Leaning Into Lifestyle
BITAC Panel Emphasizes Importance Of Creating Unique Experiences For Today’s Guest
Acknowledging the needs and wants of today’s hotel guest are far different, several hotel executives touted the attributes of lifestyle or boutique hotels and their potential to offer travelers a unique experience during a recent panel discussion at BITAC Independent.
The panel—which was entitled to “Leaning Into Lifestyle: Hoteliers See Value, Growth Opportunity In Burgeoning Segment”—focused on defining key characteristics of a lifestyle hotel; a shifting customer base; some of the challenges for independent hotels; as well as the prospects for a recovery for the entire lodging industry.
In defining what lifestyle hotel means, Mitch Patel, CEO, Platinum Companies, pointed out it’s not necessarily about age.
“Instead of demographics it’s more of a psychographic of how the consumer wants to consume an overnight stay in a different fashion. What I think determines lifestyle is really to appease the need of that traveler at that time and in that location,” he said.
Roger Bloss, president, Alternative Hospitality, expanded on that point and emphasized the importance of certain amenities.
“I look at it as they should be playful, they should have unique experiences and they should have balance. The key is where you find that balance of what people are looking for. We do that in different forms; by location, by entertainment aspects, by sports, whatever we happen to be in the marketplace. We try to use that as the fundamentals and foundation of how we grow our business from there,” he said.
Paul St. John, senior account executive, BirchStreet Systems, meanwhile, focused on how the segment has evolved.
“I think of lifestyle often-times as an extension of the next generation of boutique hotels; kind of like their children. They’re looking to create that experiential moment for people traveling to whatever city they’re in and trying to touch the local culture,” he said.
Paul Breslin, managing director, Horwath HTL, took it a step further.
“I think in a word it’s ‘experience.’ It’s a place where when you go there you want to describe what you did, what you experienced and then you know you’ve kind of reached something special and different,” he said.
Bryan Easter, vp, development planning, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, offered the perspective of a well-established lifestyle brand and how it’s helped the entire segment evolve.
“Kimpton went into the white space [of boutique hotels] and now we’ve got a lot of competitive brands. I think it really has been beneficial for all of us because it’s just making more people get more exposure to the lifestyle boutique hotel segment. We’ll continue to deliver on our authentic experiences putting humans first. We empower all of our employees to lead with their heart and we’ve been able to retain a lot of talented individuals because of that. It’s just sort of the ethos of our brand,” he said.
Meanwhile, the brand landscape continues to evolve with soft brands emerging as a viable option for independent hotel owners in recent years.
“I think that the independents are going to be here forever, but I always think they’re going to be backed by a brand. Because quite frankly the brands have the power, they have the knowledge and they have the reservation system. If you try to do it a la carte versus a soft brand you’re going to find it more expensive,” said Bloss.
Patel, meanwhile, emphasized that the more traditional hotel brands are less important than ever to a shifting younger consumer base.
“They don’t really care about a brand anymore. They care about what they see before they get there so they eat with their eyes, so to speak. During the pre-arrival experience you’re talking about engaging with them with text messaging and things like that ahead of time to make sure all their needs are met before they even get there. If you look at the brands they’re getting more and more proprietary about their experiences and that’s actually turning a lot of the younger consumers off and that’s where Airbnb is starting to win. People want their own experiences,” he said.
Breslin, meanwhile, while acknowledging the need to create for owners to create a unique experience, pointed out that at the end of the day “it’s a business” and the bottom line is important too.
“These buildings are built to make money, the investors are in it to make money. So you’ve got to find that balance of how to be something really creative unique and special to keep the customers talking about it and wanting to come back, but at a profit. That’s the hardest part,” he said.
When it comes to profits, while the industry has seen a slowdown in recent years the panelists remained generally optimistic about the outlook for the future despite some headwinds.
“I’m very optimistic. I think there’s a lot of opportunity that’s ahead of us. There are a lot of trade winds that we have to get through, but those trade winds are temporary. I think we have such an opportunity to look at that next generation of folks coming up that are going to be staying in hotels and take advantage of that and market to them. I think we’re really in a great position and being creative in how we’re doing that,” said St. John.
“2023 was supposed to be the comeback year and I think it’s looking more like 2024 given the election cycles and everything else. So there’s a lot of political, economic and other concerns, but let’s face it people have been cooped up for the last two-and-a-half years and so they’re out with a vengeance so the revenge travel is there,” concluded Patel.