By Sean McCracken | Hotel News Now | June 29, 2022 | 9:14 AM
ORLANDO — Since the onset of the pandemic, marketers in the hotel industry have been tasked with reaching potential travelers as behaviors seemingly change at light speed.
Speaking during the 2022 HSMAI Marketing Strategy Summit, Daniel Levine, director of the Avant-Guide Institute, said these consumer changes can be boiled down to five phenomena occurring not just in hospitality but across society.
1. A Holistic Mindset
Levine said much of the struggle of the past two years is directly related to desire for a more beneficial work-life balance or a redefinition of what that means.
"The idea of work-life balance has changed in the last few years to this idea of work-life integration," he said. "It's not about work is over here and the rest of your life is over here. People are learning, 'Hey, let's mix it.' It's all one thing, and if that doesn't work in my life, I'm going to do different work."
This mindset has potential to impact the hotel industry from an employment perspective, but it can also be a demand driver as more people push to work remotely.
"That's opening people's minds to say, 'Wow, it's not just work from home. I can work from resorts. I can work from The Caribbean,'" he said. "That's what's changing people's mindset."
This idea of looking at things more holistically also means consumers are expecting brands to better fit into their values and priorities, driving greater interest for sustainability at hotels.
2. Swift Assistance
Levine said consumers have an expectation today for immediacy from the brands they buy from, when they need help or information, but that's an area that many hotels have fallen behind in.
"People are researching, both B2C (business-to-consumer) and B2B (business-to-business) at 3 a.m. from their beds," he said. "That's happening more and more, so it really amazes me that I am not seeing more properties integrating and bolstering their FAQ pages to offer people that self-help at 3 in the morning."
He said it's easy to see this demand for immediacy across the economy, with services such as Amazon one-click ordering, Dominoes zero-click ordering or Walmart soon offering drone deliveries in seven states.
Daniel Levine, director of the Avant-Guide Institute, speaks during the 2022 HSMAI Marketing Strategy Summit in Orlando. (Sean McCracken)
Examples of self-serve convenience in hospitality and travel include self-serve kiosks for check-in. Some hotels have adopted the technology, but adoption is not universal.
Levine noted the hospitality industry, which is often a laggard in adopting technology, could be behind the curve in that regard, especially as more-tech-forward travel brands are already abandoning check-in kiosks due to consumers preferring to simply use their smartphones for the process.
He said that layer of customer preference should be baked into decisions on tech adoption.
"With self-serve kiosks, some of you might say cynically that they did that so they don't have to employ so many people," he said. "That's true, but these things have double duty. If it's not working from a customer's perspective, it's not going to work at all."
He noted there's a clear generational shift in consumer adoption of kiosks.
"It's interesting that younger people go to the kiosks because they don't want to talk to a real human, but older people go to a human because they don't want to deal with the technology," he said.
3. Braggable Luxury
Levine noted that over the course of the pandemic, the idea of luxury has shifted. More consumers are defining luxury as something they can brag about.
That means, in part, things that seem more new and novel feel more luxurious to consumers. But as more companies adopt a high-tech, low-human-touch model, the classic idea of luxury with a large human component can also feel more unique and interesting to travelers, with Levine noting that luxury could soon be defined as "interacting with human beings because human beings are expensive and machines are cheap."
He said luxurious and unique are quickly becoming synonymous.
"Think about the ice hotels in Sweden or Canada," he said. "You actually, physically sleep on a block of ice. Is that luxurious? No, it's the opposite. But it's considered a luxury experience."
4. Honest Communication
Consumers are increasingly looking for brands that will interact with them clearly and honestly, as they live through "a time that's particularly challenging when it comes to honesty," Levine said.
He noted the hospitality industry has historically been more on the conservative side but has increasingly embraced letting employees be themselves, dress down to appear less formal with guests and learn new ways to communicate in a more direct way.
Levine noted guests are particularly apt to recoil at the sight of what they believe are hidden fees, like resort or parking fees.
"I sort of understand why this is such a challenging thing in hospitality to deal with, but from a trends perspective, it ain't right because of" what consumers think about it, he said.
5. Phygital Interaction
Levine said companies and brands outside of the hotel industry, particularly in retail, are putting more effort into blending the experience for consumers between the physical and digital worlds.
While some retailers allow consumers to virtually walk through their brick-and-mortar stores online to shop, others including Macy's now allow customers to browse inventory through digital kiosks in stores. He also mentioned Sephora stores, where customers can virtually try on different lipsticks with augmented reality booths.
He said the trend is now common at food-and-beverage outlets, too.
"When you go to a restaurant, the menus are QR codes," he said. "This is a digital experience they're creating."
Jim Hepple is an Assistant Professor at the University of Aruba and is Managing Director of Tourism Analytics.