Based on guest desires, more hotels are striving to provide free Wi-Fi connectivity. // © 2014 Thinkstock
With access to nearly unlimited travel planning information, today’s travelers have a better-than-ever understanding of what to expect while on the road. More importantly, they are starting to require more from their hotel experiences.
As hotels strive to meet the demands of a customer base that is more informed, more connected and more vocal than generations past, innovation will play a key role in the future of the hotel industry.
Here are five hotel trends to watch in the coming year.
Innovation Means Renovation
If your clients have a favorite property, chances are they can expect it to wear an all-new face in the near future. Renovations are huge in 2014, as hotels refresh rooms, reimagine lobbies and overhaul food services.
According to a study conducted by Bjorn Hanson, dean of New York University’s hospitality school, hotels spent an estimated $5.6 billion on capital improvements last year, a number that nearly doubled in four years.
Numerous hotel companies have announced brand-wide renovations including Starwood Hotels & Resorts, which launched a multi-year, $1.3 billion plan to renovate its Sheraton properties. Loews Hotels is also in the midst of significant upgrades, with more than half of its portfolio undergoing, or just finishing, renovations. Millennium Hotels also announced brand-wide upgrades earlier this year.
More Wi-Fi, But More Fees
Ask any traveler about their most-desired hotel amenity, and the answer is almost unanimously free Internet access. A recent survey of travel agents by Benchmark Hospitality found that free Internet access is even more important than the number of stars or diamonds a hotel has.
Luxury hotels and resorts tend to charge the highest fees for Internet usage, a fact that continues to frustrate business travelers. Slowly, however, there has been a shift in Wi-Fi offerings.
In 2013, Sandals & Beaches Luxury Resort began offering free Wi-Fi connectivity in select room types, while Loews Hotels rolled out free Wi-Fi access in all properties. Kimpton Hotels & Resorts and InterContinental Hotels Group, on the other hand, have started offering free Wi-Fi connectivity to all of their loyalty club members.
Unfortunately, for the consumer, as Wi-Fi fees trend downward, other hotel fees will continue to increase.
Similar to airlines, the hotel industry is profiting from incremental fees. In fact, according to another study by Bjorn Hanson, hotels collected a record $2.1 billion in incremental fees in 2013.
Obtaining a room with a better view, receiving a package, paying with a credit or debit card, using the hotel’s shuttle service, checking in early (or late) and storing bags are all areas that could be subject to new fees in the coming year.
Although wellness travel is not a new concept, a number of hotels have taken wellness a step further by introducing dedicated wellness guestrooms.
With its proximity to the Cleveland Clinic, it’s no surprise that the InterContinental Suites Cleveland is a wellness-focused hotel. Guests can elect to stay in Pure Allergy Friendly Rooms, which are created using a patented process that removes up to 99 percent of all allergens in the room.
Even in Las Vegas — a city better known for excessive indulgences — wellness rooms are a growing trend. In 2012, MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas launched Stay Well by Delos, rooms designed to help support guests’ health and well-being. The program met with immediate success and MGM Grand has subsequently quadrupled its Stay Well inventory from 42 to 171 rooms and suites that now occupy the entire 14th floor of the main tower.
“The success of the Stay Well rooms exemplifies the large consumer demand and appetite for a healthier, wellness-oriented travel experience,” said Delos Founder Paul Scialla.
While eco-friendly practices are certainly not new to the lodging industry, sustainability has come to mean much more than asking guests to re-use their linens. These days, hotels are actively engaged in pursuing a variety of green designations, including LEED-certified, Green Key, Green Hotel and Energy-Star-compliance, all of which require significant commitment on the part of the hoteliers, who will develop new partnerships with Earth-friendly organizations as well as launching distinctive cause-awareness campaigns.
Hotel operations will also become greener. Cintas, a U.S. uniform company, recently introduced a new shirt constructed from recycled bottles. The company has also developed a paper towel made from shredded paper components.
Even in-room amenities will get greener. Gilchrist & Soames, makers of luxury bath products, recently introduced its BeeKind Collection, whose packaging reduces waste space by 92 percent compared to rigid plastic bottles.
Travel Reviews Continue to Grow
There’s no question that user-generated reviews are here to stay. Benchmark Hospitality found that a whopping 80 percent of agents believe that this consumer tool is only at the beginning of its growth trajectory, while 50 percent of agents admit to using online reviews in determining booking options. More hotels are sending “thank you” emails, asking guests to comment on some of the most popular review sites and, as travel reviews continue to gain popularity, hotels will develop unique programs to solicit these reviews from their guests.