The new Ranch at Laguna Beach resort emphasizes nature activities. // © 2016 The Ranch Laguna Beach
Feature image (above): Virtuoso clients are increasingly seeking remote, experiential properties such as Inkaterra Hacienda Urubamba in Peru. // © 2016 Inkaterra Hacienda Urubamba
Most in the hotel space will agree that short-term rentals (STRs) have affected the greater accommodations industry — but how?
First, it’s helpful to identify who the short-term renter is. Research from Phocuswright’s 2016 report “From Hotels to Homes: Opening the Door to the Airbnb Traveler” shows that while more than one in 10 U.S. travelers stayed in an Airbnb at least once over the past two years, nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of Airbnb leisure renters are millennials (ages 18 to 34), and less than 3 percent of travelers 45 and older stayed in an Airbnb over the past two years.
Melanie Fish, a spokesperson for HomeAway, another popular vacation-home rental company, also identifies its clients as younger, more affluent and more frequent travelers.
“We are seeing that there is a new generation of rental travelers emerging,” Fish said. “They are looking for better value for their money, a convenient location and full kitchens when they travel.”
Apps like Uber have changed the way travelers feel about location, says J.P. Oliver, vice president and managing director of The Confidante Miami Beach and vice president of lifestyle for the Americas for Hyatt.
“It’s no longer a necessity to stay in the epicenter of a city and spend a fortune when a ride to restaurants and events is an app tap away,” Oliver said.
Phocuswright’s study also touches on trip motivations: Those who booked Airbnbs are similar to general leisure travelers, but their trips are more likely to stem from a desire for cultural enrichment or interest in nature (33 percent). Also, Airbnb guests are more keen on experiencing how people live in other parts of the world.
“The industry ‘shares’ travelers, and given the purpose of the trip, people will make decisions for different reasons,” said Cheryl Gilliam, senior vice president of brands and marketing for LodgeWorks, a privately held hotel development and management company that developed and owns the new Archer boutique hotels brand. “You might choose HomeAway on your family vacation and, the next time, Archer for a business trip.”
Virtuoso’s advisors book virtually every kind of accommodation, says Karen Goldberg, managing director of hotels and resorts for the organization.
“Multigenerational and family travel are huge trends, and as a result, our advisors do receive requests for villa accommodations and apartments,” she said.
Travel Leaders Group’s travel agents report that their luxury travelers are mostly booking five-star hotels and resorts — followed by suites within five-star hotels and resorts.
Whether or not agents are frequently booking STRs, it’s likely that their popularity is affecting what experiences hotels are offering, how they look, where they’re opening and more.
For example, hotels have never worked harder to create memorable experiences. Enter the onslaught of lifestyle brands — including independent newcomers, such as Archer Hotel and Proper Hotels, and corporate additions, such as Canopy by Hilton, Hyatt Centric and Trump Hotels’ Scion. Also within the last two years, a number of branded experiences were announced, including West Elm Hotels, Equinox Hotels and Karl Lagerfeld Hotels & Resorts. A boutique hotel-within-a-hotel is another growing trend, demonstrated by Walker Inn in Los Angeles’ Hotel Normandie and Nobu Hotel Miami Beach in the city’s Eden Roc Miami Beach.
On the lower end, an emerging trend is the posh youth hostel that, like some STRs, provides a sense of community and hip design elements at a competitive lower price. Generator and AccorHotels’ Jo&Joe are leading this trend targeted at millennials.
“While local offers and lifestyle properties do attract millennials, they also appeal to clients of all ages,” Goldberg said. “The wellness trend is very popular right now, and rather than just aiming at millennials, it caters to all ages. Some clients already live a wellness lifestyle, and some want to take a deeper dive into wellness through a specific trip.”
Indeed, lifestyle hotels in the luxury realm offer a sense of place coupled with high-touch service and customization.
“We have seen that travelers now place more emphasis on service, personalization and authentic and enriching travel experiences than the mere physical surrounds of luxury,” said Ed French, chief sales and marketing officer for The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. “The need for personalization continues to impact luxury travel, leading to the creation of enduring personal relationships based on trust between luxury travel providers and travelers.”
And while an Airbnb might place a traveler in a residential or gentrifying neighborhood with no hotels, the trend toward “authentic” places veers even more remote for high-end resorts.
“Research indicates a demand by travelers for less familiar and undiscovered locales with more privacy,” French said. “A quieter, more discreet style of luxury will be preferred; private islands, for example, are increasingly desirable, as are spectacular landscapes and unspoiled nature in off-the-beaten-track places.”
Virtuoso’s clients and advisors echo the trend of exploring outside primary cities.
“Luxury travelers are more adventurous and are seeking a deeper experience in the destinations they visit,” Goldberg said. “Inkaterra Hacienda Urubamba in Peru’s Sacred Valley of the Incas is an example of this. Architecture and design are inspired by the area’s cultural history, and guests can pick their own produce at the property’s organic plantation.”
And will Marriott brands such as The Ritz-Carlton be affected by Marriott International’s $13 billion acquisition of Starwood? The verdict is still out, but spokespeople for Marriott have said that they plan to keep all hotel brands, spend money on improvements more efficiently and allow Starwood’s SPG loyalty members and Marriott’s Marriott Rewards members to transfer points between accounts.
While many in the accommodations industry predict more hotel brand acquisitions, properties have never worked harder to offer a unique experience. And that’s where agents come in.
“Loyalty programs are not the decision-making driver any longer,” Gilliam said. “People want to feel special, be taken care of and have some fantastic experiences while they are on the road. The personal connection has become more of a factor than points. Building that loyalty through personalization is key.”