Trailblazer webinar review: The experiential hotelier

In the debut webinar of the Boutique Hotel Trailblazer series, we explored the experiential hotelier and how the guest experience is being differentiated within and beyond four walls.

The webinar marks the first in the Boutique Hotel Trailblazer series, which is designed to offer a snapshot of what to expect at the Urban Living Festival 2020 • stay • live • work, 25-26 November at Tobacco Dock in London.

Hosted by news editor at Boutique Hotel News, Eloise Hanson, the trailblazers contributing to the discussion were Chris Penn, co-founder of Performance Hotels, Julia Pearson, partnerships and insights director at Ennismore, and Kent Lindvall, founder of Treehotel. 

When asked how the role of the hotelier is changing in terms of creating value, Penn explained that he always set out with the ambition to improve people’s lives. “If I were to be slightly controversial but a bit picky about how the hotel industry has evolved over the past 20-30 years, I think that in the last decade the value to consumer has been pushed to one side when new products and new businesses have been created. The value has been more focused on real estate value, and pound and pence value for stakeholders. That’s where I think the damage has been done in terms of commoditising the industry.”

Penn’s message was that consumers experience greater value when “honesty and generosity” is put in from the start, which in turn benefits shareholders as value is sustained over a longer period of time.

Turning then to discuss the creation of a unique product or offering, Pearson advises that each project should be approached independently – whether this be within an established brand or hotel portfolio. In her role, Pearson builds city insights reports, assessing politics, wellness, the food industry, local competition, and the cultural nuances and trends of a potential location. “Spending that time and energy before you’ve signed the deal is super important… we’ve sometimes killed the deal based on what we’ve found,” she said.

Design and architecture can play an important role in setting apart one project from another. Lindvall explained that Treehotel only comprises seven rooms, however he invited six different Scandinavian architects to help create each unit. “People always travel to landmarks,” he stated, as unique design can essentially put a project on the map. “You need to do something really outstanding if you’re based outside the normal routes,” said Lindvall, especially as the media love new design products and concepts. “They support you strongly to come to the market.”

Moving away from the physical aspects of a property, Penn contended that developing relationships with people typically last significantly longer than the tangible product. He argued that the most important consideration when designing a brand is the experience in which a hotelier is trying to deliver for the consumer, and which people are best positioned to drive those connections with the consumer. “By creating the right network of people within the physical product, we’re able to have an emotional impact which hopefully creates loyalty,” he said. Penn warned that the danger of the current climate is that such physical and emotional connections are being under-exercised and under-prioritised.

With the staycation trend booming and travellers heading to the great outdoors, a closer connection with nature and the local community is likely to be fostered. Lindvall claimed that he’s been seeing the trend for travellers to seek hotels and destinations that uphold sustainable responsibilities, or that are based close to nature. 

In terms of the opportunities to generate revenue off-property, Pearson chimes in on the possibility for hoteliers to curate their own festivals – be it around music or food, or even partnerships with other properties and brands. “One of the trends we’re seeing too is around subscription models; not just for a holiday, but it could be for wine or food delivery. There’s lots of ways to gain revenue outside of your four walls and it’s literally thinking outside of the box,” she claimed.

Click here to watch the full recording of the Boutique Hotel Trailblazer webinar: The experiential hotelier. 

Click here to register for the next webinar in the series: Human versus digital concierge, on Monday 21st September at 14:00 BST.

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