BHN editor George Sell looks at five industry trends which will make waves in the travel and hospitality space in 2018.
• Adapting company values to Gen Z consumers
The younger generation don’t just pay lip service to their own wellbeing and that of the planet – they really care and they act upon it. Hospitality brands must recognise this and align their behaviours with these younger travellers to avoid being shunned and considered uncaring dinosaurs. One of the latest issues vexing a social media-motivated audience is excessive use of plastic, and it is an area where hoteliers should already be acting. Anantara and AVANI Hotels & Resorts ended the use of plastic drinking straws at all hotels and resorts in Asia from 1st January 2018. It says it is the first major hotel brands to announce a companywide decision to eradicate plastic straws at every single property across the Asia region with a view to extend the roll out to properties in Australasia, Europe and the Middle East by the end of the year. Expect many more to follow.
And whether you like it or not, the vegan bandwagon is picking up speed all the time. There are around three million vegetarians in the UK, and at least 542,000 vegans, according to The Vegan Society – three and half times as many as there were in 2006, making it the fastest growing lifestyle movement. It is being driven by young people making more ethical and compassionate choices, with nearly half (42 per cent) of all vegans in the UK aged 15 to 34 compared to 14 per cent who are over 65. Hotels and restaurants are going to have to genuinely cater for these people with a wide range of choices, as well as upping their game with sustainably sourced and compassionately farmed meat.
• The rise of the travel curator
Before the internet – with the exception of those brave enough to book on Ceefax! – the travel agent played a vital role in almost everybody’s travel planning. He or she was the gatekeeper, the holder of the secret knowledge of flights, routes, prices, hotels and much more. Every high street had one and most people made an annual pilgrimage to the shop and spent a couple of hours looking through brochures, deciding where to go. Now we have so much information at our online fingertips the choice has become simply overwhelming a strange new 21st century version of the travel agent is coming to prominence – the travel curator or online concierge.
Offering a more consultative role, companies such as Luxury Concierge are springing up, alongside established players like Quintessentially, to advise travellers who expect more specific packages, catered personally for them keeping their or their group’s needs and wants in mind. They will be seen catering to varied preferences – all women’s trip, solo trips, senior citizen trips, for example. The founder of Luxury Concierge says: “Whether you’re looking for the best restaurant, the best luxury hotel, best vantage point for photos, unique experiential itinerary ideas or hidden gems of a destination’s local culture, I’ve done my research so you don’t have to.” Give the travel concierge your tastes and requirements and they’ll do the rest – an increasingly in-demand solution for cash-rich time-poor travellers.
• Fashion and retail crossover becomes the norm
It started with a few high-end fashion houses such as Armani and Versace lending their brands and products to high-end hotels, and soon the likes of Bulgari, Missoni, Thierry Mugler, and more followed suit. Other designers got involved with individual rooms or suites, such as the Grand Piano Suite by Diane Von Furstenberg at Claridge’s in London. All very high end stuff. But the fashion/hotel crossover is become more accessible and mainstream, with initiatives such as Henry Holland’s month-long residency at the Hoxton Holborn, and ASOS’s collaboration with Hotel Indigo to create destination-based outfits designed by local influencers.
Retailers are getting in on the act too – traditional British brand Laura Ashley, which straddles the fashion and retail divide has two UK boutique hotels. Minimalist Japanese household and consumer goods retailer Muji has recently announced plans for its second hotel in Tokyo’s Ginza district. Parachute and Shinola are also opening hotels. The biggest retail player in the hotel space to date is US homewares giant West Elm, which announced its entry to the market in 2016 and plans to have hotels open in at least six major US cities by 2020. West Elm has stores in 85+ US cities, as well as locations in Canada, Mexico, Australia, the UK and the Middle East, and I expect it to become a significant player in the hotel space – with more retail names to follow its lead in 2018.
• The Internet of Things and voice activation
People are now used to having voice control in their homes, via devices such as Amazon Echo or Google Home, which can control electrical devices, the room temperature, entertainment systems and so on, so it was only a matter of time before the same technology found its way in to hotel rooms. And it is happening rapidly. Almost 5,000 rooms at Wynn Las Vegas are already voice-activated via Amazon Echo; Hilton is beta testing its first mobile-centric hotel room, where guests can control temperature, lightning, blinds, thermostat and TVs with their phones. And Marriott is about to soft-launch its “Internet of Things room”, offering services like mirrors with on-demand yoga tutorials and digital frames to upload friends and family photos during a stay.
This technology can also gather and record information about a guest’s preferences in readiness for their next stay, taking personalisation to a new level. Guests can resume a Netflix series right where they left off or play their favourite Spotify playlist as soon as they check in.
As well as customised version of Amazon and Google technology, a bespoke voice-activated device specifically for the hotel market has been launched this year. Roxy is “built from the ground-up for the hotel industry and enables hotels to have full control over the persona, services and information guests interact with”. Guests use the device by asking a question or making a request – similar to Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa – and Roxy “intuitively understands the questions or request and responds immediately” with curated and personalised in-room concierge services. Cam Urban, CEO and co-founder of Roxy, said: “Since the recent launch of Roxy, industry-leading hotels across North America have been adopting the device to provide guests with instant access to property-specific information and services. With Roxy, guests are given their own personal concierge, removing the need to ever pick up the phone or wait at the front desk. Hotels that use Roxy reduce operational costs, increase access to services that drive revenue, and act on data-driven insights. Roxy gives hotels the ability to replace the phone or clock radio; staff is freed up to do more value-added work.”
The team behind Roxy have previously worked at Amazon and Microsoft, with experience working on Amazon Alexa. They built Roxy “to directly address the limitations of consumer-facing speech enabled devices. Specifically, the team believes that hotels need full control over the device, with end-to-end customisation”.
• Cannabis tourism
From January 1, it has been legal to smoke marijuana for medical use in 29 US states, and for recreational use it is legal in nine states including Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada and Oregon. Support for the drug reached new highs in 2017 with a Gallup poll showing that 64 per cent of Americans favour legalisation, and even a majority of Republicans back it. Hospitality professionals have been quick to capitalise on the opportunity offered by catering to weed smokers, with the launch of tour operator such as Kush Tourismand even an Airbnb-style platform for cannabis-friendly lodging called Bud and Breakfast.
Former Wall Street lawyer Joel Schneider runs three weed-themed hotels in Colorado, and American Green, one of the first publicly traded technology companies in the medical cannabis industry, is also getting in on the tourism act. It has bought an entire abandoned California town called Nipton, which it plans to redevelop, introducing cannabis-themed restaurants, mineral baths, hotels and retail outlets.
It is not just in the US this phenomenon is due to grow. Canada’s Cannabis Act enjoys wide public support and the backing of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. It is expected to pass by July 2018, if not before. According to recent estimates from Marijuana Business Daily, an industry publication, annual sales for Canada’s recreational marijuana market could range between $2.3 billion and $4.5 billion by 2021.
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