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Designing For Experience

The experience economy now rules. Here’s how master hoteliers are creating a sense of authenticity that wow guests.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015
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Welcome to the experience economy.

These days, hotels not offering meaningful experiences that ring true with authenticity to the consumer are no longer able to compete with the traditional hotel offerings of even a decade ago.

Call it a new amenity arms race where hoteliers are programming properties to reflect not just a sense of place but also the region’s culture and character. But it’s a different type of amenity creep then we’re used to as consumers have matured far beyond being happy with basic items like air conditioning and color TV.

What is most fascinating is the push pull relationship between consumer expectations of the modern travel consumer with how hoteliers are working to not just delight guests, but also surprise them.

We delved deep into this issue this morning here at BITAC® Global as experts from around the world shared how injecting experience into hotels has created a whole new game.

BITAC® Global is celebrating its 60th event as the preeminent industry think tank welcomed attendees from 32 countries to the iconic Waldorf-Astoria in New York City. BITAC® Global attendees represent the crème de la crème of the international lodging community. It’s the ultimate group of global insiders and decision makers all gathered in one place. And they’re all here to come together for the most exciting BITAC® to date to problem solve, network, sign deals and exchange ideas they believe will move forward the quality of experiences for hotel guests, while adding profits to the bottom line.

“Twenty years ago the industry focused on function. Now properties must be purpose built and must be built around the experiential,” said Mark Sherwin, EVP Operations with Sonesta Collection, which has dozens of properties in multiple countries. “Including cultural aspects are key to give and authentic and genuine experience.”

Brian McSherry, COO of M&R Hospitality Management, a rapidly growing management and ownership group, said that brands have done a great job of transforming so guests can walk away feeling important. But, he noted, there’s a difference between having a hotel in New York City compared to the Caribbean, for example. McSherry said when a customer books a hotel in a place like New York it is about location first, but when booking a hotel in the Caribbean or a ski destination, for example, it’s more about what is available to do and the experiences to be enjoyed.

“Hotels in the Caribbean are experience driven rather than brand driven so we constantly have to think about things that will make it a great experience. So elements such as design are critical. I love walking into a hotel and thinking, wow, that’s cool. Because that makes memories, which is the key to getting guests to come back,” said McSherry.

Martin Goddard, Director of the London based design firm Goddard Littlefair, agrees and said he designs hotels around the location rather than specific things a brand offers.

“You have to think about why this location is unique and then think about ways to design a property that has more authenticity by bringing in those elements. It’s about understanding what lifestyle guests have and you need to follow that vibe. You have to surprise people,” said Goddard.

Gabriela Guerra, Guatemala area ‎Regional Director of Sales, Mexico Central America and Caribbean with TravelClick said, yes it is critical to do all those authentic design and experience touches, but if the message is not clear to the consumer on the hotel’s website, it won’t generate business.

“Everything starts with search. When a client is ready to book they usually search the brand. The website needs to describe all of the features of the property and have great photos, descriptions of activities and amazing looking videos. Plus you have to have an easily navigable website,” said Guerra, adding that hoteliers have about seven seconds to win over a customer.

Yet, while this all is extremely logical, if a hotel can’t make money because it is too costly to build, well, nothing else matters, said Liliane Stacishin-Moura, Managing Director, Latin America & Caribbean with Benjamin West.

“It’s all about the bottom line and working within the budget and figuring out how we do not lose the design. I am a big believer in the wow factor, so when we look at the budget we try to make sure nothing is missing. But that can be a struggle,” she said. “The challenges for designers and procurers is sourcing locally because we want that perception the look is local. Don’t let that message get lost.”

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