Experts speaking at the Caribbean Hotel & Resort Investment Summit said guests no longer want resorts to be a cookie-cutter experience, and hoteliers now need to reach out to surrounding communities to offer new experiences and interactions.
MIAMI—Traveler behavior is changing, and hoteliers in the Caribbean are adjusting to those changes in real time.
Executives speaking during the “Cultural and experiential value proposition for hotels/resorts” session at the Caribbean Hotel & Resort Investment Summit, said travelers are looking to go to places that make them feel a direct connection with local communities, even within the controlled environment of a resort property.
Sabrina Cendral, VP of marketing and digital for Club Med, said it’s a misconception that all-inclusive resorts are “a bubble closed to what’s going on outside,” and that blending that resort experience with local flavor is the key to success. She said it comes down to offering different experiences to different travelers based on their desires.
“At Club Med, we have a campaign called ‘Live Your List’ about how you can go to different resorts to check items off your bucket list,” she said.
Cendral said this has been an important shift for companies like hers, noting that 67% of affluent travelers now spend more on tours, activities and food and beverage than on rooms.
“They want to bring home the feeling that they’ve learned something new or their kids developed in a new way by discovering new cultures,” she said.
Worthy of investment
Brooke Meyer, managing partner of Caymera International, said there’s a big component of human resources in realizing a localized experience in a resort environment. She said from an ownership perspective, this is something clearly worthy of investment.
“Assets need HR programs (so employees can) create experiences guests can share,” she said. “You should also invest in technology that plays a key role in these experiences.”
She noted a good customer relationship management system is key, and hoteliers should use those tools to connect with local businesses to offer unique experiences to guests.
Giving guests what they want
Juan Corvinos, VP of development in the Caribbean and Latin America for Hilton, said it’s key for hoteliers to keep in mind what guests really want on a resort vacation and to tailor the experience around that.
“They want to disconnect or reconnect with relatives and significant others,” he said. “So how you put culture in front of them is important, but it’s not through the lens of a phone. Everyone can travel today with Google Earth, but when you’re there you can see, smell and touch a culture and experience.”
Corvinos cautioned there can’t be a sea of sameness for various resorts even though various islands are “very similar.”
Ruben Becerra, VP of business development for Karisma Hotels & Resorts, said this is important to achieve even at highly programed and thematic properties, such as the company’s Nickelodeon and Margaritaville brands. He said the experience can be varied at different resorts by keying in on different aspects of the brands.
At Nickelodeon resorts “the characters pushed at each resort is important,” he said. “At some places it’s more about SpongeBob, at others it could be the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Margaritaville takes the same approach.”
Pleasing multiple generations
The rise of multigenerational travel is key for resorts in part because they have to tailor experiences to different travelers at different points of their lives, sources said.
“I think there’s something very powerful in demonstrating that through various experiences you can open opportunities for families to reconcile what everyone is looking for in a vacation,” Cendral said.
Corvinos said Hilton is seeing “a big influx in multigenerational travel,” which it’s tried to work around through the development of both family and adults-only resorts through its deal with Playa Hotels & Resorts.
He said the hotel industry needs to adapt to that trend or risk losing those travelers to alternative accommodations.
“Many people have figured out if they had a trip where they couldn’t find a hotel, they can stay at a house where everyone has their own place and it’s more economical for them,” he said.