where our guest spends time, is pure gold.
We need to be obsessive about finding out where our ideal guest spends their time, and then find the most effective ways to tell compelling stories that will educate and motivate them to pick us.
Here’s how Sunny Beach Hotels educated and motivated its key customer base to turn browsing into booking:
SunnyBeachHotels.com - The hotel’s website is the key channel where the hotel can tell a deeper story about everything on offer.
Video content for partners - Since video is key driver for their target guest, social-ready videos are created that partner can share and use in their own material - I.e. video posts that can be shared by OTAs, state or national tourism boards.
Guide to Sunny Beach - The guide that serves as the authority on spots guests staying at the hotel would love. This included recommended outings and suggested itineraries.
Instagram - The hotel’s profile has a particular focus on showcasing the key experiences their guests would love. It also works with the top 10 Instagram profiles in the region to collectively promote the destination.
How might we place our stories upstream in the booking process, that will attract and appeal to a potential guest?
How might we make it easy for partners and key channels to pick up our stories?
How might we use our social channels to educate and motivate guests to book? How might we use those channels to showcase emotional and social needs?
Profit Activator #3: How we create irresistible offerings
What is it that makes our experience truly irresistible, and how are we putting that front and centre to attract our ideal guests?
How might we perfect that offer, to make it equally irresistible time and time again?
Often a guest’s barrier to booking is not lack of desire, but a lack of urgency. By creating irresistible offers like events and packages, we give website visitors an incentive to move the trip from their bucket list, to the next thing on their list.
Examples of Sunny Beach Hotel’s key messages and offerings for the specified guests would be
Beach-side rooms - A particularly large guest segment loves the hotel’s beach-side room, so this offering is what guests respond to the most
All-inclusive activities - Another segment of guests are compelled by all-inclusive travel, so the hotel highlights it’s all-inclusive activities, which have become a key driver of bookings.
15% book direct offers - Almost all guests who find the hotel on OTAs will double check the hotel’s website. By creating a “book-direct” offer, the hotel (though it might not be able to underprice OTAs) can pass along some of the saving to guests who do book direct, thereby driving more business through credits offered for other purchases at the hotel.
Off-peak “Buy 3 get 4 night” offer - An offer designed to attract guests in the off-peak season
Switch-off package - A customised package specifically designed for our guests social and emotional needs.
How might we make our offers irresistible to our ideal guests?
How might we eliminate risks in our offering?
How might we create a strong incentive for guests to book directly with us?
How might we make our unique value proposition even clearer?
How might we better showcase what’s new and innovative about our offering?
The During Unit
What happens DURING the guest’s in-experience moments.
Profit Activators 4 through 8 define a guest’s experience once the booking is complete, and while the guest is in-residence before check-out.
This is where most of our team’s attention goes, because it’s the biggest opportunity to create remarkable guest experiences and it’s the core of our business.
Profit Activator #4: How we communicate with guests pre-arrival
Once a guest has booked, anticipation is at its peak. So, how we respond to this anticipation in our first contact sets the tone for how the experience will play out as the arrival date approaches.
The confirmation email is a great way to make a remarkable first impression and to reassure our guests that:
Their stay is confirmed
They they have made the right choice to book with us
Their expectations will be met or exceeded during their in-residence experience with us.
We also need to look beyond the confirmation email and spot opportunities to again build on the anticipation of our guests and remove any potential friction points.
Here’s how Sunny Beach Hotel has done it:
3 question survey - Once the booking is confirmed, the hotel emails guests to ask a few basic questions (what brings guests to the hotel, flight arrival details and any special request). This allows guests to personalise their stay, and provides the hotel with valuable insights before arrival.
Welcome pack - Sent out after guests have replied to the 3-question survey, the welcome pack includes an area map, list of key activities and a suggested packing list.
Weather forecast 3 days before arrival - A quick email from the team giving guests an update on weather expectations during their stay.
How might we build excitement in our pre-arrival communication?
How might we surprise and delight guests with our first contact?
How might we answer any questions, even unknown questions, before a guests arrives?
Profit Activator #5: How we make a great first impression
Removing any friction in our arrival process is an critical step in creating a great first impression. But once the essentials are taken care of, there’s an opportunity to really create something special ... even remarkable.
Airport pickup - Starting the hotel experience with an airport pickup ensures there’s no friction when guests first arrive. It also provides guests with a feeling of importance, heightening the sense of happiness at having booked this property
Welcome Drivers - The hotel’s drivers are well-prepared for a guest’s arrival and provide a mini tour of the area as they drive guests to the hotel
Concierge WhatsApp - Guests are given the concierge’s Whatsapp details so that any requests or questions that arise during their stay can be promptly addressed, even if the guest is off property.
This is how Sunny Beach Hotel set out to make a great first impression:
How might we make a remarkable first impression?
How might we remove any friction points when guests arrive?
Profit Activator #6: How we deliver a ‘world-class’ experience
We’re now getting into the core of our map.
It’s here where we create a truly ‘world-class’ experience for our guest.
When we say ‘world-class experience’ we mean specifically for our target guest, and in their world.
Our experience is not for everyone, It’s designed for specific guests.
Here, we not only have the opportunity to create remarkable moments for our target guest, we can drive incremental revenue in our business.
We know that guests won’t remember every detail about their stay.
So our aim is to not only ensure our experience meets our guest’s standard during key moments (the cleanliness of a room, the comfort of a bed, etc.), but we should also aim to create unexpected peak moments that surprise and delight our guests and elevate their in-residence experience beyond expectations.
Sunny Beach Hotel approached the opportunity this way:
Unexpected peak moment - The hotel is always on the lookout for opportunities to create a peak moment for guests. This doesn't always have to come in the form of what the guests expect, but something that they would remember for a long time.
Stunning beach-side rooms - This is the room category and experience guests most love at the hotel, so Sunny Side focuses its energies on creating memorable in-room experiences.
Terrace restaurant - The hotel's main dining feature attracts guests and locals, and is a major profit centre for the business. The hotel plays it up by obtaining press coverage and restaurant reviews that are then posted across the website and social media.
Beach picnics - A signature experience is the beach picnic kits the hotel makes available to guests. The kits include everything from towels, umbrellas and utensils ... and, of course, a beautifully prepared meal with a hand-selected wine that pairs with the food.
Customised tours - The hotel offers customised and private tours for guests, and lets them know of these tours through the Welcome email, as well as in-room advertising.
Healthy meal plans - Through its 3-question emails and feedback from previous guests, the hotel knows that a sizeable portion of its target market are looking for healthful food options. So, it has created those options for guests.
Total privacy option - A customised package specifically designed for our guests social and emotional needs.
How might we elevate our current guest experience?
How might we partner with another business to create groundbreaking experiences for guests?
How might create the perfect Instagram moment for our guests?
How might we create a bigger story around what is unique about our experience?
How might we turn an underutilised asset into a profit centre?
How might we make our guest rooms not only more comfortable, but more exciting?
How might we more quickly solve guests’ problems?
Profit Activator 7: How guests depart
The Peak-End Rule is a psychological phenomenon in which people judge an entire experience largely based on how they felt during the peak moment (i.e. the most-intense point during the full experience) and at the end, when the entire experience concludes.
This means that how guests depart can be one of the most important, but often overlooked moments to the overall experience.
Sunny Beach Hotel shaped it’s check-out experience this way:
Farewell card under the door - Departing guests receive a handwritten note thanking them for joining the family, and wishing them a safe and happy journey home.
Super-easy checkout - The hotel sorts out checkout logistics ahead of time, so guest can be on their way fast.
Farewell bag - The bag, branded with the Sunny Beach logo and Instagram hashtag, contains water and snacks for the journey back home.
Guest card - To encourage repeat business and referrals, the hotel offers departing guests a card that gives them or friends and family special discounts and offers.
How might we end the experience on a bigger high?
How might we make our guest’s departure frictionless?
How might we make our goodbye a remarkable one?
Profit Activator 8: How we communicate post-departure
The final element in the DURING unit is the post-departure phase.
This is another opportunity to surprise and delight our guests with more than just a receipt by email.
This is also most likely the time guest would review their experience with us and share those experiences across various social-media platforms.
Sunny Beach Hotel set up its post-departure gauntlet this way:
Farewell email - An email sent to guests with the final invoice, and thanking them again for their stay. It includes a link to the hotel’s social media account and review pages, as well as a reminder to use their Guest Card that offers them discounts for a future booking.
Engage on social media - Like and comment on guests public posts
The After Unit
What happens AFTER the guest has departed
Profit Activator #9: How we make departing guests part of our family
Our aim here is to turn our departing guests into lifetime fans who leave our experience being part of our extended family.
They know us. They like us. They trust us.
Sunny Beach Hotel created a sense of family and post-departure goodwill by:
Sunny Beach Insider - The hotel sends out a bi-monthly email that goes to all guests, updating them not just on news about the property, but on exciting upcoming events at the destination.
Whatsapp contact - Previous guests still have access to the hotel concierge’s Whatsapp account, and can make special requests for friends and family who are visiting the property. For the most loyal guests, the team also sends photos or updates from the property, like a photo of the amazing sunset they the guest ise missing tonight -- a reminder of what the guest loved, thereby planting the seed for another visit.
How might we make departing guest part of our family?
How might we give guests a memento of their stay?
How might we create stories or moments that guests will want to share for many years to come?
Profit Activator #10: How we orchestrate referrals
The AFTER unit can be the least expensive part of our marketing mix, because we know that when we provide a great experience, it’s a sure thing that some of our guests will return and recommend us.
But we need to ensure this doesn’t just happen in an un-orchestrated way.
When most hotels and experiences attempt to orchestrate referrals, they do so in a way that seeks to benefit the hotel rather than the guest. Ultimately, yes: We want our experience to benefit our business. But the benefit has to come by way of making our guests look good first.
We can outright ask them to ‘like’ our Facebook page or write a good review on TripAdvisor. Maybe that works sometimes, but it’s akin to begging.
Our guests are more likely to speak highly of us when we support their own self-interest, when doing so makes them feel good about themselves. So, our success in orchestrating these referrals doesn’t come from asking … it comes from creating the opportunity for our guests to have remarkable moments with us and which compel them to share that experience.
Even in the smallest social situations, we're all wired to want to recommend and refer things to people. If we see a great movie, read a great book, dine at a great restaurant, meet a great massage therapist or enjoy any really great experience, you want to tell people about that.
We're wired to spread good stories, especially if it makes us seem like we’re in the know, that we’re offering our community of friends and loved ones fresh, useful information.
The goal here, then, is to orchestrate opportunities that make our guests look good in the AFTER unit and compels them to want to share their experience.
Here’s how Sunny Beach approached it:
1-year follow up email - The hotel sends an email reminding a guest that “1 year ago today you visited us.” This serves as a reminder of the great trip the guest had.
Guests card - Guests can recommend the hotel in a way that makes them look good by passing along the Guest Card they received during their stay.
How might we orchestrate opportunities for our guests to look good?
How might we remind guests of their stay at a future date?
Download the tools and get started
When you’re ready, here’s how we can help
One-on-One: Mapping out our 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