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LE Miami’s niche is what they broadly define as “contemporary luxury,” which includes flags like Morgans, Commune, W, 25hours, The Standard, Ace, and others in the upscale lifestyle segment. The white paper is the result of the Leadership Lab event at this year’s show, held in Miami this past June, where a wide swath of top executives helming those brands discussed today’s hospitality consumer trends.
Sponsored by Departures and Travel + Leisure magazines, the report foretells the future of hotel experiences through the lens of three themes: Think Context, relating to the luxury consumer psychographic; Curate Collectively, examining the rise of next generation “travel intermediaries” (agents); and Sell Different, discussing how hotel brands require a strong point of view to be successful today.
With contemporary travel “more and more about a mindset influenced by the context of each journey,” travel brands are building product and experiences that embrace specific consumer psychographics rather than demographics. The luxury traveler profile today spans all ages and backgrounds, male and female, and many different source markets, so the common thread for hotel brands today is how people travel, not who is traveling.
Meanwhile, the “Millennial travel trend” dialogue is starting to fade now that so many X’ers and Boomers are adopting travel mindsets similar to the digital-native crowd. It’s a messy world for hotel marketers these days.
“Our game is far more complex than it was,” says Brad Wilson, president of Ace Hotels. “It’s a very layered, very nuanced structure of understanding your customer that includes different levels of customer each with multiple personas.”
To better understand the customer of the future, hoteliers are keeping a close eye on the surging popularity of alternative lodging, such as hybrid hostels like Freehand and Generator, pop-up hotels, Airbnb, and the sharing economy in general. Wilson says those customers might not be luxury consumers, not yet, but they are informing luxury hoteliers about how the overall context of hospitality is evolving.
Amar Lalvani, CEO of The Standard, adds, “We can learn from the next generation of travelers who think that it’s normal to use Airbnb or Uber. How can these models translate to the hotel industry?”
This is somewhat surprising at first glance. LE Miami’s collection of hoteliers are placing a high value on travel agents and the amount of business they’re driving, based on the importance of humans to explain the contextual experience revolving around a specific luxury lifestyle hotel.
According to the, ahem, LE Miami Take, “Luxury fashion brands do not only sell their key products online; they position them in their shop where their magical aspect can be revealed through human interaction…. People are beginning to understand that travel intermediaries are the only people who can provide advice that is truly tailored to their needs.”
The white paper suggests that the evolution of contemporary luxury presents a huge opportunity for travel agents who define their niche and position themselves as expert curators of the hotel experience. Today’s luxury consumer doesn’t just want to know what safari supplier to book, for example, they want to know which tent.
Additionally, when the same luxury traveler has multiple personas requiring travel customized in different ways based on those personas, the agent is the best sales channel to communicate those customizations to the individual property.
“The future is the hotel who wants to partner with the travel intermediary, going beyond the hotel door, rather than just seeing it as a sales intermediary,” says Norman Aynbinder, CEO of American Excursionist, a full-service travel package company.
With Google, review sites, and social media making the global travel journey almost completely transparent, traditional hotel sales and marketing tactics are crumbling at an exponential pace. Today, audiences balk at stale sales pitches, so travel brands have to have a strong point of view that’s well delineated in the marketplace and backed up both online and on-property.
“Longevity is about staying true to what you stand for,” says David Bowd, COO of André Balazs Properties. “You can enhance it, change it, but it still has to keep the same message.”
Sarah Doyle, global brand director for W Hotels, adds that once that singular brand voice is established, brands should get out of the way and let their customers do the rest. She says, “It’s about recognizing that the guests are selling us, recognizing the landscape of dialogue and not getting too overt in trying to market ourselves.”
The challenge according to many of the different hoteliers is producing enough new and engaging content marketing to build a symbiotic relationship between brand and consumer over the long run. Hotel groups such as 25hours in Europe have become master storytellers, aligning product and content differently for each specific property. Others are still exploring how exactly to create those relationships when consumer psychographics are so in flux.
And then there are those brands, including some of the above, who have created an almost iconic status for themselves in the lifestyle hospitality segment. Much of that is based on highly defined product and executed experiences, and robust social sharing.
“It used to be that the product was 50% of the cost and the marketing the other 50%,” says Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Outpost. “Now the product is 95% and the marketing takes care of itself.”
Greg Oates covers hospitality and tourism development. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.