“Cuba will be hot because people want to see it before it changes." Photo: Lex Kravetski
Transformational travel—trips that change people’s lives—will be among the major trends for 2017, according to experts speaking at the first Magrino Travel Summit, co-hosted by Magrino, a public relations company with many travel clients, and Jack Ezon, president of Ovation Vacations. Here are the other trends forecast at the event:
Millennials are willing to spend money on travel— and on travel agents. “This is the first generation that is really willing to pay for agent services and would even pay $10,000 a year for a travel advisory subscription if they thought it would provide value,” Ezon said.
Brian Young, managing director of Castle Hill Inn in Newport, RI, agreed. “Millennials want it quick, easy, not contrived and humble,” he said. “Those of us who came out of a traditional luxury hotel background have to look at luxury differently but I think it is changing for the better.”
And Kat Tanita, a “travel influencer” whose blog is called With Love From Kat, said younger travelers want an experience that is “not stiff and contrived; that’s why they prefer a boutique hotel.” Ezon agreed, saying, “there is almost a flight from brands because they are the same everywhere. Brands will have to embrace this change and create differences among their locations.”
It’s all about the quality of social media followers, not the quantity
“The brands that are winning are creating campaigns that customers can ‘Instabrag’ about (use Instagram to record their experiences),” Ezon said.
Tanita said the Dorchester Collection, a luxury group, is successful at social media because it constantly upgrades its Instagram profile. But she added that marketers have to be careful about where to spend advertising dollars with social media influencers. “People might have a million followers with little engagement, while someone with 30,000 followers might have intense engagement.” She said there are tools available for measuring that engagement.
Alexandra Walterspiel, CEO of Imprint Hospitality, a management company, said she was recently at a resort where a sign on a tree said, “Photo opportunity,” which she said is an inauthentic way to approach social media. “But,” she added, “we do work hard to create a place where people will want to take a picture.”
Ezon said that despite the explosion of social media, print marketing is still relevant because of its credibility. “As digital becomes more of an overload situation, consumers will retreat back to print just as they have reverted back to humans to plan travel.”
Young agreed, saying, “We don’t have a large marketing budget so we look to smaller, targeted, niche publications that our guests might be reading. In fact, we have a bookseller in Newport who chooses books for us to place in the rooms.”
The technology conundrum
Connectivity is crucial but can be counterproductive. Because of the information bombardment, said Advani, “we have to invest so much in bandwidth. Everyone has at least four devices and they will not come back if they can’t connect.”
However, Ezon stressed that innovations like keyless room entry using phones is “a miss when it comes to luxury. We need guests to connect with staff. That’s what makes the heart and soul of a place. I was recently at a hotel in London that had a high-tech system for lighting. I didn’t sleep because I couldn’t dim the lights. Then I stayed at a resort that had simple light switches. Simplicity can be a luxury.”
Young agreed, saying that major brands have been experimenting with electronic room entry for decades, “but they always come back to the front desk. It gives guests a sense of safety and security, as well as a connection.”
And Walterspiel said it all depends on the specific trip, noting, “when I’m on a business trip I don’t want to spend 15 minutes at the front desk getting a description of the property, but when I’m on vacation I have a totally different mindset.”
Airbnb: Threat or model?
Panelists agreed that Airbnb is having a substantial impact on hotels. “Two years ago we weren’t concerned about Airbnb but now they have mansions and penthouses and it’s having an impact on luxury hotels,” Ezon said. “A GM at a Beverly Hills hotel recently told me they are losing their top suite business to Airbnb because of the privacy and experiences these places offer.”
But he added that hotels can learn from Airbnb by providing a local experience with soul. Young said he recently stayed at an Airbnb in Malta where the owner was a musicologist. Because Young has a serious interest in music, the owner “planned my whole vacation.”
And Tanita said the Rosewood Mayakoba in Mexico is aiming to create the kind of community Airbnb promises. “We had dinner at communal tables around an ancient Mayan tree. And they provide bikes for getting around the resort. So when I go there I will stay at the Rosewood because they do offer that kind of experience.”
While Airbnb does not pay commission, Ezon said Ovation books clients there “because we are advisors and act in the interest of our clients.” He cautioned that, “It can be risky because you don’t have all the usual protections.” He noted that OneFineStay, a sharing hospitality company owned by AccorHotels, does pay commission.
Weaving in wellness
Panelists agreed that wellness can be part of any trip, even at city hotels. Peter Jon Lindberg, director of Innovation at Conrad Hotels, said the new Conrad in Chicago will offer paddle boarding on Lake Michigan. “It’s not just about a spa or gym but about making health part of every element of a stay.”
And Judy Stein, co-president of Ovation Vacations, said there is a luxury hotel in Paris where the manager on duty leads a morning jog around the city. “This is typical of wellness being woven into the experience.”
F&B as the main course
Panelists said that food and beverage have become central to travel. Stein said she has clients “who will build a trip to London around new restaurants in that city.”
Hot Destinations for 2017
“Being hot is more about a mindset,” said Walterspiel. “Cuba will be hot because people want to see it before it changes. It’s the same for Myanmar, although that has already changed quite a bit.” She added, “What will be hot is any destination that can create an environment where people feel local and special and have access to things others can’t get.”
“There is a flight to authenticity,” said Ezon, “in places like Laos and Cuba. At Ovation, we tend to focus on emerging places like Cuba, Iceland and the Maldives. People are going back to nature with trips to ranches and so forth. We aim to help clients discover places before their friends go there.”
Ezon said Ovation’s domestic business grew 300% in 2016 partly driven by safety. “It’s amazing how exotic the U.S. has become,” he added.
Young said that connecting with local farmers and growers might mean truffle hunting with dogs in Tuscany. Even in his own destination, Newport, said Young, ”we meet with our oyster farmer.”
Tanita said that hot places for 2017 will include Italy, St. Bart’s, Tokyo and Marrakech.