The popularity of Airbnb has given rise to a set of consumer preferences that, until now, have been largely underestimated by many in the hotel industry. That is now changing, as more hoteliers recognize one of the key learnings from Airbnb’s success: people crave authenticity when they travel, and in some cases, value it more than five-star amenities. From their meals to their lodging, many of today’s travelers want to experience a unique environment and feel immersed in an authentic culture. Airbnb has capitalized on this trend by marketing to the more adventurous traveler, promising a more immersive experience.
Smart hoteliers have paid attention. Many have begun taking steps to debunk the myth that hotel properties cannot offer a similarly gratifying form of authentic travel. This requires a thorough examination of every facet of the traditional hotel property and a discussion on how it could be altered or enhanced to draw a stronger cultural connection.
With smart, multi-disciplinary design and planning, a traditional hotel can also offer an immersive and culturally authentic travel experience. Below are a few reasons why.
#1: Adaptive reuse has the power to offer guests a one-of-a-kind experience.
Consumer preferences have shifted away from the cookie-cutter hotel model toward more unique lodging experiences. This shift has yielded some highly interesting new hotel properties that have been adapted from existing buildings. Many of today’s travelers are drawn to the allure of boutique hotels that have been converted from churches, hospitals, or old warehouses. These types of properties give guests a one-of-a-kind experience while offering a more organic connection to the local history and culture.
What does this look like in practice? It’s definitely a drastic change from the traditional design/build model. Rather than ground-up design, Hoteliers must give equal consideration to reclaimed spaces, rising urban developments, historical properties, and occupancy conversion opportunities. It may seem like a conflict of brand aesthetics, but the design qualities, signature details, and operational uniqueness inherent to specific hotel brands can be conveyed across a multitude of diverse property types. A talented design firm will adapt the brand essence of any established Hotelier into a location worthy of a leisure destination. Be sure to task architects and designers with highlighting the history and uniqueness of the space and location so the original structure’s influence on the local region is reflected throughout the converted property. Guests love a location with a rich history, compelling back-story, and local authenticity!
#2: The community is a source of partnerships that can lend valuable local credibility to the property.
Hoteliers have increasingly embraced the communities they’re building in. At the onset of the design and planning process, it’s crucial to identify ways to bring local businesses on board. Instead of contracting with a corporate coffee chain, it’s more strategic to partner with a homegrown coffee roaster that can offer a taste of the local brew. Rather than ordering prints of generic artwork for the lobby and guest rooms, commission local artists to provide one-of-a-kind pieces, and partner with a local chef to design the restaurant menu. These decisions demonstrate that your brand is in touch with and values the community – characteristics that will not be overlooked by guests. This total immersion into a local culture is a compelling way to offer the escape, adventure, and uniqueness desired by the contemporary traveler. It also creates a retail opportunity for the location by showcasing items specific to the story-telling component of the destination.
Environmental design is only part of a true local immersive experience. The personalities, history, and knowledge of the staff are the other half. Locally-hired employees have a knack for creating relationships, offering advice, and recommending great restaurants and must-see attractions. They add character, authenticity, and, most of all, they love the area!
#3: Room and amenity designs can deviate from a cookie-cutter format.
The authenticity of Airbnb lodging is inherent to the uniqueness of each property. Rarely are two rooms alike other than the expected amenities. Adding a design flair to the diversity, décor, layout, and furnishings creates a sense of authenticity and purpose to an immersive lodging experience. There is nothing more disappointing than to visit a unique hotel only to find that all the rooms have been converted to a typical prototyped format. A quality design firm can create a portfolio of room and design types strategically placed throughout the property to give the essence of authenticity, yet still maintain the operational effectiveness of scale and purpose.
About the Author
Ryan McBride serves as Creative Director of The McBride Company, a creative concept and design firm for clients in the hospitality and leisure industries.