“’Tourist’ has become a dirty word in the hospitality business. The preferred word? Local.” The New York Times opened their article with this statement on one of the largest trends in the hotel industry: promoting local experiences. Go to any hotel today and you don’t see people just lounging around. People want to interact with the destination where they are staying. They want cultural immersion and engagement with the community. Travelers are more curious and want to explore their surroundings more so than at any time in history.
More and more hoteliers have begun to recognize the need to provide customizable local experiences and how vital it is for business growth and customer retention. However, they still face problems. Namely, they are tasked with determining what qualifies as a unique experience that not only highlights the specific character of the city, but also perfectly contours to the identity of the traveler. And what of the experiences themselves? How do hotels curate these local experiences and then, more importantly, offer these local experience options to their guests as a revenue generating customer service?
Deloitte released a report on the future of the hotel in which they concluded that, “Technology innovations, changing customer demands, and new competitive threats are pushing hotels to offer increasingly personal, uniquely tailored experiences for every guest on every visit.” This is a large task for any hotelier to undertake. Not only are guests expecting high quality customer service, unique room arrangements, and tons of amenities, but they also want all of these things catered to their own personal style. Where before, brand identity meant having an identical experience regardless of location, it has now come to be associated with the uniqueness that the brand can bring as it highlights each new destination.
Fiona O’Donnell, the director of travel and leisure research at Mintel, a market research firm in Chicago stated, “Guests want to feel like they are experiencing something in the design or the local flavor,” she said. “They want it to be memorable and part of the local scene, not like they are tourists.” And Mark Vondrasek, Starwood Hotels Senior Vice President says, “It’s one thing to get good tickets to a concert or good tickets to a tennis venue, but when you can provide experiences and access that’s truly once in a lifetime, that’s the differentiator for us.”
So how does the industry evolve to stay ahead of the curve? We’ve seen glimpses. Marriot recently purchased PlacePass, opening up its ‘experience marketplace’ as part of its rewards program. Omni Hotels offers a local experience program to their platinum rewards members. Although, upon further inspection, their idea of ‘local’ in New York City involves only 3 options: passes to the World Trade Center, tickets to the Empire State Building, and a meal at the steakhouse inside their own hotel- not exactly showcasing the local side of things. Other hospitality organizations, like Airbnb, have energized the local trend and understand that if they can provide these sought after experiences- unique things to do, places to go, and activities to take part in- they can increase bookings, improve customer service, and enhance their brand.
Other members of the startup world have taken notice as well. New, innovative technologies have emerged to offer expansive access to the local travel experience. GetYourGuide offers a large variety of ticket options while Peek has brought updated booking services to smaller, boutique tour operators. And Zeeno has opened up a world of local guides available on-demand. Ultimately, the biggest value that startups like these are providing is access. Tour options have previously been limited to the main players, with choices typically between two or three tours highlighting the main attractions. Now, travelers have more options to choose from, ultimately creating a better chance of suiting their specific needs.
In an increasingly competitive field, the relationship between hotel and traveler loyalty is reaching a tipping point. With so many hospitality options available, and the ability to easily compare them to each other, loyalty programs and extended services are popping up left and right to entice travelers with more than just a place to sleep. While loyalty incentives and electronic check-in may be enough for some, the growing generation of tech-savvy travelers is seeking out new ways to explore a destination that will leave the ‘tourist’ label behind.
As hotels look to stay in front of the curve, incorporating some of these new technologies will allow them to provide a better guest experience and ingrain more of the local experience into their own. If not, hotels might just get left behind.