Skift Take

This North Carolina boutique property is bringing in retail partnerships to help it stand out from the crowd as more hotels start competing for the return of incentive and retreat bookings.

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When some of car maker Toyota’s top performing technicians check into Hilton hotel The Foundry in Asheville, North Carolina, they’ll be given special jackets that can block cell phone signals — a feature many people would like to have in these always-connected times.

The “Turbo Puff” jacket perk is just one element of the hotel’s new approach to building bespoke corporate packages, with the crossover with clothing label The Arrivals, and other brands, helping the property pick up new business.

“Packages are curated in house, and they’re talking points that we pitch to our clients even before they sign a contract with us,” said director of sales Nicole Stewart. “I feel it gives us a little more leverage over our competitors.”

The Foundry is also growing its retreat business off the back of its health and wellness offering, and Stewart notes that all sectors, in particular manufacturing and pharmaceutical, are starting to making group bookings.

The hotel, which is a member of Hilton’s Curio Collection, is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains in the U.S., so well placed to tap into the trend of wellness tourism as more people seek refuge in nature for a chance to disconnect. While some accommodation providers go as far as confiscating mobile phones, The Foundry’s latest digital detox packages instead give guests the choice of when to wear the cell phone-blocking jacket. “It’s awaiting upon arrival at check-in. It’s up to the individual when to use it, and decide when they want to go off grid,” Stewart said. “It’s more about team building, they all get to dress alike, and it’s something they get to take home and keep as a memory of their experience here.”

“Forest bathing” is also being offered, alongside other activities from Asheville Wellness Tours which partners with local entrepreneurs, instructors, guides and healing practitioners.

“It’s a niche market, but there’s definitely more interest in wellness travel as far as corporate retreats and groups go,” Stewart added. “We’re only two months into the year, but the majority of our business has been incentive and retreat travel.”

Blurring the Lines With Retail

The tie-up with The Arrivals comes as more e-commerce platforms step in to help guests purchase items. 

Startup Libi (Love it, Buy it) is an e-commerce platform that connects hotels and resorts to consumer lifestyle brands, enabling guests to buy products they encounter in their room at the click of a button. Items can range from bedding and furnishing to art and design, food and drink to consumer technology, and even sports and wellbeing accessories.

And The Host Co., which recently raised $1.85 million, makes decor in short-term rentals easily purchasable by guests. “We are currently helping short-term rental hosts curate a value-add experience for their guests and make more money from every booking,” said co-founder Annie Sloan. 

Meanwhile bed manufacturer Eight Sleep has a program targeting Airbnb hosts, offering them special prices for its high-tech mattresses. Guests can then use the Eight Sleep app to program their own temperature, health monitoring and digital sleep coaching preferences when away from home. Some Airbnb hosts are even using it to promote their apartments, like this “Lux 1-Bed Powered by Eight Sleep” in Dallas. 

For The Foundry’s Stewart, more retail collaborations are now being planned. “Companies like having a trendy jacket or a gift, or just something to take home, even branded,” she said. “It goes a long way.”

Sidenotes

The labor crunch continues to bite in the UK, where Radisson Hotels brand Park Plaza in particular is finding things hard.

“Our recruitment team is actually on a UK-wide recruitment roadshow,” said Lauren Reay, account director, managed partnerships, at parent company PPHE Hotel Group. “I don’t think they’re allowed to come home until they’ve got many people signed up.”

Reay said the hotel group’s focus was to bring back staffing levels to pre-pandemic levels. Part of the problem, in London at least, was that many staff were seconded to help a local hospital, St Thomas’ — which sits directly opposite Park Plaza Westminster Bridge London  — during the battle against coronavirus.

“Not only have we supported them with accommodation, but also staffing support,” Reay said during a Tripbam webinar on Thursday. “We gave them some of our staff that our expert in running large events to help with the vaccine rollout, and some of our administration staff. And they’ve never come back to our hotels, they’ve stayed with the hospital.”

The conversation came up as Reay discussed the ongoing rise in room rates, which reflected the increased pressure on staffing. “As a business, we foresee ongoing pressure with energy pricing, and supply chain, which will likely drive further rate increases,” she warned.

While hotels in the U.S. added an encouraging 23,000 jobs last month, the picture across Europe may be different for some time. 

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Tags: airbnb, business travel, coronavirus, corporate travel, covid-19, ctm, Future of Work Briefing, hilton, radisson, retreats, Skift Pro Columns, tripbam, wellness tourism