Travel is continuously changing, colored by the digital evolution. Low airfares on scheduled flights and low cost airlines are paving way to affordable yet rather comfortable short and long trips. Last minute or advance planned travel is simple and straightforward. It starts becoming a bit more challenging when finding the hotel that suits the travelers need. Hotel stays are driven by loyalty cards, corporate contracts or brand recognition. I recently stayed in a hotel in Paris that was re branded to a Hilton, resulting immediately in an increase in average rate and significant increase in occupancy. Imagine a business traveler based in Memphis traveling to Paris for the first time, not knowing the city at all, the choice will most likely be a brand that is known, like Sheraton, Wyndham or something similar both to collect points for the next leisure trip, but probably even more so, the security of the brand name, a guarantee of a certain service level of comfort, to ensure a pleasurable stay. The rise of independent and boutique hotels and resorts tell us a different story though. Reading online and offline magazines, subscribing to newsletters, send a message that travelers are looking for a different experience. No matter whether it is for business or leisure purposes, we are apparently tired of the masses. Hotel chains are confirming that by creating new boutique brands in their portfolio. They are right in doing so, it is a great effort to not only keep their loyal customers, but also attract the new type of millennial traveler.
A successful part of Mocinno international, my company, represents luxury hotels from all over the world in the Nordic countries, assisting them with their local marketing and transient business from luxury travel agents. Since these travel agents are much more focused on the personal service or concierge service as you will, the hotels contracted are not only luxury but need to deliver an experience which is unique. In fact the demand for hotels that are not part of the big boys, but have their own unique design, their unique offering are on the serious increase. Does not mean the service or comfort levels should be different, but the overall experience and wow effect is in full focus. Mocinno is also seeing many changes in the industry, whereas the large chains remain our loyal clients, we also see a shift to property developers. They are looking to build new or turn offices or existing historic buildings into boutique hotels, understanding the great cash flow opportunities and ROI of investing into hotel development. We consult in anything from branding, preopening, design to setting up operations. The change in the industry and and attracting the right market segment is much more complicated and challenging then it ever was, simply because hotels no longer control their sales and marketing efforts as they did before.
So what are the reasons for traveler for choosing the local hotel experience and is the hospitality industry ready for it?
- Increased knowledge and online availability. On a recent flight to Athens with the fun airline Aegean, customers on board were entertained, with local information about selected cities we were flying over on their in-flight entertainment system. How extremely relevant is that, and sure there was also information on the screen about the end destination. Rather than opening the ordinary in-flight magazine with city information that is totally irrelevant. This innovative idea of Aegean is not only smart, it plays in on what travel is now all about; knowledge and experience. Before we travel we look into the destination, check out the website of the hotel we stay at. Online we read more, follow more and are continuous confronted with millions of resources of information, through social media, travel channels, newspapers or from friends. The rise of travel associated bloggers and online reviews is never ending. This incredible source of information lets us filter to what we need from our next trip. Beautiful pictures of a large chain hotel are nods competing with reviews, travelers own social media, experiences and opinions. Since we are digitalized, we learn much more and in a much shorter amount of time. Knowing much about the destination motivates our eager minds to explore more of the local, choosing a hotel that really suits our needs and matches or exceeds our expectations. With the continues increase in online bookings, the small hotels are making more efforts to be visible online to accommodate this need.
- The need to experience cultures authentically. The leisure traveler is the one more likely to spend time exploring a city or resort, however both leisure and business traveler have a strong interest in soaking up some local culture. The hotel stay plays a key role in that, since it can reflect the local culture well. The staff, the design of the hotel, the menu are elements that can play a role in the choice of the traveler. The small boutique hotels clearly notice this interest in local culture, not only because they have become so popular and always will be but the guests are staying longer to spend time to see and understand the surroundings, the food markets, the landscape, the history of the city and communicate with the locals. They want to know what events to join, what local art to see, and what the best evening walk is. The online tool, the concierge and reception play an extremely important role in this.
- The local and often boutique hotels might not offer full services, like a gym, restaurant or bar, but that should not be the focus as well. As a business traveler it is understood to need all services under one roof, or in the direct surroundings. Hotels show character through keeping the old architecture, and often these hotels are in buildings that are either historic or have been renovated to reflect the local style. Every detail in the hotel will matter to deliver that experience the traveler is looking for. Last week I was in Paris, at a hotel called Le Saint. A traditional building recently renovated in a stylish beautiful way, offering resting areas, public areas keeping to the typical Parisian style. The hotel is nestled away in the small cobbled street between little café’s and numerous galleries. Every guest who checks in can choose a flower from the flower arrangement in the lobby to bring to the bedroom. The bedrooms are constructed in a very French, detailed way, with all the beauty that Paris is so known for. Travelers are looking for the personal touch and a unique experience. Personnel who are educated and skilled to answer all the questions, about the hotel, the area, the local market, events, a great local gym, form a big part of this local individual experience.
- Exceeding expectation. The local boutique hotels are in general smaller than the typical chain hotels. The ultimate service and quality of the stay is what makes the stay generally more personal. This also paves way to exceed expectations of the guest. By finding out what the guest is really looking for, understanding their needs, the hotels will be able to offer a true local experience like a theatre, a fashion show, a specific local restaurant or shops. The hotel stay these days is much more about making the guest feel special, and to exceed the expectations.
A unique and personal stay does not mean the hotel has to be small, or boutique by all means. One recent example is the Hotel Plaza Athenee in Paris, a historic hotel that was recently renovated, and managed by the Dorchester Hotel Collection. When entering the hotel, guests are welcomed by the host in a red dress, signifying all the history of the hotel related to the red flowers on every balcony. Every room has its story. The service of the hotel is ultimately professional and personal. A true experience awaits the traveler. The rates reflect the luxurious and legendary hotel and service levels, but they are doing their best to stay local to fashion, great food & beverage experiences and much more.
The need for local experiences and the local hotels are not a trend, they confirm personality that every travelers needs to have, to enjoy the ultimate stay, both for business and leisure travel!
Some of these pearls that can be found in Paris:
About the Author
Jeroen Gulickx is a well-traveled hospitality professional with two business degrees and a Black Belt in Six Sigma certification, and has extensive experience within the Hotel & Spa segment.
The main capabilities vary from streamlining cost and operational models, strategy yielding, business development, and marketing to digital marketing.
In 2006 he started Mocinno International, a hospitality consulting company that now has offices and representation in 7 countries in Europe, USA, Middle East, Asia and Russia.
The Mocinno International team is focused on delivering incremental revenues for Hotels, Spa’s and also develops and strategizes hotel suppliers, using mainly the Six Sigma methodology.
Mocinno International works with a network of highly experienced, energetic and innovative people, based in key locations. The team also leads Client or Mocinno originated projects or concepts.
In 2015 he founded Local Treasures Hotels & Resorts,which will launch 2017.
Jeroen shares his over 20 years of industry knowledge through this blog, or other social media, and speaks at travel, marketing, innovation or strategy related forums. He wrote ‘A Hotelier’s Mind, setting strategy for the future’ a book to inspire hoteliers!