Travel Tech

Delivering authentic local travel experiences is becoming an increasingly important part of the tourist industry, and indeed pervades every sector of it. This demand is now ensuring that large hotel companies are keen to develop brands and sophisticated partnerships related to marketing and branding initiatives. Additionally, new business models are emerging, with company seeking to differentiate themselves from competitors, and deliver experiences that are particularly redolent of a local culture.

Evolving Hotel Branding

Reflecting this trend, over the last 18 months it has been noticeable that the majority of major legacy hotel chains have introduced new hotel brands in order to market under the lifestyle segment. Each of these denote a broader, more experiential type of hospitality than branding which was popular throughout the last couple of decades.

Perhaps the most important exploration and documentation of this topic at the time of writing is the Skift trend report - The Rise of Local in Hospitality - which was launched in October 2013. At the time that this report was published, the idea of a hotel tapping into the local community was certainly not a fashionable one. Hotels sold the concept of luxury, and all of the big box hotels completely ignored the idea that a hotel could possibly be a portal into a particular region.

For a while, this concept was primarily the reserve of a select group of trendsetting hotels, who placed a huge amount of faith and emphasis on this idea. Yet this seemingly obscure concept has since proven to be a catalyst for a shift in the hospitality industry, with strategies focusing around the notion of localism now extremely prominent.

Local travel marketing is now focused on defining travel for all possible demographics. This has been a central evolution in the hospitality industry over the last couple of years since the initial Skift report was released. The concept of delivering an authentic local experience has evolved in that period from being an obscure innovation to a fundamental expectation.

The Influence of Urban Redevelopment

Exacerbating this trend further is the reorganisation of major cities across the world. Extensive redevelopment in the core of multiple urban areas has been fuelled by rapid population migration. This migration has been primarily led by the key millennials demographic, which it must be noted is a particularly significant sector of the population for the travel industry. As hotels take the opportunity to partner with local businesses, so a great deal of creative disruption and innovation has occurred in the industry.

Therefore, the expectations of what hotels deliver to customers has changed rapidly. It is already considered normal, or possibly essential, for hotels to position themselves as an integrated part of the local community as a central part of the overall travel experience. But how do hotels, and the marketing of the industry develop, beyond this initial evolution?

Storytelling and Personalisation

The answer to this question is that storytelling and personalisation is central to the contemporary hotel experience. Increasingly in the future, hotels will need to be more sophisticated and creative with regard to customising and promoting localised travel experiences. Documenting and intimately understanding hotel guest demographics has also become central to this process, and partnering with an increasing number of local community businesses and events that correlate with particular guest preferences has become a central strategy.

There are many consequences of the digital revolution, and the world which has resulted from it. But perhaps one of the less publicised aspects of this is the extent to which people have become hyper-connected. This has resulted in a new mentality among travellers, in which people engaging in tourism of all ages and socio-economic groups are seeking a deeper connection with the destinations that they take the time to visit.

A wide variety of reasons can be cited for this particular travel trend, but unquestionably central to it is the fact that guests now arrive at hotels with a wealth of information which would previously have been unimaginable. This is, of course, true of many other subject areas as well; certainly we are living in an information age. But this means that hotels in particular, and travel-related companies in general have to respond to this more informed customer base.

Thus, the most innovative and disruptive hotel brands are now answering this demand by introducing guests to a diverse network of people and places within the local community. Hotels are increasingly branding themselves as travel experiences, as opposed to merely a place to reside at and sleep. The new generation of travellers are thus defining themselves by where they stay, as much as the location of their travel plans.

Hotels have always been central to destinations, and considered gateways to particular regions. But the surge in boutique and designer hotels in the latter years of the 20th century elevated the urban hotel into a destination in its own right. As this process developed, hotels increasingly acted as community portals, and a sizeable and devoted local following quickly became a market differentiator for an exciting batch of new hotel brands.

Big Box Hotels Go Local

While these trendsetters were essential to the development of this facet of the hotel industry, the last few years in particular have seen some of the household name brands of the industry jumping on the bandwagon. Thus, there is now a new wave of big box and mid-market hotel brands who are collectively reimagining the entire trend of localism for both middle-income and wealthy consumers.

As this approach to marketing and selling hotels to consumers has proved to be extremely successful, so there has been a widespread realisation in the industry that delivering a layered and immersive hotel and travel experience is essential. This more readily matches the needs and desires of the more educated and connected traveller, who exists as a matter of course in the contemporary world. Responding to this trend may not yet be considered an absolute necessity, but it certainly offers a massive competitive advantage.

Thus, the latest Skift trends report assesses the objective return on investment for creating local, destination-specific travel experiences. This report essentially provides all the information that hotels require in order to remain relevant in the marketplace in which destination-specific experiences must be delivered with authenticity.

Some of the themes examined in the latest Skift Trends Report, “Evolution of Locality in Hospitality”, include:

- Hotels partnering with area small businesses patronized by local residents to create a deeper, more personal relationship with a community.
- Hotels hosting and promoting more special events, on and off property.
- Hotels communicating local travel experiences through sophisticated social media strategies and robust blogs.

Locality Conclusions

The report concludes that the role of hotels has evolved significantly over the last decade due to this reported boom in interest in travel based on localised experiences. The return on investment for creating local, destination-specific hotel and travel experiences is, according to this report, centred on ensuring that venues remaining relevant to the younger and millennial generation in particular, in order to attract loyalty in the coming years and decades.

In the future, hotels will operate in a marketplace which is increasingly competitive and complicated. Central to this experience will be delivering an authentic local travel experience which genuinely delivers to those that wish to connect with the local area. The Skift report demonstrates the multitude of ways in which hotels all over the world, of vastly differing natures, are connecting with communities in order to bring together guests and residents in their desire for an authentic localised experience.

The Skift report can be accessed online, and it is notable that all of the hotel professionals quoted in this report state clearly that demand is continuing to grow for localised experiences across all market segments. It is certainly something that travel-related companies should be playing very close attention to.

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