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How can hotels compete in the Experience Economy?

“How can Hotels compete in the Experience Economy?”

Written by Pamela Carvell, Lifestyle Marketer February 2018

The above was the title of a recent Hotel Marketing Association event. It was a Keynote presentation by James Wallman, author of ‘Stuffocation: Living More with Less’. He believes that we have almost reached saturation point with possessions, or “Peak Stuff”  as it’s called by the Chief Sustainability Officer of Ikea. Research by Barclaycard in May 2017 showed that 34% of people now prefer to spend money on experiences rather than objects. The theme of the presentation was very much that people are now looking for unique experiences, in no small part fuelled by Social Media, where we want to show off to our friends. We also want to be able to ‘tell a story’ that will impress our friends. But, also we do care about our own wellbeing, hence the growth in popularity of things such as Mindfullness, and us seeking experiences that feed our soul.

Presentations like this, are both inspirational and thought-provoking, especially when you have the somewhat unconventional presentation style adopted by Wallman. He had attendees jumping up and down waving their arms in the air within the first few minutes! It was clear that he was coming very much from the perspective of a somewhat wealthy target market when he said that everyone now owns a Rolex and a Louis Vuitton bag, and so they are now looking for experiences to spend their money on. I totally agree with the concept, and can admit that I have spent much of my life (and especially time with my son) focussing on spending time on experiences that stay with you for ever. But that doesn’t always involve a lot of money. You can’t beat picking blackberries in the wild and then making a lot of mess making pastry for a home-baked pie!

But hotels and restaurants have been delivering experiences for decades, and as such we are ahead of the curve. Heston Blumenthal opened the Fat Duck in Bray in the mid-90’s, and that was so much about the experience, not just the food. I also recall that when TGI Fridays opened their first restaurant in London in the 1980’s, their interview techniques for waiters included checking their juggling skills. This made the national news at the time, because it was ground-breaking, and based on their restaurant wanting to deliver an experience, not just a menu.

This also made me reflect on the fact that hotels have also been delivering experiences for decades. Back in the 1970’s European hotels were essentially of 2 kinds: those that people went to on holiday and those frequented by male business travellers. A bunch of Sales guys (as hotels hadn’t embraced the Marketing profession in the early 1970’s) came up with the innovative idea of Weekend Breaks. This was the concept of encouraging the guys who stayed in hotels on business to return to hotels of the same chain, but with their wife and kids, at the weekend for a break that included not just dinner, bed and breakfast, but also tickets to local attractions. I was involved in marketing weekend breaks in the 1980’s, as we launched that concept into the rest of Europe and believe me, many countries, such as Spain, were adamant that the idea of staying in a hotel for the weekend would never catch on! But of course it did, and as marketers we need to keep re-inventing the concept of leisure breaks.

Also, in my opinion, hotels have also been delivering totally unique experiences (one of the themes of the presentation) for decades, through their staff. Disappointingly there was little mention of staff during the evening, and yet to many hotels staff and service are their major USP’s and what enables them to deliver a unique and personalised experience to every guest.The long-standing success of Four Seasons, is in no small part due to their amazing philosophy regarding their staff, and their ability to make every guest feel unique. When Marriott UK made staff empowerment the focal point of their business strategy and their marketing in the 1990’s, it translated very rapidly into profitability. I had many personal experiences in Marriott hotels with my son at that time, which were made totally unique by staff who were genuinely empowered. In one particular Marriott the Concierge actually moved the furniture around in the lobby so my son could sit and quietly watch his football heroes, who were staying in the hotel. That memory will stay with us both forever. And has given us a story to tell, which was another of James’s themes. Social media has fuelled the desire for us to want to tell a story, because through those channels we have an immediate audience for our story. We also have the capability to share videos in the same way, so that we can impress friends and strangers alike.

So, I believe we are already well ahead of the game when it comes to delivering experiences and even unique experiences.

I also believe that courtesy of its Guest History, every hotel has an opportunity to deliver a unique experience to every guest by ‘remembering’ what they like to eat, drink and do during their stay, what type of room they prefer, what time they like to dine etc. Leaving a unique welcome gift in the room, was mentioned by one of the of the panellists from the subsequent Q&A session, as being something that creates not just a lasting impression, but also a story that you tell to everyone, including a room full of people at an HMA event! I recall staying at the Crillon in Paris and ordering room service, only to be asked if I would like the chef to create a mouth-watering chocolate dessert for me. Impressed doesn’t come close to how I felt. When I was working on their property management system the following day I looked up my profile in their guest history and one of their sister hotels had cleverly added ‘loves chocolate’ into my profile! Now that is how to create a unique guest experience!

James did also mention the importance of fame, in our social-media-fuelled world. And this plays a huge part with concepts such as Hotel Football in Manchester, owned by ‘The Class of ‘92’. Again, this concept is not new, as hotel bars the world over have always displayed photos of the famous people who have sipped cocktails within their four walls, and suites have been named after the famous people who have slept in them. Nowadays guests want to tweet themselves in the same places as celebrities hang out.

So, I believe that hotels and restaurants are already at the heart of the Experience Economy, and as marketers our challenge is to keep on coming up with unique ideas and ensure that our hotels are genuinely on the ball regarding customer care and customer profiles!

At this point, I am thinking ‘what is next?’. And, I can only speculate that you move from possessions to experiences, to fame, to power and influence, and then to philanthropy. And the world will certainly be a better place if philanthropy is at the heart of it.

(NOTE: The above is NOT intended to be a report of what took place at the HMA meeting, but rather some of the key points that were raised, that prompted my reflections and thoughts.

This article may be produced in part or in full, so long as full credit is given to Pamela Carvell and this blog hotelmarketing4u.wordpress.com)

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