Hotels Getting Social to Compete With the Sharing Economy

By Simon Hudson Endowed Chair in Tourism & Hospitality, University of South Carolina | February 19, 2017

The sharing economy is having a disruptive influence on the lodging sector, with evidence that Airbnb's entry into some markets has had a quantifiable negative impact on local hotel revenues. Can hotels compete with this new phenomenon without compromising on price? I believe they can. Recent research suggests that the sharing economy appeals to consumers not just because of price, flexibility, and ease of use. Consumers are also attracted by social benefits; guests of Airbnb for example, enjoy interacting with their hosts in an 'authentic' setting, and even gain local connections with the host's help.

There are also emotional benefits to using sharing economy platforms - research has shown that users of Airbnb have more fun than they do staying at more traditional accommodations. So hotels can beat the sharing economy at its own game by providing a more authentic, engaging, and social experience. In fact, a recent research report from Deloitte suggests that to survive, the hotel of the future will have to build more personal connections with and between guests.

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Sutton Hotel, Revelstoke, Canada
This can be as simple as hosting a social hour for guests on arrival. Recently, I stayed at the Sutton Place Hotel at the base of the ski hill in Revelstoke, Canada, and was invited to a welcome reception to enjoy a glass of wine and a selection of locally-sourced cheeses. The key motivation behind the event, hosted every evening from 4-7pm, is to encourage guests to socialize, says concierge Marco Mahringer. "We also use it as an opportunity to provide guests with further information about the hotel and what they can do during their stay." Mahringer says that about 80% of guests come down for a drink on their first evening. "Often they are a little stressed and tired after a long journey, so it is a great way for them to relax and speak to fellow skiers or snowboarders".

Other hotel groups are completely redesigning spaces in order to encourage social interaction. The M-Beta in Charlotte, for example, Marriott's testing ground for new hotel technology and services, encourages social interaction between guests and staff in several ways. On arrival, there is no traditional front desk check-in. Guests are welcomed at the curb by associates, who guide them through check-in at tables in the lobby, similar to how Geniuses greet customers at an Apple store. In the Immersive Kitchen at Stoke restaurant, the walls between the kitchen and dining area have been removed, placing guests in the center of the action, allowing chefs to interact more closely with guests and entertain them with impromptu culinary offerings. The interactive space also encourages a sense of exploration among guests with a regular rotation of local artisan tastings and cooking classes.

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The Immersive Kitchen within Stoke restaurant at M-Beta in Charlotte, North Carolina

Meanwhile, Marriott's Element brand is piloting a bold new guest room design that will feature a communal room in the center of four guest rooms, allowing travelers to share a kitchen, dining room and lounge area. The company says that this will provide more collaborative space for groups who would like to spend time together in a more private setting. Element hotels tend to offers travelers a fresh interpretation of the traditional hotel experience with natural light, modern design, healthy options and eco-minded sensibilities. To date, there are 22 Element Hotels worldwide, with 19 in North America, two in Europe and one in Asia Pacific, with new domestic and international hotels in development.

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Coming up in June 2019...

Sales & Marketing: Selling Experiences

There are innumerable strategies that Hotel Sales and Marketing Directors employ to find, engage and entice guests to their property, and those strategies are constantly evolving. A breakthrough technology, pioneering platform, or even a simple algorithm update can cause new trends to emerge and upend the best laid plans. Sales and marketing departments must remain agile so they can adapt to the ever changing digital landscape. As an example, the popularity of virtual reality is on the rise, as 360 interactive technologies become more mainstream. Chatbots and artificial intelligence are also poised to become the next big things, as they take guest personalization to a whole new level. But one sales and marketing trend that is currently resulting in major benefits for hotels is experiential marketing - the effort to deliver an experience to potential guests. Mainly this is accomplished through the creative use of video and images, and by utilizing what has become known as User Generated Content. By sharing actual personal content (videos and pictures) from satisfied guests who have experienced the delights of a property, prospective guests can more easily imagine themselves having the same experience. Similarly, Hotel Generated Content is equally important. Hotels are more than beds and effective video presentations can tell a compelling story - a story about what makes the hotel appealing and unique. A video walk-through of rooms is essential, as are video tours in different areas of a hotel. The goal is to highlight what makes the property exceptional, but also to show real people having real fun - an experience that prospective guests can have too. The June Hotel Business Review will report on some of these issues and strategies, and examine how some sales and marketing professionals are integrating them into their operations.