How content can help hotels compete with vacation rentals

August 2, 2017 | MediaPost | by Roberto Villazón

Travelers will mostly opt to experience their destinations as “the locals” do. In fact, myriad destination specific experiences are the main reason for leisure travel. It seems obvious, but hotels often miss that important detail. While hotels often craft polished, streamlined, inclusive and on-premise engagements for guests, it is off the beaten path where the magic is happening.

Travelers crave personal interest-based content within the context of local culture. Airbnb has tapped into this mode of experiential travel, with its new Trips, Experiences and Places features allowing users to choose from curated contextualized travel immersion. Harnessing the many niche resources of locals, Airbnb has tapped into a marketplace where freelance hosts can craft unique and immersive experiences for travelers.

Whether it’s a pub crawl in London or a beekeeping tour and honey-tasting excursion in Miami, now you can find a hyper-local set of experiences waiting for you via Airbnb. How can traditional hotels compete for business within this space in the travel market? Rigid inclusiveness and proprietary experiences can easily make any hospitality business feel dated in a short period of time. A more-of-the-same approach, rinse repeat is not a path to innovation; this is why the travel industry is being “disrupted” by the likes of Airbnb.

Travelers are looking for fresh ideas, personalization, and they need to be inspired. Great restaurants get this principle, they create seasonal menus to keep patrons coming back. Brands lose engagement and people get bored by experiencing the same thing. The element of delightful surprises and access to hidden gems, coupled with peer reviews, is the essence of modern experiential interest-based travel. Adding this external set of experiences is a great complement to hotel brands, both for conglomerates and boutiques alike.

Hotels can become better curators of these unique experiences not by just recommending local things to see and do, but taking inspiration from travel tech companies such as Airbnb and facilitating a digital marketplace built around their brands — serving the same purpose of deeper traveler engagement. By extending their brands beyond the core property to the surrounding area of local service providers, experts, and businesses, there is a great opportunity for hotels to open a new world of leisure options for their guests to explore.

Unlike some apps now taking travel back to a more old-school approach of managed travel arrangements — a la the traditional travel agency — a digital marketplace provides a more scalable business model. Amassing a wealth of locals listing their services, which then gets rated by hotel guests after each guided experience makes for a treasure trove of user-generated content. Hotels can simply charge a small fee for vetted vendors to list their freelance experiential services and businesses on a branded mobile responsive website or app, opening a new stream of revenue while enriching the travelers’ experience.

Over 35% of the U.S. workforce are freelancers and earned $1 trillion in 2015, according to Forbes. This “gig economy” lends itself well to the travel and hospitality industry. However, hotels should improve their pace of innovation and adoption to stay competitive with the likes of Airbnb and startups working to … wait for it … “disrupt” the traditional mindset within this sector. Creating city guides is a great way to help customers learn about things to do in areas surrounding a destination property, but a greater level of engagement is connecting them directly to each service and experience via a well-curated user-generated digital marketplace.

There is a very important difference to note about city guides and curated experiences; having a local expert create or guide you through a personalized unique experience is far more enriching and flexible versus simply following along even a well-written local guide. Hotels have a great opportunity to boost the local economy and their bottom line by extending their services to include small businesses and freelancers. Packaging this branded extension of local experiences for travelers is a win for everyone — the shift has already begun.

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