The Craving for Local Color and Culture

By David Ashen Principal and Founder, dash design | June 18, 2017

There was a time in America, before the proliferation of national chains, when every town had an independent, family-run hotel. With the rise of soft-branded properties and increasing demand for guest stays in properties reflective of local culture. But with the the rise in popularity of soft-branded properties, there now seems to be a prevailing interest in the return of independent hotels.

This backlash to the sea of “sameness” characterized by national chains might be the result of the dulling of our senses from the often-excessive amount of time we spend with our faces buried in our digital screens and the resulting need to engage our senses in more dynamic ways when we leave our homes and workplaces. Then again, could the desire for heightened differences among hospitality venues be a generational issue, where younger generations more keenly value authentic experiences? Either way, we are seeing the end of the chain hotel as we know it.

Let’s go back a bit. The rise of the chain hotel came about as a result of the development of the automobile industry and the U.S. highway system in the mid part of the last century. At the time, early brands like Motel 6, filled a need for stop-overs, for people that hit the roads, on their way to a final destination. These early hotel brands provided a reliably clean and affordable night’s rest and were so successful that the formula became the model for the abundance of brands we see today, as well as those of the luxury market, both in the U.S. and then across the planet.

Adding to the escalating success of branded hotels around the globe is that their comforts weren’t lost on American guests, including those who felt that they’d previously endured inadequate accommodations during their travels abroad. I remember a story from my grandfather, where, on a trip to Moscow, he’d suffered the indignity of enduring an irritating toilet tissue at the hotel where he stayed. If Moscow had a Marriott in those days, that would never have been an issue.

While welcoming lodgings are always appreciated, over time, the similar qualities of the many international brands have detracted from the group’s overriding popularity. Hospitality notable, Ian Schrager, noticed the trend toward tedium in the brands early on, countering it with the development of the boutique hotel in the 1980s. By seeing hotels as destinations in and of themselves, Schrager filled a previously unseen void by creating boutique hotels that did more than provide ample comfort for overnight stays. They also were places to be seen.

Schrager’s hotels, in fact, captured the zeitgeist of New York and Miami so well that others attempted to follow suit through copycat establishments. Now, decades later, such properties have evolved into the rise of numerous independent sites that are less about exclusivity and more about inclusion, by welcoming guests into the location, including the neighborhood or city where the property resides.

Coming up in January 2018...

Mobile Technology: Relentless Innovation

Technology has become a crucial component in attracting and retaining hotel guests, and the need to enhance a guest’s technology experience is driving a relentless pace of innovation. To meet and exceed guest expectations, 54% of hotels will spend more on technology in 2018, and mobile solutions in particular will top the list of capital investments. Many hotels are integrating mobile booking, mobile keys, mobile payments and mobile check-in into their operations. Other hotels are emphasizing the in-room experience, boosting bandwidth and upgrading flat screen TVs to more easily interface with guest mobile devices. And though not yet mainstream, there are many exciting technology developments on the near horizon. The Internet of Things (loT) is taking form in some places, and can be found in guest room control systems, voice activation systems, and in wearable sensors that can be used for access and payment options. Virtual reality headsets are available at some hotels so guests can enjoy virtual trips to exotic locations or if off-property, preview conference facilities and guest rooms. How long will it be before a hotel employs a fleet of robots for room service, or utilizes a hologram as a concierge, or installs gesture-controlled walls that feature interactive digital displays? Some hotels are already using augmented reality for translation services, or interactive wall maps, or even virtual décor. This pace of innovation is challenging property owners and brands to stay on top of the latest technology trends while still addressing current projects. The January Hotel Business Review will explore what some hotels are doing to maximize their opportunities in the mobile technology space.