Pics or it didn’t happen: The new proof of experience
Pics or it didn’t happen: The new proof of experience
15 JUNE 2017 7:20 AM

Yes, it’s more about experiences these days than it is about things, but hotels can facilitate those experiences on several levels. 

It’s no surprise to anyone that “experience” has been the hotel industry buzzword of the ages—or at least of the last two years. Every hotel, every brand—they’re all trying to create that perfect, authentic experience for their guests.

Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO of Expedia, said it like this during a panel at last week’s NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference: “The great trend we see is leisure travel growing,” he said. “More and more we’re going from a society of stuff to a society of experiences.”

He cited research showing that overall, Instagram registers more likes on experience pictures than on “things” pictures. For example, pictures from the hiking trails of Grand Canyon far out-liked pictures of, say, new designer handbags.

I tried with no luck to find more information about this particular research, but I did find this CNBC article from 2016 that hits on the trend 100%: “Millennials are prioritizing ‘experiences’ over stuff.”

Millennials "aren't spending our money on cars, TVs and watches," Taylor Smith, CEO and co-founder of Blueboard, told CNBC. "We're renting scooters and touring Vietnam, rocking out at music festivals, or hiking Machu Picchu."

And then, they’re sharing those experiences on Instagram and Snapchat (not on Facebook—Please: Facebook’s so over, don’t you know?).

This theme was repeated over and over from various speakers during the NYU conference and also at the Boutique & Lifestyle Lodging Association’s Boutique Hotel Investment Conference, and hoteliers are trying hard to accommodate this trend.

Because when it comes down to it, of COURSE it’s not just about experiences, silly. It’s about sharing the experience on social media! Pics or it didn’t happen, am I right?

Consider this example: A few months ago, an acquaintance of mine went on a yoga retreat, to a remote location, supposedly to reconnect with her inner soul, be at one with the quietness within and all that.

Except she Instagrammed photos the entire time—herself in complicated yoga poses on the beach, a close-up of her fingers in “ommm” formation, and so on. Every photo was hashtagged “soulsearching.”

Was she really soul-searching? Who knows. Was it borderline obnoxious? Yes. But did she paint a vivid picture of her experience? Sure did.

You understand where I’m going with this: Yes, travelers want to have the experiences and probably are paying more for a vacation than they might on a handbag, but for many (obnoxious or not), the proof is part of the deal.

And that’s where hotels are in a great position to not only facilitate the experience (through information about local events, local food and beverage, concierge services and more), but also to make the sharing so simple.

Here are some of the ways hoteliers and restaurateurs are facilitating that shared experience, according to what I heard at the conferences:

  • Instagrammable spaces: This is a common and simple design tactic that’s low-cost and high-impact when it comes to social sharing. 
  • Photo-ready F&B: Consider creating a signature drink or menu item with built-in marketing appeal. Catch restaurant in New York City features what it calls the “Hit Me” chocolate cake, which is essentially a brownie/cake/ice cream tower with an edible “liquid Klondike bar” on the top that oozes melty ice cream when you shatter it with a spoon. “The Hit Me cake is something we created on purpose so people would eat it and say, ‘wait a minute, I need my camera to take a picture and post this,” said Mark Birnbaum, co-founder of EMM Group, the company behind Catch.
  • Remind guests to share: Menus, napkins and matchbooks used to only show a hotel or bar website (if that), but now it’s all about the hashtags. Remind guests that not only is photography allowed, but it’s encouraged.

What are you doing to encourage social sharing at your hotel? Drop a comment below, email me at or find me on Twitter @HNN_Steph

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