Catering to Guests Desiring Authentic Local Experiences

Everyone has that friend on social media who can’t seem to go more than two hours without posting something. Whether it be a gripe about traffic, a picture of lunch, or the latest “Hotline Bling” parody, the compulsion to share via social media is very real. This tendency to over-share is partially due to our society’s obsession with so-called “social currency,” which describes the actual and potential resources that may arise from being active in online communities. The more you share, the more currency you earn. And it’s not just the quantity of your posts—quality matters, especially among the millennial generation. A finicky demographic that is steadily gaining influence in the United States (currently boasting $200 billion in annual buying power), millennials are much more invested in authenticity than generations past, with 43 percent saying that they value a source’s authenticity over its content, according to Forbes.

With immense buying power and focus on having genuine experiences, millennials, and those with a similar mindset, are driving a major trend in the hospitality and lodging industries—experience-based travel has become the new luxury. Per Resonance Consultancy’s 2015 Tourism & Travel Trends Report, not only are travel and leisure experiences tied with technology for the most coveted luxuries in U.S. households, when people travel, they exhibit higher levels of interest in active/creative culture participation in the area in which they’re staying. Trips are a status symbol now, and for many people, nothing is more luxurious than taking in the genuine cultural experience.

Observant hoteliers caught on to this trend early, and they are now shaping the future of the luxury segment with hotels that appeal to our social society’s zeal for Instagrammable moments at authentic properties that reflect their communities. Big brands are snapping up independent luxury properties and keeping them as part of soft brand “collections,” putting the power of a major industry force behind the authentic, local experience offered by these hotels.


Individualistic Properties Are Big Business
Marriott’s Autograph Collection is one example of this phenomenon. The brand, which launched in 2010, will soon add its 100th hotel to its portfolio. And, according to Julius Robinson, vice president of the Autograph Collection, the reason for this massive growth is the way each hotel under the collection champions the independent experience offered by that property. The flag’s motto is “Exactly like nothing else,” and each property totes unique packages and experiences to its location. “Our goal is to put a spotlight on the property, put a spotlight on the local marketplace, and make a community footprint with each hotel,” explains Robinson. “This way, when guests come to visit, they know that they’re getting an authentic experience.”

Each Autograph hotel offers guests exclusive packages that are deeply reflective of the local community. These can include anything from swimming with manta rays at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel on Hawaii’s Big Island to getting a tattoo while staying at Metropolitan at the 9 in Cleveland, Ohio. “We really want our packages to pull on the local community in a genuine way, and that means sending people out into the neighborhood to learn about where the locals go and incorporate that into our offerings. Unique packages, like the tattoo, spark attention and draw interest from that millennial demographic,” Robinson says.

And the Autograph Collection isn’t the only game in town. Curio – A Collection by Hilton launched in June 2014 and has since added more than 20 properties—some new build, some conversions—to its portfolio. Dianna Vaughan, global head of Curio, says that as the flag was building the foundation of its identity, she found it easier than anticipated to add local flavor to Curio properties. “Many Curio properties existed as independent hotels before joining the collection, which meant they already had lots of experience reaching out to local businesses to establish partnerships. It’s just something that naturally happens when a hotel doesn’t have a major engine behind it. So now, the connection with Hilton is simply giving these properties an extra boost and bolstering what they’re already doing,” Vaughan describes.

Some brands take it a few steps further than partnering with local businesses to make the hotel a staple destination of a particular city. This has been the approach of the Luxury Collection Hotels & Resorts from Starwood, which will soon open its 100th property. “For hoteliers looking to capture business from those luxury experience-seeking travelers, it doesn’t hurt to have a few hotels in your portfolio that double as city landmarks or historical sites,” explains Hoyt Harper, senior vice president and global brand leader of the Luxury Collection. “That way, even if a guest isn’t staying with you, they still visit your property in their efforts to have an authentic experience.”