5 trends shaping guest experiences in 2015
 
5 trends shaping guest experiences in 2015
07 NOVEMBER 2014 9:57 AM
Mobile, millennials and technology will be among the trends that take center stage during 2015, panelists said during a webinar.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—The trends that will dominate 2015 look a lot like the trends that dominated in 2014, panelists said during a webinar on Thursday.
 
Mobile, millennials, health and wellness, business travel and supply are all likely to be talking points in the industry during 2015, the panelists said during the online panel “The guest experience: Top trends to look for in 2015.”
 
1. Millennials
Hotel companies scurried during 2014 to cater to the up-and-coming millennial generation. Brands, such as Marriott International’s rollout of Moxy, have been trying to capture this increasingly traveling demographic.
 
Niki Leondakis, CEO of Commune Hotels & Resorts, said her company’s new Tommie brand, while not aimed specifically at millennials, was designed for people who have a more youthful attitude toward travel.
 
She said the brand, which will open its first property next summer in the Hudson Square neighborhood of Manhattan, will have a more “affordable price” for younger travelers.
 
“Research shows millennials define luxury by functionality over price tag,” she said. “Millennials are inclusive by nature and want to learn and grow by meeting others through travel.”
 
Anthony Ingham, VP of luxury and design brands for North America at Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, said the company’s Aloft brand came about in 2008 because executives saw the rising tide of the millennial traveler. “We took the principals of (the W brand) and made them more accessible,” he said.
 
Craig Greenberg, president of 21c Museum Hotels, said his company is not looking specifically at the millennial traveler.
 
“The sensibilities they are looking for applies to a much larger cross-section of travelers today,” he said.
 
Asked how millennials are booking, Ingham said hotels need to ensure their mobile booking channels are up to date. He foresees a time when all of this age group’s booking occurs via handheld devices.
 
“There are still so many hotels that just have their (desktop) websites come up on the phone,” Greenberg said. “They’re slow and clunky and not designed for your phone.”
 
2. Mobile
Speaking of mobile, Ingham said mobile technology will begin to take on new shapes during 2015. He said Starwood Hotels has had a team embedded with a team at Apple and are working on integrating the Apple Watch into on-property technology at Starwood-branded hotels. The company has been testing Apple Watch functionality for the past six or seven months, with a goal of integrating it into Starwood’s mobile check-in/keyless entry offering.
 
Starwood Preferred Guest users would get a push notification to their watch when their room is ready, be shown their room number on the watch, and then be able to use Bluetooth technology to tap the watch against the door lock to open the room. The wearable tech application at Starwood hotels only applies to the Apple Watch for now.
 
“Ultimately, it will be something that works on all forms of tech,” he said.
 
Leondakis said Commune isn’t going to force guests to have to adapt to new technologies. “We believe in giving guests choices,” she said.
 
Some guests come on property in search of a “digital detox,” she said. Any new technology added to the company’s hotels has to be thought through and the offering has to save guests time, resources or money.
 
“We first ask, ‘Does this serve a purpose?’” she said. “We’re not about the newest toy or something that’s just fun. It really needs to be purposeful and intentional and lessens pain points for guests. 
 
“Tommie will be as analog and human centric as it is digital. There is a conception out there that millennial (brands) are tech-centric. We believe there is a service model that is: Help yourself, but at the same time, our staff will be there to help at all times,” Leondakis said.
 
3. Business travel
The panelists also discussed the best way to serve business travelers. Michael Dail, VP of global brand marketing at Marriott, said the company, cognizant that travelers carry a multitude of mobile devices, provides chargers capable of charging six different devices.
 
Leondakis said Commune Hotels also recognizes business travelers have high-tech needs that must be met, so executives have been striving to upgrade bandwidth and also provides HDMI cables and jack packs to guests.
 
Guests, especially business travelers, want simplicity, she said. They want to be able to turn something on and go. “They don’t want tech for the sake of tech, and we get that,” she said.
 
Greenberg said all hotels have to ensure they have an adequate supply of outlets in their rooms. Upgrading older properties could be the biggest tech challenge of 2015.
 
“There’s really very little tolerance from travelers for those hotels to not have been (updated) by now,” he said.
 
4. Health and wellness
Healthy living while on the road is also becoming a bigger theme, as evidenced by InterContinental Hotels Group’s launch of its Even brand, that focuses on wellness. 
 
Dail said Marriott heard from a 21-year-old college student who lamented that there are few healthy eating options when arriving at a property late at night. In response, the company at the beginning of September introduced a vending machine that features healthy food options.
 
“It’s really all about guests’ choices,” he said. “There are definitely times when the Marriott burger will satisfy their appetite, but if they want a snack, they can get it.
 
21c’s Greenberg said the wellness trend spills over to meetings too.
 
The company’s hotels offer Yoga breaks during group meetings, for example. “They are looking for something to get the creative juices flowing, they don’t want it to be just another meeting,” he said.
 
5. Supply
As for operating performance, speakers said the next couple of years at least look good, especially from a supply-and-demand perspective. Bobby Bowers, senior VP at STR, the parent company of Hotel News Now, said supply growth is below trend, while occupancy, average daily rate, and group travel are displaying positive growth.
 
“In 2015, we see (a year) much like 2014,” he said. “What we’re seeing right now is (revenue-per-available-room) growth of 5% or 6%, with much of that coming from ADR, but we continue to see occupancy growth as well.”
 
Mark Woodworth, president of PKF-Hospitality Research, said seven out of 10 rooms being built today are in the upscale/upper upscale end of the market. Still, he foresees positive performance for up to the next three years.
 
“The number of rooms opening in 2015 is literally going to be one half of what we saw at the last cyclical peak,” he said. “There are a handful of markets going through substantial supply growth (but) we just don’t see any stress.”
 

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