Just a few years ago, bunking up in a shared accommodation rented out by a private property owner seemed like a bizarre practice to many travellers. Not anymore. But what is even more noteworthy is the impact this practice has had on travel, culture, and business. Also interesting is the generation at the forefront of this movement, known as the share-economy, and why it isn’t cutting into your hotel business one iota.
If anything, it’s opening up a whole new market segment for you to tap into. As you’ll see, travellers booking shared accommodations are looking for a vastly different experience from the one the tourist you’ve been catering to expects. That said, there are ways for you to attract them with the services you already offer. You just have to know who they are, and how they differ from the classic tourist.
A tale of two travellers
The tourist as you know him still exists. You’ve likely seen him recently. He left your hotel moments ago to get a good seat on the iconic red hop-on-hop-off tour bus. Adorned with his glorious bum bag, shorts, socks, and sandals, he’s hard to miss. But now there is another type of world traveller.
In the local artisan coffee house that our tourist has just walked past sits a 20-something-year-old sipping cherry liqueur from an edible chocolate shot glass and talking to the barista about the neighbourhood. Meet the experiential traveller.
And despite the rumours out there, such travellers have not replaced the classic tourist (who even I’ve called an ageing breed, but we should remember that they still make up the biggest segment of travellers). The two types of travellers now coexist, and they travel to see and do different things. The experiential traveller is just beginning to explore the world, while the tourist has been travelling for decades and travels now as much as ever.
He prefers hotels when he’s away from home. It doesn’t matter if he’s on a business or a leisure trip, either. There are many factors that keep him coming back. You see, he’s a loyal chap. And he likes to be in control.
Here’s why he’s at your hotel now and why he’ll be coming back in future, too.
He can rest assured that the bed is made, the toiletries are provided and placed by the sink, and that he can park on-site or nearby. Basic necessities are available to him and replenished throughout his stay. He doesn’t have to struggle up five flights of narrow or difficult stairs with his luggage. He knows how the towels work: Dirty ones on the floor mean clean ones the following morning. He’s found his routine in life. That routine, although somewhat lax while he’s on vacation, is something he considers when booking accommodations. He appreciates service standards and goes on vacation to relax. When he’s on a business trip, order and routine are top of mind. When he books with you, he knows what to expect and that peace of mind keeps him coming back.
By contrast, accommodations rented by private owners vary—a lot. This isn’t a bad thing; it’s just not for him. Some places offer towels, and for some you bring your own. Some have made beds, while in others you pull out the couch and help yourself to the linen closet. Parking can be difficult or unavailable. As for room service, well, there isn’t any. Some properties are austere but others look just like home. And while the experiential traveller might enjoy a lived-in atmosphere on vacation, the classic tourist decidedly does not.
He wants to know that when he gets off of his plane and into a cab it’s just a matter of moments before he’s checked into his hotel and unpacking his suitcase. Late flight? No problem, someone—maybe even you—is there to greet him at the front desk. His room is easy to get to and when he travels with family another key comes standard.
Rental properties and shared accommodations don’t typically sport check-in desks or a concierge. If his flight is delayed, there’s the added stress of trying to rearrange the meet up with the owners. He also doesn’t fancy the idea of being locked out should the owner not be there to hand over the key. Although the rental property check-in process is more often smooth than not, this tourist doesn’t want to leave anything to chance. The experiential traveller, on the other hand, is all about chance and the allure of the unknown. Not that she enjoys check-in issues; it’s just that she doesn’t shy away from such risks.
Some people—OK, a lot of people—want privacy. They want to do as they please without feeling observed. Especially while on vacation. This tourist is no different. When I looked at dozens of chat forum comments about hotels and shared rental accommodations, I saw this topic come up more often than any other. Here’s what travellers had to say about why they choose hotels:
“I like the anonymity of a hotel and don’t like the feeling of staying in someone’s ‘home.’ Just me.”
“I like the privacy of a hotel and would not want to feel I had to be friendly to other guests or the hosts.”
“Anonymity – we are not looking for hoteliers to be new best friends – we want them to be efficient, professional and otherwise mind their own business.”
Our tourist, like these people, doesn’t want to tiptoe down the hallway in the middle of the night to a bathroom halfway between his bedroom and his host’s. The experiential traveller, on the other hand, may not mind bumping into her new flatmates en route to the loo. After all, mi casa es su casa.
Our traveller frequents places far and wide and often has important documents and a lot of cash with him. He doesn’t feel right leaving his passport and stack of euros, pounds, or dollars under his mattress at a shared accommodation. He wants to know they’re locked away in a safe. And most hotels provide him with that security.
He also prefers to have a door with a mechanical lock rather than a gaping keyhole. The experiential traveller thinks the latter adds to the charm and character of a place. Plus, she takes her passport with her or chooses a place that looks safe, and so feels comfortable leaving her valuables in the room.
As we said, our tourist is loyal. He lives for the rewards. He used to travel a lot for business and still does now and again. His points quickly added up. Now, travelling more for leisure, he redeems them annually for a transatlantic flight and a handful of nights at his favourite hotels.
The experiential traveller, almost, as a rule, doesn’t want to go to the same place twice. She’s out there to experience all the world has to offer and doesn’t care if she’s earning loyalty points or not.
So, we can see that the average traveller, or the tourist, loves hotels and will continue to come back to you every chance he gets. Business volume has not decreased because of the rise in experiential travel. So the question isn’t, what if your guests stop coming back due to a new preference in rental accommodations, but rather, how can you attract this new kind of traveller, the experiential guest, to your hotel?
You need to offer and perfect three things: personality, authenticity and a local perspective. You need to do so in such a way as to not detract from what you offer your core audience: consistency, check-in, privacy, etc. So how do you do it? Focus on your unique selling points in telling your hotel’s story. Talk to your guests and be able to tell them about the best places in town. Do so before they arrive by including tips and info on your website and social media accounts.
We’ll talk more in depth about the ways in which you can attract this new kind of traveller in the later part of 2016. For now, please let me know how the tourist and experiential traveller have helped to shape your hotel business on Twitter or in the comment section below.