Economy brands target experiential travelers
01 SEPTEMBER 2015 7:57 AM
Marketers at economy hotel brands believe adventure-seeking travelers will choose more basic accommodations to allow them to spend more money on memory-making experiences.
GLOBAL REPORT—Experience is the new currency in the travel industry, and executives of hotel brands, especially in the economy segment, recognize many travelers would rather spend money on gathering travel experiences than on their accommodations.
“We’ve taken an aggressive price-point positioning to serve guests by providing them with what they actually want,” said Lance Miceli, executive VP and chief marketing officer for G6 Hospitality, which includes the Motel 6 and Studio 6 brands. “We emphasize that by staying at Motel 6, they can save more for what they travel for,” he said, which means guests can spend the money they save on the hotel on their local experiences.
Leisure travelers, especially those in the millennial demographic, often travel for the experience rather than the luxury and amenities provided by hotels. A recent study from American Express Travel showed that more than 80% of consumers of all ages are more interested in making memories than making money, and 85% plan to travel as much, or more, for leisure in the next five years.
Miceli said while millennials fit this description, the brand markets to a wider audience not necessarily based on age.
“While we have a core group of users that tends to be around 35 years old and older, that’s the less interesting piece,” he said. “It’s really about a mindset and drive to explore because that’s what people are ultimately doing when they travel.”
Miceli said Motel 6 employs a robust social media marketing campaign to engage with this segment before they arrive and while on property. Embedded into the brand’s mobile site is information on points of interest near the booked property and related to the time of the stay.
“If a guest is going to Albuquerque (New Mexico) and it happens to be during the balloon festival, these content cards on the property’s page outline nearby restaurants, gas stations, coffee shops and even provide up-to-date information on the festival,” he said.
Other economy brands are emphasizing that idea of saving on the room to spend on the experience as well. A marketing campaign from Red Roof Inn called “Go More, Go Better” encourages guests to share their travel experiences with existing and potential customers.
“The campaign speaks to engaging with our customers about their travel adventures and the stories they have about their travels,” said Marina MacDonald, chief marketing officer. Guests also are asked to post selfies with their families and pets.
MacDonald said the efforts have helped the brand penetrate the millennial travel market.
“We’re seeing a definite uptick of millennial travel, but also within our traditional core group of guests we’re seeing more customers blending their business travel with their personal interests,” she said. “If they’re going to West Virginia on business, they might also bring a bike to do a mountain ride. We absolutely see the new ‘bleisure’ traveler and we’re embracing it.”
Leveraging a rich history
Howard Johnson is one of the oldest brands in the hotel industry, and chain executives are using its 60-plus-year history as a marketing tool to retain long-time customers and appeal to a new group of travelers.
Two years ago, the Wyndham Hotel Group launched a campaign to reinvigorate the Howard Johnson brand with upgrades to its service levels and physical product to reflect its history and origins as an family-oriented restaurant chain.
“Howard Johnson started as a soda fountain, and in the past we attracted a lot of family travelers, as well as business travelers,” said Cynthia Liu, VP of operations for Howard Johnson. “Today, we’re still targeting families traveling with kids, but also milennials, many of whose parents and grandparents stayed with us in the past.”
Howard Johnson uses a series of marketing promotions to provide deals to customers while invoking the chain’s sense of history that Liu said includes a focus on “delivering happiness and smiles to our guests.”
One promotion, Happy Monday, offers room discounts for mid-week reservations booked on Mondays. Another one, Orange Wednesday, offers 50% off stays at selected properties. The promotion is only good on what the company calls Orange Wednesday, or the Wednesday following Black Friday in November, the traditional start of the holiday shopping season.
“Even though millennials aren’t that interested in history, they’re interested in experience and in getting good deals,” she said.
A hostel environment
Hostels are a sector of the accommodations industry most closely aligned with the millennial generation. Based in the United Kingdom, Generator Hostels has grown from two properties in 2007 to 10 in the U.K. and Europe, with two more to open in 2016.
Josh Wyatt, chief strategic officer of Generator, said the chain attracts a wide range of guests who are all looking for experiences.
“Each property has a different category of guests, ranging from recent college graduates and ‘slashies’—those who are DJs/artists/writers—to families and business travelers,” he wrote in an email. “The overall common thread is a passion for unique, local experiences. These travelers also seek value for a dollar and don’t need huge rooms with extra closets and tables they’ll never use. They prefer to meet new people and explore nightlife and restaurant options throughout the city.”