Small groups, such as wedding parties, want to mingle, but most hotels don't make it easy. Meanwhile, vacation rentals often lack professional hospitality services. So many group travelers are seeking better lodging options.
TMC Hospitality has a theory about U.S. travel. It believes that more people are traveling in groups — for reunions, team meetings, and destination weddings — than before. But it also believes that the typical hotel today isn’t aren’t equipped with the amenities addressing these travelers’ needs.
Since 2019, TMC Hospitality has invented, invested in, developed, and operated two hotel brands to serve this group travel audience: the mid-priced Bode and the “four-star” Drift.
“They’re very much catering to what we call ‘social group travelers,’ which are parties of three or more who are traveling as a family or friends or colleagues and who want the professional services and amenities and decor of a lifestyle hotel,” said Philip Bates, managing partner at TMC Group and CEO of Bode. “We have multi-bedroom units with living rooms, balconies, or fire pit areas where folks can hang out and have coffee or dinner together.”
The Bode and Drift brands are capitalizing on a trend Skift has identified as The Great Merging, or the blending of many aspects of people’s lives in a way that appears to be enduring even as the pandemic recedes.
Looking for “Destination Markets”
TMC Hospitality has been choosing markets that tend to draw group travelers. Bode is open in Nashville and Chatanooga. Drift is in San Jose del Cabo and Santa Barbara, with ones to open shortly in Palm Springs and Nashville. The company said it aims to expand to “30 to 40 markets” and that it’s currently managing “more than $200 million worth of projects.”
“We built two data tools to help us quantify and track the hot pockets to invest in for hospitality products to accommodate social group travelers,” Bates said.
“Nashville is a great example,” Bates said. “Lots of groups go there, like bachelor and bachelorette parties, because of the local music scene and the food-and-beverage scene. Santa Barbara draws a lot of wedding parties and people attending tennis tournaments and all kinds of festivals.”
The company is looking at markets such as Savannah; Charleston, S.C.; Greenville, S.C.; Atlanta; San Diego; Austin; Los Angeles; and several cities in Florida.
Amenities Aimed at Groups
Both brands aim to serve group travelers, but Drift has an upmarket element.
“We had a smattering of guests at Bode that wanted a more sophisticated design and a more high-touch offering, so we created Drift,” Bates said. “A Drift may have a pantry stocked with the best gourmet items from local grocery stores, bakeries, and wineshops.”
The properties offer activities to encourage social connection. Some groups pay extra for private dinners hosted in-unit, on-property, or nearby. Some hire yoga instructors to lead group workshops.
“If you take surfing lessons as an example, we don’t do the traditional activity generically led by someone,” Bates said. “Our ethos is about providing the boards and equipment and a map of where the breaks are and then letting the group figure it out on its own.”
The brands aim for the vibe of visiting a rich relative’s country house stocked with food and supplies, rather than like a cruise ship with generic activities with strangers.
When groups plan trips, someone typically gets stuck with being the planner and paying the bills. TMC is working on creating a digital tool to help lessen customers’ pain in collecting money from multiple guests.
Tech Tools for Hotel Growth
TMC Hospitality is using an array of technologies to help grow its brands.
To help with distribution, the company markets Drift and Bode as brands on Airbnb and other vacation rental booking services and traditional online travel agencies.
The company claims it keeps commission costs low by driving a lot of direct bookings, partly by optimizing its website, cost-per-click ads, social media ads, and other marketing.
It also uses off-the-shelf software to streamline processes.
“We look at both the entire customer journey and the entire employee journey and see where the pain points and inefficiencies are,” Bates said. “We’ll buy some software off the shelf, but some tools don’t exist for what we want to do, so we have a team of six full-time developers and a project architect that is refining our tech stack for functions like revenue management, sales and marketing, accounting, distribution, and most importantly streamlining on-premise processes our employees face.”
Right now, TMC Hospitality isn’t doing franchising. It is heavily involved in the development and management of properties to make sure it hires people with the training to deliver higher-touch services for groups — and that the formula is working overall. It has been the developer or has co-developed with a local partner for its projects so far.
Bode and Drift are placing their bets on group travel at a time when large hotel brands are still catching up to making it seamless to book connected rooms and provide lifestyle decor and services — and at a time when professional property managers are increasingly running vacation rentals.
Tags: blended travel, future of lodging, great merging, group travel, groups, hotel brands, hotel development, hotel investments, hotel management
Photo credit: A penthouse room at the Drift brand property in Santa Barbara that opened in 2022. Source: TMC Group.