Beyond Boutique: Reimagining Guest Relationships in an Experiential Age

By Robert Reitknecht Founder, Robert Reitknecht | April 08, 2018

Today's guests have made it clear that "different" is no longer good enough. Once-exclusive perks like free valet and continental breakfast no longer hold their weight compared to the promise of a truly personal touch; one that genuinely resonates with guests based on their individuality. Generic amenities are falling by the wayside as more guests seek elite escapes that transcend the norm.

In today's age of personalization, guests want their hotel experience to rival their wildest Pinterest board fantasies. They want their interactions to be as individualized as their Etsy account. They want to invest their hard-earned dollars into a property that truly reflects who they are as a person (case in point: this survey from travel magazine Afar that helps readers determine which hotel they should stay at based on their personality). This is why a couple craving a traditional New England experience will choose Ocean House in Rhode Island for its croquet lawn and Lilly Pulitzer-inspired beach cabanas, versus a local Double Tree or Hampton Inn.

Evolving guest expectations and behaviors have introduced a new era of hospitality; one that focuses on hyper-personalization (otherwise referred to as boutique hoteling). The idea of delivering everything under the sun is becoming increasingly irrelevant as guests seek special attention from brands that individuate. This is a significant paradigm shift in the industry, as demonstrated by several leading chains like Hyatt (Andaz Hotels), Hilton (Canopy by Hilton), Marriott (Autograph Collection) and more.

But this is more than just a guest experience strategy; it is a belief that drives organizational culture and values. It is about reimagining the role of the hotel in an experiential age where relationships matter more than service. So, how can hotels (or any brand, for that matter) embrace this mentality to competitively differentiate? There are several steps that should be taken on the front-end, back-end and everywhere in-between.

Always Start with Introspection

Boutique hotels have reported some of today's highest occupancy and revenue rates; however, this should not be your main driver for change if you take the long-term view of business. Your efforts should always come from a genuine place of caring for your customers. There should be an authenticity to your actions, and a greater purpose than simply bolstering near-term revenue (customers will always be able to sniff out the difference).

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Coming up in February 2019...

Social Media: Getting Personal

There Social media platforms have revolutionized the hotel industry. Popular sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and Tumblr now account for 2.3 billion active users, and this phenomenon has forever transformed how businesses interact with consumers. Given that social media allows for two-way communication between businesses and consumers, the emphasis of any marketing strategy must be to positively and personally engage the customer, and there are innumerable ways to accomplish that goal. One popular strategy is to encourage hotel guests to create their own personal content - typically videos and photos -which can be shared via their personal social media networks, reaching a sizeable audience. In addition, geo-locational tags and brand hashtags can be embedded in such posts which allow them to be found via metadata searches, substantially enlarging their scope. Influencer marketing is another prevalent social media strategy. Some hotels are paying popular social media stars and bloggers to endorse their brand on social media platforms. These kinds of endorsements generally elicit a strong response because the influencers are perceived as being trustworthy by their followers, and because an influencer's followers are likely to share similar psychographic and demographic traits. Travel review sites have also become vitally important in reputation management. Travelers consistently use social media to express pleasure or frustration about their guest experiences, so it is essential that every review be attended to personally. Assuming the responsibility to address and correct customer service concerns quickly is a way to mitigate complaints and to build brand loyalty. Plus, whether reviews are favorable or unfavorable, they are a vital source of information to managers about a hotel's operational performance.  The February Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to effectively incorporate social media strategies into their businesses.