Engagement, design key to how indies attract families
Engagement, design key to how indies attract families
22 MARCH 2017 12:31 PM

Happy kids mean happy adults and families. Independent hotels that have added engaging, family-friendly programs and comfortable décor to their properties are seeing the benefits.

REPORT FROM THE U.S.—While extensive children’s programming may be common for large resorts, it’s not necessarily the case at smaller independent hotels. But hoteliers are finding ways to incorporate unique family-friendly programming and amenities that boost engagement with kids and adults alike.

For Hotel Vermont, an independent property in Burlington, Vermont, GM Hans van Wees said it’s all about creating meaningful experiences for the whole family. Two-thirds of Hotel Vermont’s guests are leisure travelers, he said, and a total of one-third of those guests have families.

“For me, the perfect hotel for families is where (the focus is not) just (on) part of the family—kids or the parent,” van Wees said. “We want families to experience these things together.”

Creating engagement and comfort
Van Wees said family travel is a good way to incorporate educational components that help build guest engagement. Making a connection with guests and showing them what they can experience instead of handing them a pamphlet of activities in the area adds to the genuine experience, he said.

For example, Hotel Vermont offers guided waterfront hikes, led by an activities coordinator. That way kids and adults are engaged in the experience.

At Wildwood Lodge’s two locations iIn Pewaukee, Wisconsin, and Clive, Iowa, it’s all about creating engagement through comfortable shared spaces.

Open lobbies foster that sense of casual interaction at the two properties. They feature relaxed, camp-style décor and a variety of board games available for use.

“Kids tend to get involved with other kids, parents become acquainted, friendships form,” said Anne Coffman, brand manager at Wildwood Lodge.

Coffman said the comfortable atmosphere at Wildwood Lodge has helped build a casual, kid-friendly vibe where guests can hang around the lobby in their pajamas or curl up by the fireplace and not worry about ruining formal furniture.

Use location for inspiration
The Darcy Washington D.C., part of Hilton’s Curio Collection, is set to open in April in the nation’s capital and has already planned its kids’ programming, according to GM Tobias Arff. He said the property will take advantage of its D.C. location and encourage city exploration for families.

Guests traveling to The Darcy with families can choose themed activities backpacks, which will include guided maps of local museums, landmarks and the National Zoo, he said.

For urban locations, Arff suggests loaning out strollers, scooters or pushcarts so families with kids can maneuver around the city better.

“A lot of The Darcy’s kids’ programming was inspired by the city’s local culture,” Arff said. “There’s so much to do and see while in D.C., and we wanted to make that process a little easier by providing some ideas (and) easily accessible tools to make those adventures all the more worthwhile.”

It’s a different scenario at Houston’s Houstonian Hotel, which is located in a wooded setting. That gave the rooms director the idea of creating a “camp out” package for guests. GM Steve Fronterhouse said this “glamping” option has been offered for eight years.

“We purchase different (stuffed) animals: hedgehogs, raccoons, bunny rabbits and we have fawns this year,” he said. “All of our rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows, so it feels like you’re in the woods in Texas.”

Housekeepers at The Houstonian set up the children’s play tents and sleeping bags, and the hotel features a special campfire menu, which includes hot dogs, wood-fired pizza and barbeque chicken on a stick, to name a few.

“We have a lot of guests who want a road trip with their families … the camping idea is a way to give the kids what they want and the parents what they want without being in a huge resort hotel complex,” Fronterhouse said.

Fronterhouse said being able to increase a room rate for the campout offering is a way to generate revenue from the package but also add value for guests.

“Make it about the family experience and get a premium room rate,” he said.

Provide a framework
Arff said it’s essential to keep a hotel’s audience in mind when implementing kid-friendly programs. While making them fun and interactive, they also need to be simple enough to seamlessly blend in with the family’s travel plans.

“Provide the framework for a wonderful vacation, but leave enough room throughout each activity that it’s easily customizable to the moments each guest would like to create,” he said, adding that it’s up to children and their families to tailor each experience.

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