They are fresh, artsy and have smart and youthful attitudes. We’re talking about boutique hotels, the new stars of the hospitality industry, offering incomparable personalized services, characterized by fancy design and prestigious furnishings, located mostly in the heart of trendy cities.
Boutique hotels’ recent success is confirmed not only by numbers (the highest ADR – average daily rate – during the year and the greatest gains in RevPAR according to CBRE projects) and by industry insiders (in the last few years, more than 20 brands have been added to the ever-changing mix of hotels in the boutique space) but also by a growing number of travelers who want their hotels to be an integral part of a unique travel experience.
The reasons behind this success are many so we decided to learn more about them by putting under the magnifying glass 3 important boutique hotel trends.
The “Eco-Bio-Healthy” revolution
More and more travelers are interested in making choices that protect the planet and promote reconnecting with nature. Precisely for this reason, one of the top boutique hotels trends of 2018 is accommodating travelers in eco-friendly facilities. For example, in Bangkok, the New Akyra Sukhumvit has become the first single-use-plastic-free hotel.
Furthermore, vegan options, local food and 0km gastronomic products are now omnipresent in boutique hotel menus.
Therefore it seems that most boutique hotels are now riding the well-being and environmental sustainability wave highlighting the connection between nature, body and mind.
David Bowd, an industry vet and principal at West Elm Hotels, in a recent interview for Condé Nast Traveler highlighted the growing importance of the “bio” element in hotel menus saying this: “I think the ability when you travel to stay healthy, to have something on a room service menu that is a great salad or a great wrap—it’s not just another club sandwich and fries, which I still see everywhere. I get it: People want that, but I think there’s [room for] the healthy option as well”.
Localhood and authenticity
In an increasingly globalized and standardized world affecting inevitably with its dynamics the hospitality industry, authenticity is the new change of gear.
What travelers want today is a local perspective of destinations. They want to integrate themselves with territories and communities they visit and they know that to achieve this integration they need local guides who can help them live authentic and unforgettable experiences. What travelers desire most is, in one word, “localhood” a term we wrote about in one of our previous blog posts. A famous lifestyle and local experience influencer, Nyssa P. Chopra, founder and curator at The Cultureur, recently wrote: “Whether you’re looking for the best restaurant, the best luxury hotel, best vantage point for photos, unique experiential itinerary ideas or hidden gems of a local culture, I’ve done my research so you do not have to”. Her statement says a lot about modern travelers’ desires. Among all travelers, the ones choosing boutique hotels and b&bs seem to be the ones who appreciate most experiencing destinations just like locals do and discovering local hidden gems.
This is why boutique hotels are shifting their offer towards unique and local experiences regarding winemaking, traditional gourmet cuisine, signature dining options and in-room service, mimicking, in some cases, b&b’s.
Technology is key
In the search for your next boutique hotel vacation you might encounter “digital detox” hotels offering libraries, absence of web connectivity and meditative spaces to their guests. However “cyber-vices” are difficult to eradicate in travelers so boutique hotels seem to be definitely focusing more on technology than on libraries and reading rooms and seem very aware that being in step with the times does not mean going against localhood and the essence of hospitality. On the contrary, digital tools and services like web connectivity, smart rooms and AI travel assistants are proving to be very effective drivers of localhood, tradition and authenticity in the tourism industry.
Just think how important Google Maps are for travelers as they not only allow them to find the best route to every local point of interest but they also provide a wide range of other useful information like public transport services, POI reviews and pictures, traffic status and much more.
What we wrote above is evidence of the transformation boutique hotels around the world are going through overtime as attention to furnishing and design, the traditional distinctive elements of boutique hotels, is slowly but steadily being superseded by a strong focus on technology, respect of the environment, wellness and authentic local experiences. What more could travelers desire from their vacations? Well, there’s much more going on in hospitality than what you read here today but we’ll write about it in our upcoming articles so stay tuned on our blog!
For the moment, just keep in mind that boutique hotel experiences are getting more interesting every day and are truly worth discovering in your upcoming leisure trips.
Meanwhile, CEO of Placepass, Emily Bernard says that “[E]xperiences are the future of travel,” and that “immersive in-destination activities” are on the rise.
So, where can you count on undertaking an experience you won’t soon forget? We’ve scoured the globe for five of the best (and most unique) experiences offered by hotels.
1) Experience the Great White North at Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort
There’s a reason for every season, goes the old saying. And, we’re pretty sure that the likes of winter and Arctic chill were invented specifically so guests could undertake the truly other-worldly experience that the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort in Finland offers.
From late-August to April of each year, nature puts on a lights show like no other. If viewing the Northern Lights is an experience on your bucket list, be prepared to not only check it off your list but to do so in style.
The Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort’s glass igloos offer an incredible, unobstructed view of the Arctic sky. Be prepared for a view filled not only with stars that seem to outnumber the sheer grains of sand on Earth but the luminous, mysterious dance of the Aurora Borealis.
Each igloo is masterfully designed with private curtains, climate control, private bathrooms and hot showers. If you’re looking for a communal feel, head to the common areas for a soak in the sauna.
And what about the day? Experience classic Arctic activities like snowmobiling, ice fishing, sled dog training, and the quintessential reindeer sleigh ride.
2) Live Like a Desert King at Qasr al Sarab Desert Resort
One of the few things that interrupts Rub’ al Khali, the “largest uninterrupted sand desert in the world” is the majestic vision of the Qasr al Sarab Desert Resort.
A multi-faceted experience, the “Empty Quarter” is packed-full of what the Qasr al Sarab Desert Resort calls, “The Spirit of Arabia”.
Guests at Qasr al Sarab can expect to enjoy a full day, beginning with a tour of the desert at sunrise, a unique and nearly mystical experience. Then, guests can experience scores of activities including dune dashing, camel rides, horseback riding, archery, falconry and even cooking classes.
After the day is done, guests can head to the traditional and exclusive Hammam spa, touted to have healing desert elixirs, with authentic hammam rituals, before taking a dip in the common area free-form pool, completely shrouded by the stars.
3) Cliff Camping at Estes Park
Not for the faint of heart but not to be shied away from either: The chance to sleep at the face of a mountain may not immediately appeal to everyone but it’s an experience you should absolutely undertake…if you dare!
Colorado’s breathtaking Estes Park is where camping and outdoor enthusiasts head up a mountain and then rappel down its rockface to set up shop on a nylon cot just big enough to accommodate two sleeping bags.
While cliff campaign experiences are usually set up by serious climbers like Harry Kent of Kent Mountain Adventure Center, travelers don’t have to be major climbers to undertake this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
In fact, Kent’s operation focuses on providing these experiences in safe, controlled settings, aimed specifically at newbie and inexperienced climbers. If there’s one thing that will put the spirit of the mountain in you, it’s the feeling of being utterly alone on the side of a cliff for the night.
These dreamy views are something every traveler will appreciate more because they had to work for them.
4) Get Up Close and Personal with Big Game at The Ark
After Queen Elizabeth’s accession to the throne was marked by her prior experience at Tree Tops in Kenya, Big Game viewing experiences became more popular than ever.
Today, it’s not only royalty that can engage in a coveted spotting of the wild’s “king of the jungle”.
Located in Aberdare National Park is a sanctuary that overlooks a floodlit waterhole and salt lick, which makes for a communal experience for creatures like hippos, giraffes, zebra and even elephants, as well as the curious humans who can view them from up high.
Creatively named “The Ark”, this makeshift-hotel-and-sanctuary is actually an experience in itself. There are four viewing decks with balconies and lounges for observing animals, as well as a hidden, ground-level bunker perfect for wildlife photography enthusiasts looking to capture animals through the lens.
Once you’ve acclimated yourself to your fellow neighbors, take a safari drive into the bush, a guided nature walk, go bird watching or visit the Moorlands, where the magnificent waterfalls of River Magura, River Karuru and River Chania await. For something more low-key, finish your trip with some trout fishing.
5) Relax and Breathe Deep…Underwater at Song Saa Private Island
With experiences like this, it’s truly difficult to pick favorites, but we saved the “best” for last.
Remote and riveting, Song Saa “Private Island” makes you think of some secret, clandestine spot of luxury.
The reality is not far off. Song Saa, which is an affectionate Khmer term for “sweethearts”, is a set of twin islands surrounded by dazzling turquoise waters off the Gulf of Thailand. It’s also the spot where Australians Rory and Melita Hunter set up their dream of a private island luxury resort that provides local conservation efforts as well as unique experiences for travelers.
While “private island” seems to imply exclusivity and luxury, Song Saa’s experience is more about the harmonious. The islands of Koh Ouen and Koh Bong are connected by a footbridge, and positioned just off the shoreline is its world-class restaurant and lounge.
The ethic at Song Saa is simple: Nature and natural beauty are one in the same. Instead of a dedicated spa center, there are various “regenerative sites” through which guests rotate for a truly bespoke experience. All around, the presence of the ocean, the rainforest and the tropical wildlife give guests the chance to rejuvenate.
Song Saa features a team of locally and internationally-trained therapists who range from Khmer practitioners to yoga masters and ayurvedic therapists. Guests can also enjoy an engaging set of activities like paddle boarding, local gardening workshops, rainforest hiking, kayaking, snorkeling, and cooking classes, to name a few.
A particularly notable and memorable Song-Saa-exclusive experience, however, is the underwater meditation. Guests begin by scuba diving at dusk. As the moon is rising, the island’s only light source makes for an eerie and spiritual mood. A relaxation and meditation expert leads the experience underwater, using special breathing equipment and waterproof personal players.
Hotels are not the only ones changing things up. Tour operators and travel companies are popping up offering packages that are tailored to travelers’ “Travel Styles”.
Are you a “Discoverer”? Or, perhaps, an “Independent Insider”? There’s a trip for that.
The experiential and the immersive itinerary is not a trend but a new reality. Hotels are getting on board and riding the wave by offering the chance for guests to make memories. And travelers are only too happy to do so.
Finding the perfect travel accommodation is always a big dilemma. There are several factors to consider and above all it’s difficult to choose between b&bs and hotels. What are the pros and cons of each and how to choose what suits best your travel style? Below, there’s a list of tips that can be useful in your future choices.
Choose a Hotel to avoid unpleasant check-in experiences
Step forward those who have never had problems with b&b check-ins… In my experience as a traveler, I have tried both hotels and b&bs. In (very common) case of unexpected delays, in hotels I never encountered problems in getting my room key even at late night hours. On the contrary in b&bs it happened to me that I had to wait long times for the property owner to turn up with the keys. If you are afraid of spending a night in the cold and you prefer avoiding interaction with your host (often in foreign languages) very probably hotels are the best choice for you.
Surprises vs standards
I remember that I once rented a B&B in the Balearic islands with my girlfriend. The apartment was very nice and overlooked the sea, the host was not there and had entrusted the keys to a friend who showed up on time at check-in. While showing us the apartment, she told us that we could should not enter the room in the middle of the house. As soon as she left the house, amid the protests of my girlfriend, I rushed into the forbidden room and inside, above a child’s bed, there was a thread with a very smelly plant (some people like smoking it) hung up to dry. I breathed a sigh of relief for not having found anything spooky although finding drugs in a child’s room seemed odd enough. Something like this would have never happened in a hotel so if you don’t like smelly plants, or any kind of unpleasant surprise, then maybe choosing a hotel for your vacation is what’s best for you.
Local vs aseptic experience
The smell of homebaked cookies in the morning, freshly squeezed orange juice and homemade jams from the host’s mother are goodies that, if you are lucky, could be offered to you in a b&b allowing you to immerge yourself in authentic local culinary experiences making your stay certainly less aseptic than the ones usually offered by hotel chains. Very often, hotel breakfasts, unless you have opted for 5-star luxury, are not the best as instead of an old big mama smiling while she cooks, in their kitchens there are underpaid employees who, after waking up at 5 in the morning and having rambled the whole kitchen, will prepare for you two cobbled scrambled eggs and a grilled sausage floating in refracted fat while cursing the service chief. In any case, if you enjoy more private and standardized travel experiences then you should opt for a hotel while if you are looking for an authentic local experience then a b&b is what’s best for you.
Saving vs quality assured
Some sector studies show that b&bs, if compared to hotels, are cheaper for the same services offered and provide more living space at the same expense. However, convenience and extra space are not always synonymous of a better holiday because, if it is true that B&Bs are cheaper, it is also true that they are often decentralized or located far from main tourist attractions. So if most b&bs offer fully equipped kitchens allowing you to save on the food bill, this saving could be canceled by transport costs if they’re located far from the center. Moreover in b&bs, wi-fi connectivity is not always available and anti-theft security is generally higher in hotels if compared to vacation rentals and b&bs.
Efficiency and speed vs inexperience and slowness
Very often, booking a b&b can be very complicated, slow and laborious. Host inexperience could lead to awful booking experiences (not all b&bs are connected to big booking management portals) and it could happen that, for family problems, ineptitude or any other reason, a host decides to cancel your stay, ruining your holiday plans. Problems like the ones mentioned above are normally absent in hotels as they rarely leave their guests without a room even if sometimes they don’t deliver all their promises to their guests. The last note that could make you opt for hotels is that they often offer interesting loyalty programs. Frequent travelers can take advantage of point accumulation granting them free stays or discounts on many products and services. This aspect is almost completely absent in b&bs.
So, generally speaking, hotels are usually more expensive but also more efficient, more central, provide more quality and have interesting loyalty programs while b&bs are usually less expensive, generally more spacious, often deliver a more authentic travel experience but are also often decentralized and could hide inconvenience and unpleasant surprises.
As you can see there are pros and cons in every choice and the best advice I can share with you to help you make a good choice for your next vacation’s accommodation can be summed up in these few simple steps:
think which services are necessary and which ones are optional for your vacation needs
decide if you prefer a local or a standardized vacation experience
read other traveler’s reviews for each accommodation facility you are considering
book your stay on well known web booking portals
if you have any doubts about what you’re going to find in your hotel/b&b, once you arrive there, contact the facility manager/owner and ask lots of questions before your arrival
If you follow my advice I’m sure that your vacation experience will be as good as possible and you’ll avoid any issues.
Do more than just “visit”. Instead, immerse yourself into a new culture.
Does this sound familiar?
It’s a promise that many experiential travel companies, blogs, groups and guides promise. Because there’s a real demand for experiential travel — and it’s not just limited to third-party tour operators.
In fact, today’s hotels, B&Bs and even hostels compete on the experience they purport to offer guests far more than price. People don’t count themselves as “tourists” anymore but identify as “travelers”, “explorers” and, in some cases, “wanderers” and “digital nomads”.
In other words, there’s a shift from mere accommodation in the hospitality and travel niche towards experience as a major hallmark of a “successful” or “fulfilling” or even “memorable” trip.
And this shift has triggered a new competitive landscape for travel companies, hotels, B&Bs, hostels and even specialty cultural accommodations and lodging. So, is this just a new-fangled label or is there something deeper behind the hunger for experiential travel?
Why Offering an “Experience” Matters More than Price
If you’re reading this now and you were alive in the 90s (or even the early 2000s), you’ll remember that your travel decisions (or your family’s travel decisions) were based on the purse-strings.
Travel budgeting was a real thing — and it’s not that this concern has been thrown out the window. In fact, if the rise in sites that show consumers how to “hack” travel points on credit cards to budget travel around the world are any indication, pricing on accommodations still matters.
It’s just not the only thing that matters. Nor is it the most significant. In fact, even “budget” travelers are looking for something greater when they travel: the promise of an experience. There are very specific factors that have led to competition occurring on an entirely new playing field. Let’s take a look.
Enter the “Millennials”
There’s a new demographic in town and it’s beginning to enter into its peak earning years. That would be the generational group known as the “millennials”. And, in case you’ve missed the memo, they’re in the market with some serious buying power.
While it’s certainly true that “boomers are flocking to adventure tours” and that boomers’ tastes have taken a turn towards “non-traditional…bucket-list destinations…” with a focus on “exploring, learning about the history of a city, learning about the art”, millennials are parlaying their considerable influence into a taste for the exclusive, alongside the experiential.
While boomers are content to backpack and make the most of the wealth they’ve built or the time they have left, millennials are, increasingly becoming the generation of affluence.
Given that almost a quarter of U.S. adults making a household income of more then $500,000 are millennials, it might come as no surprise that, according to the United Nations, “200,000 million millennial tourists generate more than $180 billion in annual tourism revenue, an increase of nearly 30% since 2007” (Forbes).
So what are millennials looking for? That would be a preference for “traveling with their tribes” and so requiring larger or luxury accommodations, customization of itineraries, getting immersed in local culture and having access to a local contact or concierge to help plan activities because, “the travel is as much about the experience as it is the residence or accommodations.”
The rise of OTAs
In its infancy, OTAs or “online travel agents” — which were sites like Travelocity, Hotwire, Trivago and Priceline — allowed consumers to book tickets for several flights, comparing hotels, flights and rentals based on a variety of factors like price, location, connection duration, airline carrier or rental company.
Today, these predecessors have created a precedent and a shift in consumer behavior: Hardly anyone books a flight, accommodations or even a tour without first doing their “travel research”.
In fact, according to Phocuswright, “Viator and Expedia Local Expert” are the two most commonly used online travel agents” and “55% of leisure travelers…put a lot of thought into planning these trips”. (Google/Phocuswright, 2016)
OTAs suddenly made “price” levers a standard and accessible feature. As the novelty wore off and the travel market began operating as a staple in this manner, the competition shifted focus to something beyond just “price” — experience.
It was now no longer enough for hotels or even B&Bs to offer rooms based on price. To go above and beyond and retain a competitive edge, they now began to offer experiences. And, as will be seen, this “experiential” dimension is one that OTAs themselves started to offer as a major initiative (and opportunity).
A tale of social media and influencer marketing
Speaking of travel research, here are a few revelatory statistics that underscore consumer behavior at large:
70% of travelers with smartphones have done travel research on their smartphone. (Google, 2016)
1 in 2 traveler journeys start on mobile (Booking.com, 2016)
50% of millennial travelers have discovered a new travel company while researching on mobile. (Google, 2016)
30% of mobile searches are related to a location. (Google, 2016)
The shift in consumer behavior to a “mobile-first” approach has a lot to thank the social media movement for. Digital proliferation, in other words, hasn’t occurred in silos. At this point, mobile-first behavior for search and purchase also means that individuals are spending more time than ever on social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook.
These are also the platforms where major travel brands like Contiki as well as more boutique accommodations, luxury tours and more “niche” travel brands are serving up inspirational travel content for consumer consumption.
It’s not uncommon for users to see a location, accommodation or experience on Instagram, search through mobile and book online, expecting to book all parts of their trip at once and choosing a spot based on the experience it promises.
Experiencing Expedia & AirBnB
Experience tied into travel is what big name travel spaces online like Expedia and even AirBnB are now offering. Much of this has to do with the ways we search, our digital behaviour and the way marketing has changed in the last 10 years.
But it also has to do with a real demand that consumers have for a more all-encompassing, memorable and “authentic” experience.
Let’s take a look.
On the AirBnB website, the messaging makes the company’s priorities (and offerings) plenty clear:
“Book unique homes and experiences all over the world,” says AirBnB’s eye-catching main headline.
Next, we see that there’s a pre-populated and “suggested” search query already in the search bar: “Try ‘Hiking in San Francisco’,” it says. This, in other words, is a popular experience around which accommodations can be booked.
The suggested search also gives a more directed suggestion — “Homes for families in Shanghai” — but, again, the very specific qualifier here is “homes”, which suggests an experience of travel rather than simply a size of accommodation. It seems to tell the user they can expect “all the qualities of home” while traveling.
In 2016, AirBnB announced the addition of a new travel product to its traditional offerings, which might help to explain its shift in branding: “Trips”, which later evolved to “Experiences” in 2017 was, according to a Morgan Stanley survey, a response to levels of adoption tapering off for the app.
However, AirBnB’s $5 million investment into “Experiences” is, according to founder Brian Chesky, “a key initiative” focused on “evolving his company from a marketplace for renting other people’s homes into a multi-dimensional travel company” (Fast Company).
Experiences, essentially, is all about having AirBnB hosts providing activities that are local, alongside opening up their homes. These can be multi-day excursions like concerts or tours booked based on interests like food, fashion and music.
Expedia does something very similar. While it’s not an app for booking home rentals, it has spent a pretty marketing penny branding itself as a one-stop (online) shop for booking hotel accommodations, tours, car rentals, and local activities.
Just take a look at this “London Eye Experience Tickets” built right into the booking section for the site, alongside reviews on the experience “related attractions” suggestions.
Behind the obvious opportunity for these companies to take advantage of the shift in travel trends, there is something else going on here. A change in consumer behaviour, right now, is being more influenced than ever before by how we interact with the web at large, as consumers.
Besides social media hooking into every aspect of our lives, there are marketing-driven strategies that travel companies are using. Now, experiential travel is an invitation for consumers to “self-select” the kind of experience they want, based on their preferences or their “travel type”, as Contiki’s recent website revamp shows.
And then, there’s the question of search. 50% of search queries are four words or longer. (Ko Marketing, 2016)
Because keywords have become so competitive, there is a greater need for specificity. This means that there’s a rise in something known as “long tail keywords”, which are essentially phrases that are either questions or include four or more words.
Remember the AirBnB search suggestion? That’s a long tail keyword and it’s how people are searching more and more.
Why (and How) Is “Experience” More Alluring for Travel?
Reflecting on travel is always a very personal thing and, more and more, travelers express a desire to have an experience change them when they return.
In other words, they’re not looking to just skim the surface. They’re looking to get involved locally, meet people, blend in, partake and make memories. There is even a level of cultural preservation, awareness and sustainable travel inherent in this ethic of traveling.
First off, social media platforms and the rise of influencer marketing give would-be travelers a sense of being there without actually going. But this is precisely what creates a sense of inspiration and desire to adventure similarly and experience for oneself.
“#travelinspo” is just one of those popular and “trending” hashtags on social media that users can search to find experiences that suit their desires for travel.
Expedia and AirBnB’s “Experiences” prove that there is a real focus by travel companies, apps and even OTAs to provide a real “end-to-end” service. Blame it on Amazon and the rise of e-commerce, online shopping, that promises consumers an “end-to-end shopping experience”.
Travel is headed the same way.
The psychology behind experiential travel
There is something very simple operating in favor of experiential travel: Emotion.
Expectations for travel have shifted, along with the way they search, buy, research and make decisions. All these changes have come together to craft an atmosphere where emotional buying is easier than ever.
While a traveler can be more aware and informed than ever before, this awareness is simply a means of persuasion that occurs through various channels. Travel companies now have the opportunity to give consumers a more memorable trip than ever before by integrating all points of their travel into an experience.
In some ways, this is what travel is supposed to be all about: instilling a sense of, “I want to go there too…” in every would-be traveler.
So, what are some popular types of experiences? While they certainly are as diverse and wide as a consumer’s interests and a location’s offerings, common experience holidays can include:
Food tours under one cuisine like, “A Taste of Asia in San Francisco”
4-day nature/camping experiences in the Grand Canyon
The advent of the internet has made available an infinite range of information to tourists and the web, along with new technologies, has undoubtedly revolutionized the way we travel.
Big internet portals like Tripadvisor and popular social media like Facebook and Twitter assist travelers in gathering information, guide them in their choices through reviews and opinions about travel-related content and often engage them in interactive forums.