Where hotels can improve in driving guest experiences
Where hotels can improve in driving guest experiences
13 SEPTEMBER 2019 7:42 AM

A panel of hoteliers agreed that Airbnb’s ability to sell experiences along with room rentals puts it ahead of the hotel industry in giving experience-minded guests what they really want.

NASHVILLE, Tennessee—One look at Instagram or Snapchat yields proof users are dressing up their experiences for social-media renown, and those efforts double on trips.

Airbnb has steadily built its experiential offerings, selling them right alongside the rooms, apartments and homes in the same market, allowing the browsing user to begin to design their perfect stay experience. So how can hoteliers offer the same experiences?

Javier Egipciaco, SVP and managing director at Arlo Hotels, said it can be a challenge to craft a unique experience that multiple hotel guests each might want.

“With Airbnb, you have an individual going into an individual’s home, and maybe that individual shows you around the city, gives you the experience,” Egipciaco said on the “Preparing for the experience-driven guest” panel at the 2019 Hotel Data Conference. “I think from our perspective and learning about the traveler, we’re careful to go to market and under-deliver the experience. We don’t want to say, ‘This person is going to give you a personalized tour,’ and then we get 15 people—which is a small percentage of the 500 or 600 that are in our building every day—and then we’re unable to deliver that experience.

“So how do we—just short of being the tour bus guide—how do we create that unique experience for the masses is what we’re trying to figure out. That’s what gives Airbnb the advantage when guests are booking those experiences.”

An Airbnb guest who books an experience also benefits from doing something away from the property they’ve booked. Amy Hulbert, VP of boutique and upscale brands at Best Western Hotels & Resorts, said hotels can be somewhat limited in generating revenue from experiences away from the building.

“That’s exactly what we’re not doing well in the hotel space,” she said. “We may be becoming very good at what we can do inside the hotel where we have control over it, but figuring out the outside things to fully differentiate us from Airbnb, that’s really where we’re not executing to the same level as we have the opportunity.”

Egipciaco said his hotels have hosted activities like themed movie nights or “digital detox” sessions during happy hour to keep business travelers on-site, but he admitted it’s a balance.

“We’re in New York City, we’re in Miami, we’re in D.C., we’re in LA, and let’s face it, not many people want to stay at your hotel the entire time,” he said. “So if the average stay is a two- or three-night stay, and we can capture a guest once for activation, that’s great, but we’re also going to promote the great restaurant that just opened up around the block on top of the offerings that we have. If they’re in New York City, they’re going to go experience the city, so embrace that, but also give them the opportunity to experience what you have to offer at your hotel.”

Brands and independents
Hulbert said she’s encouraged by the growing spending power among younger generations, and although these travelers are looking for unique experiences, she’s confident brands will be able to deliver them.

“It’s nice to see that younger traveler is out there and starting to spend money and that they want something different,” she said. “When we talk about Airbnb, still 60% of that segment prefers hotels over Airbnb, just because I want something unique, but I want something that’s reliably clean and reliably safe and all those things that come with a hotel brand. If we leverage this, there’s great opportunity in the hotel space and especially in the brand space to make up something that’s really unique for that guest.”

Cartarwa Jones, VP of investment and portfolio analysis at RLJ Lodging Trust, said her company is interested in launching new hotel experiences as long as there’s measurable ROI. That could even come from a property’s social media presence.

“Social media can do a tremendous amount for a hotel … We had a situation in San Francisco at our Courtyard—it’s just not another Courtyard, it’s very different (and in a historic building)—and we had a lot of hits on social media about the hotel, and that generated a lot of response and a lot of guests coming into the hotel,” Jones said. “I think by providing a good experience and providing something different for guests, that helps eliminate some of the costs at a hotel. From an owner’s perspective, that’s very important.”

Jones said soft brands have brought more flexibility in providing guests with unique experiences, and Hulbert added that was one of the factors behind Best Western’s February acquisition of WorldHotels.

As an independent hotelier, Egipciaco said he’s starting to see brands gaining ground on independents and boutiques with soft brands and even some of the newer brands that have been launched. He specifically cited Marriott International’s Moxy Hotels brand, which he said he’s visited and didn’t “feel cookie-cutter.”

“We’re trying to level the playing field through experiences, and the brands like Marriott are also leveling the playing field in the design perspective,” Egipciaco said.

But brands still lag independents when it comes to engagement, and although the brands might have more technology to increase engagement with guests, those solutions don’t always work as they should, Hulbert said.

“Mobile is going to get more traction and better engagement with customers,” she said. “I tried mobile check-in here (at the JW Marriott Nashville) and couldn’t yesterday, so I still ended up at the front desk, but it was still a great experience with that person and they were telling me about some restaurants and places I should see and things like that. There’s a possibility that the brands just aren’t getting the engagement quite yet.”

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