Marble bathtubs overflowing with lavender-scented suds. Overstuffed, vintage sofas that lean more old folk than opulent. These are some of the hallmarks — and hiccups — of heritage hotels.
Of the 25 global industries ranked in our latest World’s Simplest Brands study, hotels ranked 20th — a 12-point drop from the previous edition. There is one obvious culprit: hotels couldn’t rid the perception that COVID-19 was throwing in-room bonanzas that made The Who’s notorious bashes look so tame, they might have been mistaken for The Wiggles.
But there is another reason why sentiment towards once-desirable hotel brands has plummeted. Like the unripe cubes of honeydew at their breakfast buffets, heritage hotels are unwanted. Despite their best marketing efforts, many aren’t seen as trendy or experience-centric. Therefore, they aren’t capturing new customers or evolving with them.
Life isn’t the same since COVID — not even close. Work isn’t work, and business travel has gone the way of school and entertainment: to the screen.
Plus, budget hotels aren’t so budget anymore. Powerhouse mid-market brands have cut their amenities and squeezed more boxes in the sky. Premium and luxury brands of yesteryear aren’t servicing new audience needs and expectations.
If hospitality brands want to beat out home travelers and boutique hotel brands, they need to adopt their own housekeeping policy about four-day-old bath towels: Change it up.
These solutions answer the popular question, “What do I do when my brand is working hard, but my product isn’t?”
Check in chic
What if hotel brands’ unique versions of transient, temporary living weren’t modeled after legacy dorm rooms with cheesy décor and boards for beds? What if hotel art didn’t look like it was rejected from last month’s Paint & Sip at the neighboring bar? We all know that “oil painting” of a nondescript landscape.
The future of lodging aligns with today’s modern expectations of connected, comfortable and elevated home living. A hotel stay should be a brand-led experienceto which people look for inspiration for their own homes, rather than merely a place where you sleep. Brands should elevate their venues regularly, adapting to digital needs and modern design trends.
What if hotels actually knew what guests were looking for and could connect them with the right partners? I’m not talking about your garden-variety concierge. I’m talking about a simplified, brand-led experiencethat brings the best of local products or services together in a single place to help guests get the most out of their stay.
By partnering with local establishments, hotels can create a unique value for guests. Soon, guests will associate your offering with their favorite local touches.
For instance, referencing our hotel art example above, recruit local artists to put their work on the walls. This will bring attention to local creatives while making your hotel a curator of taste by promoting the newest breakout stars.
But beware: integrating partners can either make or break that brand relationship. The partnership should elevate both of you, rather than bringing you down a few notches.
Make success a destination, not a journey
What if hotels became a destination within the destination, with best-in-town dining and comfortable working space? What if, beyond the bar, hotels were magical and entertaining in the greater community? What if they were desirable venues for events other than team-building, small weddings or family reunions?
I imagine lively lobbies that function as both cultural districts and food markets. The lobby could host pop-up restaurants where trendy chefs cook up specialties — and buzz about the hotel. If you wish to unleash your inner Ina Garten, you can pick up local produce and bring it back to your room to maestro yourself with an in-room cooking class.
Should you want a feast for the ears rather than the eyes, feature live music in an amphitheater-like space with club-grade sound and comfortable seating — no more squeaky folding chairs.
These experiences connect customers to their passions and unexpected interests, instead of week-old tuna wraps.
Trend-setting design, perfect partners and cultural habitats can take the hotel industry from complex to captivating. That evolution is as transformative as that first time you stayed in a hotel that delivered unlimited breakfast to your bedside — and feasted on breakfast potatoes in your bathrobe.
This op-ed is part of a three-part guest series analyzing consumer needs at their most basic elements by Jared Fink, group director of experience at Siegel + Gale.