When it came time to plan this year’s summer vacation, my sister and I decided to go all-American and plan a road trip. For two weeks, we solicited recommendations from locals on what to see and eat when we stopped each day. The best tip came from the front desk attendant at the Hampton Inn in Salt Lake City. She volunteered the name of a great local restaurant that we probably wouldn’t have tried otherwise.
Those interactions crystallized for me exactly what we need more of in the hotel industry: authenticity.
More Than a Fly-by-Night Fad
Authenticity has become a buzzword in the travel industry in recent years, as travelers are eschewing traditional agencies and tour packages in favor of personally designed, experience-driven travel. Rather than insulation from the reality of a destination, travelers are seeking real connections and local offerings for a more well-rounded vacation.
The advent of Airbnb, HomeAway, Expedia, trivago, HotelTonight, and other online travel services and apps enables travelers to book vacations on their own terms, piecing together different elements to create custom experiences without hiring agencies. However, travel agents continue to play a role in the traveler’s planning by acting as travel advisers, going beyond booking services to provide in-depth, local expertise that ensures a unique experience.
"The way people book travel, with whom they travel, and their priorities while on the road are changing."
The way people book travel, with whom they travel, and their priorities while on the road are changing. The hotel industry is uniquely positioned to fulfill these evolving consumer needs by transitioning from broad, one-size-fits-all guest experiences to providing customized, authentic services to make people feel as though they’ve made the most of their vacations.
Elements of Authenticity
Authenticity isn’t just about eating at a street-side restaurant or downing a specialty drink at a local watering hole. It’s the front desk employee who tells you the best place to eat, the manager who checks in on your family to make sure your needs are met, and the porter who remembers which bags need to be handled with care. Hotels that value authenticity weave this kind of care and attentiveness into every aspect of their guests’ stays.
Here are some easy ways to create authentic hotel experiences:
- Keep it personal. Hotel brands must compete with the appeal of more intimate travel — like renting an RV and camping instead of booking a room. By tracking customers’ preferences, sending customized offers, and adding personal touches to their rooms, hotels can make the travel experience more appealing. Having a box of a family’s favorite cookies waiting in the room, the thermostat set to a customer’s preferred temperature, or a bed full of the pillows a repeat guest favors seem like small details, but they make a strong impact.
- Make it a family affair. Family vacations increasingly include parents, grandparents, children, and other family members. Coordinating hotels and group outings can be overwhelming for even the most organized person, and hotels can ease that stress by providing concierge services or packages that cater to families on the road. And don’t forget about family pets. People see their beloved animals as extensions of their families and will book travel around accommodating them. Hotels that allow pets or offer special animal perks tell guests, “Your entire family is welcome here.”
- Use technology. Digital concierge services enhance guests’ experiences, giving them quick and convenient access to the best foods and attractions in a city. They also provide hotels with data that allows them to create relevant offers and promotions. No matter how big the brand or how many members in a rewards program, hotels should know their customers and deliver VIP treatment to them.
- Serve homegrown food. Hotels that source food from the surrounding community win big with travelers who value giving back to the places they visit. Sustainable travel is a growing trend, and hotel chains that make good on their promises of operating ethically inspire trust from their guests.
- Hire locally. A hotel staff that can rattle off the names of sights off the beaten path, share tips on making the most of local attractions, or speak the community’s native language is a great sign of authenticity. Travelers seeking memorable interactions appreciate hotels that go out of their way to ensure they get the best, most vibrant experiences possible.
The hotel industry can and will thrive if it emphasizes authenticity. There are still markets for luxury, budget, and middle-grade travel, but all share this demand for personalized, unique services. Traditional vendors can still win in the age of Airbnb and HomeAway if they leverage technology to play to their localized strengths.