Julian Houchin, investor in Travel Curious, explains why hoteliers need a more focused approach to customer interaction in a post-pandemic era.
Guests want tech savvy operations, crave adventure and exploration, and exciting new personalised experiences that are transformative and sensory.
So why have hotel brands been slow to embrace immersive tours and experiences to their guests? I think it’s fair to say we have been conditioned to think hotel luxury is defined by quality, product and service delivery, with the emphasis being placed on the physical hotel stay. But times have changed. We live in the era of “the experience economy” and hotels need to understand they are no longer in the business of just offering a bed for the night. Guests expect and deserve more from a hotel experience today.
The experience economy
Believe it or not, the Experience Economy was first presented more than 20 years ago by B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore who suggested a fundamental change in the very fabric of advanced economies. In simple terms, the Experience Economy challenges organisations to progress up the value chain from a traditional commodities business to creating and delivering experiences. Pine and Gilmore argued that businesses must create memorable events for their customers and that memory becomes the product: the “experience”.
Although Pine and Gilmore initially envisaged the concept of the experience economy in business, it is certainly appropriate for hospitality and tourism. They further observed the growing importance of experiences becoming transformational, transcending beyond the actual experience and moment in time to transform a person and aspects of their lives. Transformative experiences are where the real power and value proposition lies for hotels. It is more relevant today given the consumer shift to slower and more meaningful travel in a post-pandemic era – where people are travelling less frequently but staying for longer.
Consumers place more emphasis on purposeful experiences instead of possessions
As we, the human race, become increasingly time poor, as consumers we are preferring experiences over commodities. We’ve become less materialistic and more excited to share real experiences with friends and family. In a 2019 joint study between Expedia and the Center for Generational Kinetics, 74 per cent said they prioritise experiences over belongings.
There has been a seismic shift in the way consumers place more emphasis and importance on purposeful experiences and relationships instead of the accumulation of possessions. This change in consumer behaviour shows no sign of abating, and with shifts in the economy, the pandemic has prompted consumers to step back and recalibrate what is important in life more than ever.
In this digitised world where Zoom and Team calls have dominated our lives, finding new ways to engage the senses and create memorable experiences will become more important. Travellers will shift from simply booking a hotel and staying put, to looking for cultural activities that will enhance their time away. Hotel brands and their hotels need to adjust to meet this shift in consumer demand, particularly as consumers are changing the way they spend their money.
As the hospitality industry starts to recover, hotel brands will need to think more like an experiences business. How can hotels capitalise on heightened emotions to create lasting memories that are authentic in their delivery? It’s important for hotels to incorporate experiences into their basic offering. Travel Curious has enabled many to do this via a simple widget incorporated into the hotel website offering visitors a host of tours and activities within the vicinity of the hotel property.
Hotels that undertake this transition will strengthen the emotional connection between their guests and their brand, differentiate themselves from their competitors, and increase the value perception of their product offering. We often see smaller hotel brands capitalise faster as they tend to have a more nimble approach.
Walt Disney, the first ever chief experience officer
Walt Disney believed and understood that by creating dreams and preserving the magical guest experience, lifelong bonds would be formed with his customers. It’s no surprise, therefore, that 70 per cent of first-time Disney visitors return again, and that the Disney brand is one of the most powerful in the world, in large part because they connect emotionally with their guests resulting in extreme customer loyalty.
Connection through community will be integral as people want to re-engage
The global lockdown, brought on by the pandemic, has forced us all to be apart from friends and family for long periods of time. It’s no surprise, therefore, that a sense of community and reconnecting with people will be more desirable than ever before. New hybrid hotel models, that have emerged in recent years, consider community at the very heart of their DNA. An example of this is CURIOCITY – Africa’s first hybrid hospitality brand with sites across South Africa – which tailors programming schedules to each location. Another example is Locke, one of a kind, locally inspired design aparthotels, which believes guests want to immerse themselves in the locality and have transformative experiences.
So, what does all this mean for hoteliers?
To put things into perspective, millennials have more spending power than any generation before them, with an estimated $200 billion per year, and some $10 trillion lifetime spend as a generation. They are a generation that travel more frequently and 70 per cent say that funding travel is a key motivation to work, second only to paying for basic necessities. According to a recent report by TripAdvisor, millennials are leading the charge to spend big on luxury travel and relaxation in 2021.
The reality that consumers are spending more money on experiences rather than material possessions can be a huge opportunity for hoteliers. Not only would they be helping their guests discover what makes the city tick, but will be able to earn additional revenue through a service that will give guests a deeper sense of connection. The recently opened Great Scotland Yard Hotel in London has embraced this position to focus on its unique history and links to politics and crime, showcasing all things local and reaffirming their position as an integral part of a vibrant local community.
Hotels should consider highlighting and promoting the local neighbourhood by creating immersive cultural tours and experiences that take in food, drink, activities, the history and culture of the local area and off-the-beaten path places that only the locals know about. Creating “live like a local” experiences that are educational, interactive and transformative will create memories that will last a lifetime.
To quote Walt Disney: “We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious…and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”