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“How can Hotels compete in the Experience Economy?”

Research by Barclaycard in May 2017 showed that 34% of people now prefer to spend money on experiences rather than objectsThe above was the title of a recent Hotel Marketing Association event. It was a Keynote presentation by James Wallman, author of ‘Stuffocation: Living More with Less’. He believes that we have almost reached saturation point with possessions, or “Peak Stuff”  as it’s called by the Chief Sustainability Officer of Ikea. Research by Barclaycard in May 2017 showed that 34% of people now prefer to spend money on experiences rather than objects. The theme of the presentation was very much that people are now looking for unique experiences, in no small part fuelled by Social Media, where we want to show off to our friends. We also want to be able to ‘tell a story’ that will impress our friends. But, also we do care about our own wellbeing, hence the growth in popularity of things such as Mindfulness, and us seeking experiences that feed our soul. This made me reflect on the fact that hotels have in fact been delivering experiences for decades. Back in the 1970’s European hotels were essentially of 2 kinds: those that people went to on holiday and those frequented by male business travellers. A bunch of Sales guys (as hotels hadn’t embraced the Marketing profession in the early 1970’s) came up with the innovative idea of Weekend Breaks. This was the concept of encouraging the guys who stayed in hotels on business to return to hotels of the same chain, but with their wife and kids, at the weekend for a break that included not just dinner, bed and breakfast, but also tickets to local attractions. I was involved in marketing weekend breaks in the 1980’s, as we launched that concept into the rest of Europe and believe me, many countries, such as Spain, were adamant that the idea of staying in a hotel for the weekend would never catch on! But of course it did, and as marketers, we need to keep re-inventing the concept of leisure breaks. Also, in my opinion, hotels have also been delivering totally unique experiences (one of the themes of the presentation) for decades, through their staff. The long-standing success of Four Seasons, is in no small part due to their amazing philosophy regarding their staff, and their ability to make every guest feel unique. When Marriott UK made staff empowerment the focal point of their business strategy and their marketing in the 1990’s, it translated very rapidly into profitability. I had many personal experiences in Marriott hotels with my son at that time, which were made totally unique by staff who were genuinely empowered. In one particular Marriott the Concierge actually moved the furniture around in the lobby so my son could sit and quietly watch his football heroes, who were staying in the hotel. That memory will stay with us both forever. And has given us a story to tell, which was another of James’s themes. So, I believe we are already ahead of the game. I also believe that courtesy of its Guest History, every hotel has an opportunity to deliver a unique experience to every guest by ‘remembering’ what they like to eat, drink and do during their stay, what type of room they prefer, what time they like to dine etc. Leaving a unique welcome gift in the room, was mentioned by one of the of the panellists from the subsequent Q&A session, as being something that creates not just a lasting impression, but also a story that you tell to everyone, including a room full of people at an HMA event! James did also mention the importance of fame, in our social-media-fuelled world. And this plays a huge part with concepts such as Hotel Football in Manchester, owned by ‘The Class of ‘92’. Again, this concept is not new, as hotel bars the world over have always displayed photos of the famous people who have sipped cocktails within their four walls, and suites have been named after the famous people who have slept in them. So, I believe that hotels are already at the heart of the Experience Economy, and as marketers our challenge is to keep on coming up with unique ideas. At this point, I am thinking ‘what is next?’. And, I can only speculate that you move from possessions to experiences, to fame, to power and influence, and then to philanthropy. And the world will certainly be a better place if philanthropy is at the heart of it. Author Written by Pamela Carvell, Lifestyle Marketer February 2018 (NOTE: The above is NOT intended to be a report of what took place at the HMA meeting, but rather some of the key points that were raised, that prompted my reflections and thoughts.)

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