Smartphones are becoming an integral part of the hotel experience. // © 2014 Thinkstock
Feature image (above): Some hotel brands are rethinking the traditional check-in process. // © 2014 Thinkstock
As the height of the recession sinks from view, consumers are loosening the grip on their wallets, and the hotel industry in particular has benefited from travelers’ growing inclination to spend more. Increased demand for hotel rooms has resulted in spikes in average daily rates across the globe, according to the Interim Hotel Survey released in September by corporate services organization Hogg Robinson Group. Furthermore, PKF Hospitality Research (PKF-HR) has forecasted that the U.S. hotel industry will see record occupancy rates in 2015.
“The good news is that we have an extremely high amount of confidence about these performance levels,” said R. Mark Woodworth, president of PKF-HR. “They aren’t just going to quickly peak then fall down the other side. We think they’re going to persist for a while.”
But with high sticker prices comes a stronger demand for value. While the numbers show that travelers are paying top dollar for overnight stays, other industry surveys indicate that guests still want to feel they’re getting a good deal. To entice guests, hotels are including more amenities that travelers say they value most. According to a recent market trend survey conducted by Signature Travel Network, complimentary breakfast, hotel or resort credit, upgrades, free Wi-Fi access and early check-in are the top value-added offers that travelers want.
“Hotels are investing millions to meet the ever-higher expectations of consumers,” said Ignacio Maza, executive vice president of Signature Travel Network. “Many hotels, especially independent properties, are including high-speed Internet and other services that enhance the stay and increase the overall value proposition. Complimentary car service within a radius of the hotel is another perk we’re seeing.”
While freebies are always appreciated, more and more guests are also looking for personalization and localization, according to a survey conducted by InterContinental Hotels Group earlier this year. The survey, which gathered insight from approximately 7,000 travelers worldwide, revealed that 59 percent of travelers are significantly more comfortable during a hotel stay when they feel that the experience is personalized, be it through the option to choose an exact check-in time, enjoy personal content through in-room technology or access local travel guides in their native language.
“Personalization in other industries is increasing consumer expectations,” said Micah Solomon, a customer-service author and speaker, in a statement. “The result now, regardless of your industry, is that customers don’t understand if you can’t personalize. If you can rearrange and remix your music on iTunes or pick your seat in the middle of the night with an airline before printing your boarding pass, then why don’t you have these options with hotels?”
In 2015, travelers can expect to see many hotels roll out or expand programs aimed at creating more tailored experiences, from new mobile apps to grab-and-go meals. For example, Starwood Hotels launched the industry’s first keyless-entry program this month, allowing hotel guests to get pertinent information and unlock room doors using their smartphones.
Hilton Hotels plans to test out similar technology early next year as well. Not only does this new development give guests more control, it also relieves pressure on the front desk, freeing up staff members to help guests in more meaningful ways. Starwood’s keyless-entry program will be available at 150 of its properties by early next year, and more brands are sure to follow suit.
To answer consumer demand for authentic experiences at a given destination, hotels are also looking for new ways to highlight local offerings. All 58 Hyatt House locations are connecting guests with the local community through new neighborhood guides that feature nearby small businesses, including restaurants and boutique shops. And if guests don’t feel like exploring by foot, they can take a complimentary shuttle, available at most Hyatt House properties.
Connecting guests with the destination is also a primary pillar for Hilton Hotels’ new Canopy by Hilton brand, which is set to debut at least 11 hotels next year. No two sites will be alike, as each will incorporate the history, art and fare of its locale.
Ultimately, travelers want a meaningful hotel experience that is relevant to them, be it via customizable amenities or local expertise that familiarizes them with the people and culture of their temporary home. As this trend is still in its infancy, consumers can expect to see brands try on different ideas for size throughout 2015 and beyond.