Hospitality is a crowded industry. The number of destinations, attractions, and lodging choices overwhelms consumers. How can a hotel hope to stand out?
Today's experience-driven travelers want more than a place to sleep but an unforgettable stay. While many hotels develop special offers that add experiences to the stay, fewer properties excel at experiences that generate demand and inspire people to travel.
During my Global Hospitality Management master's program at New York University, "unique, memorable, and authentic experiences" were a recurring topic across virtually every course. We analyzed consumer preferences, particularly those of Millennials and Gen Z travelers, as they continue to gain buying power.
These younger generations are increasingly tech-savvy travelers, craving bespoke offers and personalized experiences tailored to their preferences. Moreover, they seek to immerse themselves in local culture and forge meaningful connections during their travels.
Some hospitality brands have capitalized on this trend by providing experiences that become unique narratives. Those narratives subsequently keep the brand relevant – in some cases for over a century.
The Ritz-Carlton, the beginnings of which stretch back to 1898 in Paris, became so well known for its distinctive experiences that it inspired a new adjective: ritzy. Over a century later, when people think of what it means to be "ritzy," perhaps an afternoon tea service at one of the brand's iconic properties still comes to mind.
More recently, Rosewood Hotels and Resorts has even trademarked its approach with its Sense of Place® philosophy. It reflects its commitment to capturing each property's local culture and destination spirit to facilitate authentic, original on-property experiences.
At Rosewood São Paulo, the brand commissioned the celebrated architect Phillipe Stark to transform the property into a "love letter to Brazil," with locally sourced design materials inspired by the country's diverse culture. With a groundbreaking collection of 450 site-specific artworks (all by Brazilian artists, informed by the Brazilian experience) and a vertical garden tower wrapped in 10,000 trees as part of a biodiversity program to repopulate the indigenous flora and fauna from the nearby Mata Atlantica rainforest, Rosewood São Paulo is more than a hotel. Merely stepping inside is to experience the heart and soul of Brazil.
Boutique brands have also implemented cost-effective and scalable solutions to implement authentic, community-minded experiences. The Artist in Residence program at Ace Hotel New York, initially launched in 2014, expanded last year to Brooklyn, Palm Springs, and New Orleans. By granting a local artist a room for a month, Ace Hotel positions itself at the center of each community, with artists showcasing their work at each property and bringing in locals and guests alike for cultural programming.
In today's competitive landscape, genuinely original experiences are the only way for hotels to stand out. While some brands like The Ritz-Carlton have compelling narratives ingrained in their DNA, and others like Rosewood and Ace Hotels are well underway, others must strategize to meet the moment.
Beyond merely providing experiences, these leading brands' offerings forge emotional connections with guests (significantly younger travelers, like Millennials and Gen Z) who demand authenticity and experiences worth sharing on social media.
Guest satisfaction, increasingly vital for operational success, hinges on offering an experience the guest can't find anywhere else. To remain competitive, hotels must:
- Identify unique brand narratives and differentiators. What can you say that another hotel can't?
- Collaborate with local partners (wellness brands, artists, musicians, authors) to curate immersive experiences that help forward the brand's narrative and tell a unique story.
- Generate demand by sharing experiences on digital channels, such as the hotel's social media and email newsletter, and with partners like Curacity, who can get the word out about your hotel in 40 of the world's best media brands, like AFAR and Travel + Leisure.
- Consistently deliver a strong guest experience by understanding travelers' demands and trends and meeting their needs.
By prioritizing experiences, hotels can ensure authenticity, guest satisfaction, and positive word-of-mouth, ultimately leading to new and repeat business to fuel your bottom line.