EyeforTravel North America 2018

October 2018, Las Vegas

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Why quality and authenticity need a two-pronged attack

In a guest post for EyeforTravel, Emmanuel Arnaud says hotels and peer-to-peer providers need to take a cue from each other

Hotels, if they are doing their job properly, are great at delivering consistent quality. On the other hand, peer-to-peer accommodation providers have become recognised for delivering authentic experiences. Today’s customer, however, is looking for both and that means it is time that both actors need to take a cue from each other.

Of course, hotel quality in the US and elsewhere has been a focus of the industry since its rise in the 1970s. In fact, American hotel tycoon Conrad Hilton believed in bringing American-style quality to the industry and once said that ‘every Hilton should be a little America’.

Unfailing quality can backfire by stifling authenticity and making a hotel just another place to sleep

The problem with this approach, however, is that very often the more subjective elements of the customer experience can be compromised by the very practices designed to make them consistent! Indeed, unfailing quality can backfire by stifling authenticity and making a hotel just another place to sleep.

Farewell cookie cutters

The tension between the kind of return companies want to achieve on their investments and the need to personalise the experience is increasingly evident. This is not an easy thing to remedy, when you consider what it is going to take – making a single building and its staff authentic in the eyes of any particular customer! More complicated still when you consider that 44% of travellers, according to a 2015 survey by Ellis Hotel, would eschew ‘cookie-cutter’ hotel rooms in favour of more unique accommodation.

Indeed, by personalising the experience, peer-to-peer accommodation services have grown in popularity. These include platforms like ours - Guesttoguest and HomeExchange - where users exchange lodgings or rental outfits like Airbnb and VRBO.

Increasingly too, as platforms become more mainstream, they have become just another way to book accommodation for ever-demanding customers.

So, to continue to increase market share, peer-to-peer platforms need to up their game in terms of delivering consistent quality.

In this there are numerous challenges. For starters, hosts are not employees, and their homes are not built and maintained by the platforms. Also, the units on offer are scattered, not in a single location, making it difficult to offer services like cleaning, check-in/key handover, and on-the-spot dispute settlement.

Yet various peer-to-peer hospitality platforms are searching for the right solutions, and creating potential for innovation that will determine the future. These solutions will mostly be digital because of the dispersed nature of the offering and the varied hosts. Among those on offer could be: concierge-type services so that those renting lodgings don’t have to be onsite to give guests keys, excursions, events and other activities booked directly from the platform’s app on the guest’s phone.

All players need to recognise that why travellers choose to stay somewhere is more important than where they are staying

Hotels may not have the same quality challenges to overcome, but they need to find ways to personalise the experience. To overcome these, hotels can foster interaction between guests, such as happy hours where they can easily socialise and mingle. They can also foster new types of interactions between staff and guests.

3 examples are:

1. Marriott and the master-class: Marriott allows guests to take cooking classes with the restaurant’s chef or photography master-classes, as well as wine country exploration, private golf lessons and even opportunities to give back to the community via charity trips.

2. Chateauform seminars: With chateaux throughout Europe providing seminar venues along with accommodation, Chateauform has put the emphasis on people, with a family living in each chateau that welcomes guests as if it were their home.

3. AccorHotels targets millennials: The French chain involved its customers in the design of its new millennial-minded brand Jo&Joe, a house open to those people lodging onsite and the neighbouring communities, mixing locals with travellers through activities and by just being on site together. According to Maud Bailly, Chief Digital Officer, AccorHotels: “It’s all about proximity, instant gratification, and the feeling of belonging to a community … [supporting] key notions of personalisation and experiential accommodation.”

Meanwhile, others are proposing local activities outside of the hotel to give a sense of being local during the stay.

Clearly then, both the hotel industry and peer-to-peer accommodation providers need to take a page from each other’s playbook. Hotels need to become more personal, more welcoming, and integrate into their local community in order to retain market share. Meanwhile peer-to-peer accommodation operators must enhance the quality of their offerings and services. All players need to recognise that why travellers choose to stay somewhere is more important than where they are staying.

Emmanuel Arnaud CEO of GuestToGuest and HomeExchange is speaking in Las Vegas on October 18-19

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