Thistle Hotels – Hotel Room Chooser

The concept of being able to Choose Your Own Hotel Room has taken a while to become a reality in the travel industry due to the investment required to implement a solution that works for both customers and hotel managers.

However, the rise of AirBnB and other platforms are causing a shift in customer expectations. They no longer want their holiday experience to be defined by the hotel staff that make the decisions of which room to place them in – instead they want to make their own decisions to meet their individual needs.

In 2014, we pioneered and developed a new concept for glh Hotels to allow customers of their London-based hotels to choose exactly which hotel room they stayed in during their visit, and Thistle was the first major hotel brand in the world to deliver this service.

The development of the concept took months of planning and consultation, with people both involved in the industry and employees running the hotels day-to-day.  It was a challenging project in that not only were we putting in a place a new process that had never been proven to work on this scale before, but we needed buy-in at all levels – such as General Manager, Reception, Central Marketing, CEO – and crucially, guests.

We worked through a number of use case scenarios:

  • What if guests didn’t like their rooms – would they cancel?
  • What if there wasn’t enough choice? Was this a problem?
  • What if guests wanted to change rooms?
  • How would hotel staff cope with regular guests that wanted specific rooms?
  • If a room was out of action for refurbishment, how would this affected supply?

Eventually, after many meetings, brainstorms and injections of caffeine, we had a working prototype that met the needs of all the stakeholders, and also worked from a digital perspective. This prototype formed the basis of what we built out for guests of all glh Hotel brands, and these were launched over a period of 18 months across 15 hotels.

The process is relatively simple – guests that meet each hotel’s criteria (i.e. booked direct) are sent an email two weeks before their stay. In this email is a secure link to a branded microsite where they are able to browse the hotel floorplans, see which rooms are available to them based on their booking, and then view features, descriptions, pictures and virtual tours of each room they can choose.

Once they make a decision, they select their room choice and an email is sent to them to confirm. In the back-end, the hotel is notified of the choice and their systems are updated internally.

We’re incredibly pleased that since its initial launch we have processed tens of thousands of bookings through the platform, and it has been an unequivocal success. Even better, we’ve been capturing post-choice survey data since inception, and so we have real qualitative feedback showing that the enthusiasm for the service has been outstanding; over 96% of users enjoyed the experience, and 98% would want to use it again. And that’s not from a small sample set – this comes from over 11,000 respondents, which shows huge appeal.

Of course, it doesn’t end there.

The next steps for the platform are to extend the scope of bookings that can use the room chooser option, and to provide guests with even more choice over the types of areas that might suit them best. Examples of this are ‘quiet’ areas for families, or ‘active’ areas for guests more likely to be using the bar and late-night services.

Plus, there is also the option to use this as a chance to upsell hotel services when a guest is closer to their stay date (and therefore more likely to want to book dinner or other add-ons), as well as the potential for upgrades if they find that they are browsing the floorplans and spot a room they wished they’d booked.

The ability for guests to choose their own hotel room is coming to the industry soon, because guests like it and they are demanding more choice and greater input over their holidays. Hotel brands will need to start delivering these services within the next 2-3 years to keep up with competitors that have already seen our model and are beginning to work on their own implementations.

The question is: can you afford not to do it?