Hotels Adapting to Experiential Travel Trend, Says Hotel Execby Charlie Duerr /
From the boom of craft beers to the farm-to-table focus of the world’s most renowned chefs, there’s no question that today’s consumers are seeking more authentic, local influences as part of their travel experiences.
Vacationers interested only in sitting by the pool are being replaced by more adventurous travelers seeking unique experiences.
And hotels and resorts are finally taking notice.
The 2014 WTM Global Report, issued in December by Euromonitor International and the World Travel Market, identified consumers’ appetite for authentic connections with local people as a major area of influence on the travel industry in 2015.
“Travel demands today have evolved,” said Inigo Onieva, senior vice president of marketing and global distribution at Occidental Hotels & Resorts. “Vacationers are no longer content to simply sit on the beach and relax.
“[They] want to have an authentic experience of the destination they are visiting and to participate in local customs and activities.”
Suppliers go local
Occidental, which operates hotels and resorts around the U.S., Caribbean and Mexico, is so certain of the growing consumer demand for local flavor that it has tweaked its business model to offer just that.
“We have adapted our resort offerings to help guests immerse themselves in local culture,” Onieva said. “From the food and drinks, to the knowledgeable concierge that helps tailor tours and excursions based on customer needs or desires.”
Even guests who enjoy the comforts of a quality resort and more traditional vacation experience want to spice things up, said Onieva.
What does this emerging trend signify for travel agents accustomed to serving fans of the traditional resort experience?
“First and foremost, agents need to have their clients’ best interests in mind,” Onieva said. “The end result is a win/win for both the guest experience and the agent earning additional commission on their expertise and in fulfilling the needs of their clients.”
An opportunity, not a concern
While agents may need to adapt their sales approach and broaden their knowledge of local customs, shifting consumer expectations shouldn’t be cause for concern, according to Onieva.
In fact, the services of agents may be more valuable than ever in a world with more diverse vacation options, he said.
“The majority of agents will learn about what there is to do in specific local areas through the resort sales and marketing teams,” Onieva said.
“Most individual attractions lack the resources to be able to reach clients outside of their locales, and they will rely heavily on leveraging their partnerships with the local hotels to support their efforts and likewise help selling the destination overall.”
In addition to agents’ need to educate themselves about local cultures, customs and activities, it’s crucial for the resorts themselves to build a positive relationship with the residents and business of the destinations in which they operate, Onieva said.
Regardless of location, it’s no secret that some locals may have a skeptical, sometimes resentful attitude about tourists and big real estate developments in their area.
It’s a delicate and important relationship, and one that Onieva understands is a two-way street.
“We have a long-term commitment to working with and supporting the destinations that we are located in and helping the local businesses grow,” he said.
“We have always recognized the importance of partnering with the area businesses,” he added.
“Our world today is growing smaller and much more interconnected through the ease of travel and easily accessible information online at our fingertips,” Onieva said.
“Consumers will continue to seek out unique experiences and help lead our industry in ongoing evolution for exciting things yet to come in the future.”