New trends are emerging as hotels seek to reinvent themselves in the face of inroads from Airbnb, millennial travel patterns and other forces. Much of that reinvention is happening among resurgent independent hotels that have shown surprising strength in recent years, even in the face of global brand advances.
Speakers and attendees at the Independent Lodging Congress, held in Brooklyn last week, identified trends that have little to do with fancy beds, high technology or upscale restaurants. They are all about telling stories and being part of the community.
1. The hotel and community must be totally connected.
Sarah Eustis, CEO of Main Street Hospitality, said the property’s staff must be knowledgeable about local experiences. “We have connections. I can have a group meet with an artist or a famous artist’s son; or do a tour with the owner of the local distillery, who is a friend.”
2. Micro-rooms and big public spaces make sense.
Stephen Chan, partner in Eagle Point Hotel Partners, said that the format of small rooms and inviting public spaces are a good business model and popular with travelers. The hotel might have 300 rooms where there would ordinarily be 200 but offer lots of working and socializing spaces. “Co-working, co-living and hospitality are merging,” said Chan. These hotels have limited services – no room service or concierge – but they offer a high-quality product at an affordable price.
3. Hotels will “pop up.”
Black Tomato, a tour operator, offers a program called Blink where the locations and design of temporary hotels are crowdsourced by customers. Those customers then get to stay in the pop-up for a short time before it is taken down.
4. Hotels have to tell stories.
Ben Rafter, president of OLS Hotels & Resorts, said that George Clooney stayed in one of the hotels he operates and wanted his own exercise bike. When he left the bike stayed and it is now a conversation piece for guests. He said, “A property will have to have something to offer besides a bed, or the brands will get all the business.”
5. Hotels will tie in with arts and other institutions.
Main Street Hospitality operates a hotel called The Porches Inn across the street from MASS MoCA, a museum in North Adams, Mass., and works closely with it. She said that hotels will also tie into academic and other institutions as part of the move toward finding experiences through hospitality.
6. Retail brands will continue to move into lodging.
David Bowd, principal with West Elm Hotels, said lifestyle companies like West Elm have huge customer databases and advantages like being able to furnish hotels at a far lower cost.
7. Extended stay will get cooler.
A new brand called Zoku is opening properties with highly designed, residential loft spaces. Marc Jongerius, managing partner, said “If Airbnb is taking business from you, then you have to look at your own business.”
8. Food halls in hotels will become more common.
Kevin Ellis, CEO of Hospitality Alliance, said hotels are looking for ways to grow revenue and the food halls – featuring outlets from local restaurants – are very popular with both guests and locals.
9. Grab n’ grow is growing.
With the elimination of room service in many hotels, the ability to pick up food in the lobby 24/7 is becoming standard.
10. Airbnb will be a threat and an ally.
While the sharing platform may draw business from hotels, said Jongerius, “they open people’s minds to alternative kinds of hospitality, and we have to move into those spaces.”
Seeing the Future
Deanna Ting, hospitality editor of Skift, offered a presentation at the Independent Lodging Congress on the future of independent hotels. Some of the highlights were:
- Hotels will cross industry categories. You can now book a restaurant on Airbnb. Also, Hyatt just bought its second wellness brand.
- Independent boutique hotels are moving into secondary markets.
- Independent hotels will target not just millennials but the 50+ market because they have more to spend.
- Hotels, including big brands, will make local experiences part of the stay – as with Marriot’s investment in PlacePass, an activities company; and Airbnb’s Trips, where hosts take guests on local tours.
- Rooms will become voice-activated. The Wynn Las Vegas said it would put an Amazon Echo in all 4,700-plus rooms room to control lighting, temperature, etc.
- Artificial intelligence will power a heightened personalization of the guests’ stay through knowledge of past and stated preferences.