Why experiences are a pivotal part of success
Why experiences are a pivotal part of success
05 NOVEMBER 2019 8:17 AM

Capitalizing on the continuing growth of the leisure segment should be a clear priority for hotel owners and operators as experience-based travel is booming.

Savvy hotel owners and operators are wired to look ahead: to think critically about what is next, and to adapt and evolve accordingly.

At national conferences, industry events and in informal discussions with peers and fellow professionals, hoteliers do more than just parse the data—they see through the noise looking for the next big thing that will give them an edge in a crowded and competitive business.

With implications of Airbnb potentially being responsible for a “cap” on average daily rate in some areas, hoteliers have been talking about a tight labor market and the value of building and maintaining a strong professional culture. There have been some fascinating explorations of how the hotel industry’s focus on direct bookings, improved web presence and improved two-way communication with best guests might begin to turn the tide on online travel agencies with respect to third-party commissions.

Those are all important and worthy topics—deserving of critical thought and discussion. But one of the biggest and potentially most impactful trends in the months and years ahead is likely to be the continuation of something that is already happening: how consumers are prioritizing and spending on leisure travel and activities. That is important because it is much more than a line item on a spreadsheet. The continued strength of the leisure segment is an expression of much more profound and significant cultural shift: the desire for new and different experiences.

Experience-based travel and recreation is booming, and while this trend is certainly being driven by younger travelers—78% of millennials would reportedly elect to spend their money on a great experience over a product—it is a pattern that extends across demographic boundaries.

Collectively, we are still a society of consumers—but we are increasingly consumers of experiences. There is growing recognition that there will always be another product or a new thing, but irreplaceable experiences endure. Experiences cut through the digital clutter and wearying commoditization of today’s world in a way that resonates and drives decision-making. It increasingly dictates how we spend our time and our dollars.

Another way of putting it is that, at its core, experiential travel is about making memories, and those memories are built on connections. That is where hotels enter the picture. Because that is what great hotels do: They connect guests to people, places, events and experiences that they would not otherwise be exposed to. Hotels connect travelers to new sights, sounds, flavors and ideas. They facilitate those connections, and fulfilling guests’ desires for new and different memorable experiences needs to be a priority for hotel owners and operators going forward.

The fact that the hotel industry is positioned at the nexus of an important societal trend is a big deal. Because that is where consumers are going with their dollars, hotels need to be allocating their resources accordingly. But, while it is easy to say that capitalizing on the continued growth of the leisure segment should be a clear priority for hoteliers, it is not always quite so clear to hotel owners and operators what concrete steps they need to be taking to make that happen.

The good news is that, to some extent, it is already happening. The difference a decade makes is remarkable, and an industry that had become overly commercialized and commoditized has been moving in the right (increasingly experiential) direction for some time now. In 2009, a hotel stay was a commodity. In 2019, it’s an adventure. Many of the steps we have been taking as an industry—opening up lobbies to encourage engagement and interaction, making more of an effort to create great menus with regional cuisine, locally sourced ingredients and signature cocktails—are about elevating experiences and providing guests with opportunities to relish a memorable and defining sense of place.

It may seem like a small thing, but the fact that some of the most successful hotels and resorts in the industry are putting out ads that don’t even show the hotel and instead simply feature people doing fun things together, is a clear sign that something fundamental has shifted. It’s an implicit acknowledgement of what might feel like a startling or even blasphemous thought to many longtime hotel professionals—the notion that, in many respects, the hotel itself is becoming somewhat of a means to an end.

But this needs to continue. It needs to be accepted and embraced. Experiential engagement needs to be a part of everything you do as a hotel. That means fewer silos of business units inside the hotel and more collaborative planning. It means giving more thought to finding new ways to de-commoditize your hotel experience and unlock new opportunities for your guests. And, ultimately, it means giving those guests more opportunities to spend money. The experience doesn’t just happen—hoteliers need to make it happen. Hotel owners and operators need to make a conscious business plan with specific operational elements, and they need to stick to it. From the first minute guests start thinking of booking until after they are gone, hotels need to give them the chance to spend the disposable income that they are increasingly willing to spend. That’s not just a t-shirt—it’s a memory.

The importance of creating an experience is by no means a new topic, but it is too often treated like a theoretical discussion. But experience-driven hospitality and memory-making is not something magical—it’s a practical and pivotal piece of hotel success, and it is likely to be an increasingly important ingredient for the foreseeable future.

Chris Green is president and CEO of Chesapeake Hospitality and brings more than a quarter century of successful hospitality operations experience to Chesapeake's corporate team, including nearly a decade in the field at various Chesapeake-managed properties. He is responsible for all field operations of the Chesapeake managed estate, a portfolio of properties that continues to evolve to reflect the contours of a changing marketplace. Under Green’s leadership, Chesapeake has demonstrated a proven ability to deliver industry-leading financial results across a wide range of markets and hospitality concepts. Green understands how to balance a property’s long-term strategic vision with the practical immediacy of day-to-day operational demands, and he takes a leading role in actively managing, improving and protecting every asset.

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