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Industry insight: How smart tech is reshaping hotels

With technology being a catalyst in the competitive arena of hospitality, hoteliers are focusing on offering guests a unique experience that attracts them toward their services. The hotel industry has changed over the years, explains STAAH.

Smart technology is changing everything from the homes we live in to how our cities are managed. The hospitality industry is no exception. In many ways, the hospitality industry is leading the charge in the adoption of smart business technology.

From operations to guest experience to marketing, smart hotel technology offers a variety of cost savings and revenue opportunities, and it is enabling hotel owners to reach new levels of profitability. Here are some ways in which smart technology is reshaping how hoteliers operate.

Self check-in

Today, the guest does not want to wait at the reception desk, and they are expecting everything digital in your hotel. However, self-check-in service by a mobile app is the best solution for customers as well as hotel management staff.

Also, with this, the guests can easily find out whether their room is ready, can make requests for amenities and many more.

Mobile room keys

A smartphone app that provides guest room access, eliminates the problem of attendees losing their key card or the environmental impact of countless plastic cards. This could help your corporate social responsibility image. It’s a win-win!

Reserved Parking

Smart sensors and hotel apps will allow guests to not only reserve parking spots ahead of their visits, but to also have their spot assigned at their arrival. This will give your guests an effortless experience from the minute they pull up.

Online Reputation Management

A hotel’s online ratings can not only help predict future bookings, but they offer owners valuable insight into how well a property delivered on guest expectations. Therefore, operators will continue to invest in platforms such as STAAH’s review minder, that help them monitor online reviews, manage their online reputation and use that feedback to improve both their operational and guest experience standards.

Room service

Hotels will be able to push menu notifications to guests’ smartphones when they are in their rooms using smart occupancy sensors. They can also schedule texts tailored to fit their preferred ordering times, including personalised menu suggestions based on previous orders.

Other smart technologies such as customer surveys, smart loyalty-program management and smart hotel management will play a bigger role in how hotels operate in 2020 and beyond. The key to smarter hotel operations is implementing the right technologies that meet guests’ expectations and hoteliers’ needs to get to know these travelers better.

Source: https://hoteldesigns.net/industry-news/industry-insight-how-smart-tech-is-reshaping-hotels/

Hotels to offer free stays to guests in exchange for their skills

More than 600 B&Bs, hotels and self-catering businesses across the world have signed up to take part in the second international Barter Week. The initiative runs for a week in November (18-24) and invites accommodation owners to offer free stays to guests in exchange for sharing skills or goods.

Hosts register their “wishes”, which range from carpentry and decorating skills to social media knowhow or website expertise and invite potential guests to make an offer.

Properties range from an eco-retreat in Bulgaria that is looking for someone with woodworking skills to help build a reiki room in its garden to a Sri Lankan hotel-spa hoping to find an expert in search engine optimisation and a Torquay guesthouse in need of a painter and decorator.

It’s not just skills that are required. A B&B in Turin is after children’s books in good condition; a hostel in Moscow wants board games, and a Ger house in Mongolia is hoping for a used computer.

Among more obscure requests are “vintage globes”, wanted by a B&B in Livorno, and musicians or acrobats to join a community setting up a vegetarian campsite south of Tarragona in Spain.

Launched in 2018, the initiative is the sister project to Italian Barter Week which started 11 years ago when the website bed-and-breakfast.it discovered one of its members, in Sardinia, was bartering with guests.

“When we found out there was this bizarre way of doing business, we asked all our properties to experiment for one week a year in low season,” said marketing manager Clara Corallo. The Italian edition of Barter Week, Settimana del Baratto, which operates over the same period, has nearly 900 properties listed on its site.

Corallo says the next stage is to launch a permanent bartering site for accommodation owners to use at any time of year, not just the fixed week. This is expected to launch in 2020.

Barter Week is not the only initiative offering free stays in exchange for skills. Workaway lists 30,000 hosts worldwide offering accommodation and food in exchange for a few hours’ work a day, and individual hostels and lodges around the world often offer free stays on an ad-hoc basis in return for skills.

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2019/nov/07/hotels-provide-free-stays-in-exchange-for-guests-skills

Luxury Hotels Introduce Curated Experiences and Old World Salons

Not so long ago, city hotels were largely considered forgettable places that offered a place to sleep and no more. It didn’t matter which hotel—it could be super luxurious or even beautifully designed—most travelers didn’t want to spend more time in them than necessary. 

But that wasn’t always the case. Hotels used to be the setting for cultural experiences and rousing debates. In the 19th century, U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant popularized the term “lobbyist” when, as he would indulge with a cigar and brandy in the lobby of InterContinental The Willard Washington, D.C., people (some total strangers) would engage him with various grievances. And the Algonquin Hotel in New York City was the daily lunchtime forum for a group of writers led by Dorothy Parker ; it was also where The New Yorker magazine was founded. 

Today, hotels are glamorous hangouts once again, and the legacy that they historically enjoyed as the stomping grounds of lively discourse and idea exchange is being resuscitated. 

These days, hotels that fall within the luxury and lifestyle categories can’t survive without offering much more than a bed to sleep in. The terms “experiential travel” and “bleisure” are among the industry’s most important talking points, and as such, accommodation brands have been tasked with creating properties that are destinations themselves. 

Transporting spas, see-and-be-seen chef-driven restaurants, and exclusive experiences are now part of the DNAs of the world’s most sought-after crash pads. Part of this includes developing culturally relevant programming. And what better way to do that than by bringing the old-world salon experience back into fashion? 

In 2011, Andaz launched a salon series that ticks a lot of these buzzy boxes: Influential figures would lead interactive events that centered on a cultural topic relevant to the property’s location. 

“We know our guests travel to satiate their curiosity about the world and local culture,” says Heather Geisler, Hyatt’s vice president of Global Brands. “Andaz Salon is a powerful way to get close to our guests—to give them what we know they are looking for when they travel.” 

Whether it was a Q&A with the photographers whose works were hung all over Andaz 5th Avenue or a talk and demonstration with Tetsuya Nagata, known for his eye-catching washi paper artwork, at Andaz Tokyo Toranomon Hills, the salon events allow the brand to naturally embed its hotels in the places they’re in. That way, guests can continue to connect to these cities even when they’re no longer out exploring.

An even bigger name invested on its own salon concept in 2016 when Marriott Hotels partnered with TED. Through the collaboration, TED Talks started appearing in Marriott properties all over the world. While the onsite activations are much smaller than the conferences TED is known for, the content isn’t any less compelling. 

In fact, the topics that the Marriott speakers tackle are often just as hard-hitting. For the hospitality chain, the TED Fellows Salon is meant to stimulate the modern traveler. 

“The Marriott Hotels guest is naturally inquisitive and looking for inspiration when they travel,” says Mara Hannula, the vice president of global brand marketing at Marriott International. “The TED partnership helps us deliver that thought-provoking content, helping our ‘inventive class’ guests escape from their everyday routines and gain refreshing new perspectives.” 

In 2018, for instance, the Bengaluru Marriott Hotel Whitefield hosted “Women in Innovation” featuring TED fellows like Zubaida Bai, who spoke about the critical importance of maternal health. Marriott also brought the project to South Africa in March 2019, when the Cape Town Marriott Hotel Crystal Towers hosted conservation biologist Steve Boyes to discuss the environmental needs of the Okavango Delta. 

But it’s not just established names that are jumping on the movement. Relative newcomer Arlo Hotels, which in 2016 launched in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood and just opened its third location in Miami, started its pARLOur talks in August 2018 to specifically address a growing traveler need: local connection. 

“The biggest trend we’re seeing is people want to spend less time in their rooms and more time connecting with the destination and its locals,” says Dayna Castano, corporate director of marketing for Arlo Hotels. But that doesn’t always mean sending them out to try a new restaurant or to take a guided tour. “Hotels have to be smarter in their programming, and realize that they need to encourage curiosity and exploration just as much inside the hotel as outside in the city,” Castano adds. “Our guests need more than the standard happy hour or paint and sip classes. ” 

Arlo has spearheaded many of these events across its three locations (most of them are themed around holistic, green living), but according to Castano, pARLOur talks have so resonated with the public at-large that prospective speakers have been pursuing the hotel for the opportunity to organize their own iterations. 

Elena Baxter, co-founder of Conscious magazine, a globally distributed publication that tells the stories behind some of the planet’s most empowering and game-changing people and initiatives, and Jessica Kelly, who founded THR3EFOLD, a platform that connects brands with ethical factories around the world, originally pitched the “Shifting the Fashion Industry for People & Planet” discussion that was staged at Arlo SoHo during New York Fashion Week.

Source: https://www.barrons.com/articles/worldwise-salon-art-design-executive-director-jill-bokors-favorite-things-01572471577

Consumers, food waste, sustainability and AI lessons for hospitality

As we are all in the business of satisfying consumers and consumer demand controls business, we read this report with interest. It looks at what consumers want from the likes of Tesco, Aldi, Sainsburys, Waitrose, Lidl, Asda, Morrisons and many more supermarkets and retailers that sell food in huge volumes.

For hospitality businesses that service the same consumers the message is vital, consumers want to give their custom to businesses that are transparent with their sustainability credentials.

Many hospitality businesses like Bartlett Mitchell, CH&CO, BaxterStorey and others are already transparent with their sustainability credentials, and we report on these regularly. Their market leading positions are linked in our opinion to leading the market in sustainability.

The report shows that when it comes to reducing food and packaging waste consumers think most progress is being made by Rewe and Edeka in Germany, Leclerc and Carrefour in France and Tesco and Morrisons in the UK. Which hospitality businesses would make the cut in a similar report?

Consumers are still worried that British supermarkets’ are not doing enough to go green, particularly around food and packaging waste, a report from Rubikloud, a global leader in retail artificial intelligence (AI), has revealed.

Original research of more than 3,000 European consumers in the 2019 European Grocery Data Report: What European grocery shoppers really want and how supermarkets can deliver it with AI showcases the extent of consumers high expectations.  88% of respondents said it’s important that retailers and food manufacturers reduce the amount of food and packaging waste, which ends up in landfill and oceans, in the next three years.

The report shows food waste is no longer just a cost issue for supermarkets, but also a reputational one.  68% of UK shoppers indicated there was no place for supermarkets who refuse to address sustainability.  71% of consumers think large supermarket groups should be legally required to produce annual reports on their food and packaging waste, with 40% saying there should be fines for those who fail to cut their waste levels.

At a time when UK consumer spending growth has reached record lows1, the 2019 European Grocery Data Report reveals the potential impact of the ‘green dollar’ for supermarkets who don’t – or won’t – address these concerns.

More than half of all shoppers aged 16 – 34 say they feel guilty about shopping at supermarkets, indicating the amount of packaging waste produced by supermarket shopping is the key driver for this guilt.

More than half of respondents indicated they would spend more with a food retailer who has made a commitment to reducing food and packaging waste.  56% of UK shoppers said they are less likely to throw out food on the ‘use by’ date than they were three years ago as sustainability issues and education campaigns increasingly impact consumer behaviour.

The report revealed a high level of consumer understanding of the issues driving food waste in supermarkets.  Shoppers identified technology as crucial to finding a solution, with more than half (56%) saying the most technologically advanced supermarkets will succeed in reducing waste. Two-fifths indicate supermarkets need to improve their stock forecasting capabilities and more than 50% said supermarkets should offer fewer price promotions (such as buy one, get one free) to reduce food and packaging waste.

“The environmental impact of food loss and packaging waste is a critical global issue,” said Kerry Liu, co-founder and CEO of Rubikloud.

Mr Liu continued: “Retailers have long been challenged with the inefficiencies in their supply chains and promotional strategies, which lead to the product overstock and shrink that is a key consumer concern.  AI and machine learning has the power to help supermarkets be better environmental stewards and reduce waste by providing them with actionable insights and improved forecasting.”

Source: https://www.hospitalityandcateringnews.com/2019/10/consumers-food-waste-sustainability-ai-lessons-hospitality/

The new generation of green hotels

When the hotel behemoth Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHG) declared in July it would be phasing out mini toiletry bottles in all its rooms over the next two years, it made headlines around the world. What may sound like a small thing is actually no mean feat. IHG owns brands including Holiday Inn, InterContinental and Crowne Plaza. There are 856,000 of those rooms around the world that will see the bottles replaced with bulk dispensers.

“Any decision like that is a big one,” says Catherine Dolton, VP of global corporate responsibility — not least because IHG, like most chains, works on a franchise model, so the brand needed to convince owners to make the change. Then there are the practicalities to consider — how do you implement this system across 5,700 individually owned hotels? That’s one of the reasons it’s a two-year pledge. 

As it starts the process, IHG is putting the final touches to last year’s headline pledge — that by the end of 2019, its hotels will ban plastic straws. The move should save 50 million straws going into landfill each year. According to CEO Keith Barr, large brands have a responsibility to protect the environment and an opportunity to make a real difference: “There’s always more we can do to minimise waste, but the work we’re doing to reduce single-use plastic is a powerful example of how we can come together with guests, owners and colleagues to drive positive change,” he said at the time. Indeed, a month after IHG’s 2019 announcement, Marriott declared that it, too, would ditch mini bottles.

So how did we get here? Past perceptions might have been that to keep things green while travelling, we should stay in smaller, locally owned hotels. But leaving aside the issue of ownership, and looking purely at ecologically friendly initiatives, recently the big brands have really raised their game. Last year, Hilton pledged to cut its carbon emissions by 61% and halve water usage by 2030, in line with the Paris Agreement. In the past decade, it’s already reduced emissions by 30%, water use by 20%, waste by a third and energy consumption by 21%. 

Hilton also recycles 400 tons (362 tonnes) of soap per year and is removing plastic straws and cocktail stirrers from its hotels. Hyatt is doing the same, recycling soap and shampoo and donating it to communities in need — during the Caribbean hurricanes of 2017, 250,000 bars were donated to people in need by Clean the World, which works with both chains. Hyatt also has a Responsible Seafood Sourcing initiative: 50% of its seafood served globally must be sustainable.

Although this might be the first time some of us are hearing about these initiatives, brands have been taking steps for years. The International Tourism Partnership (ITP) was founded in 1993 to encourage environmental responsibility in the hotel industry. It’s here that representatives of big brands can come together to share their initiatives. “There’s definitely a bit of healthy competition,” says director Madhu Rajesh, who says the ITP is a safe space for rival brands to brainstorm together. “As much as they want to collaborate, they want to be as good as each other. So it’s good to see that spark, as well as a spirit of sharing.” The group’s 16 members represent nearly 25% of the industry.

The path to sustainability was marked out a long time ago, says Rajesh. A decade ago the ITP developed tools to measure hotels’ carbon and water consumption and provide a management plan; today, 20,000 properties use them. Hilton implemented a similar monitoring system in 2008. 

Although environmental issues have been in the background for many years, Rajesh says: “The topic is in the spotlight now, so that’s accelerated the pace. But brands are all very large and the industry has a franchise structure, so new initiatives take a long time.” 

Not so IHG’s miniature toiletries decision. Dolton says she first raised the idea with Keith Barr in spring 2019. By mid-summer, it was implemented, such was the urgency they felt.

“Our executive committee has been very aware of how [environmental issues] are really rising up the agenda over the past couple of years,” says Dolton.

The pressure’s on 
At first glance, it looks like the pressure is coming from an increasingly urgent public mood. In a survey of 73,000 Hilton guests last year, 60% said hotels’ green policies affect their booking decisions. Crucially though, IHG’s recent decision wasn’t only based on pressure from the general public. “More and more the issue of sustainability has been rising up from shareholders and colleagues as well as guests,” says Dolton. And it’s not just an ethical agenda; it’s a business one, too. The mini bottles initiative will require cost upfront for owners as they invest in bulk dispensers, but over the long-term, the return on investment is significant. The same goes for moves that dial down air conditioning and introduce keycard-activated lights and LED bulbs — for an upfront investment, hotels are going to save long-term. “There aren’t only moral and ethical considerations, but considerable financial ones too,” says Rajesh.

“Being sustainable is smart business these days,” agrees Daniella Foster, senior director of corporate responsibility at Hilton. “Times are changing. We’re in an environment now where this is what our guests and employees want, and investors are looking at it as well. Companies that perform well environmentally do 20% better than those that don’t.” 

With a long future ahead of them, more than half of Hilton’s employees are millennials or younger. The brand was named number one in its industry in 2018’s Dow Jones Sustainability Index. “There’s a groundswell building up,” she says. “Hilton shares are now being bought because of our [green] performance.” In a follow-up this year to its 2018 survey, a third of 72,000 guests said that they actively seek out information on a hotel’s environmental credentials before booking.

And green doesn’t have to be lean. We tend to think of hotel luxury in terms of fluffy robes, piles of daily changed towels and those mini bottles of upmarket toiletries. But it’s been the luxury market that’s led the way with sustainability. Take, for example, Six Senses — the luxe brand acquired by IHG in February. Each property bottles water onsite and plans to be completely plastic-free by 2022. Even the toothbrushes in the amenity kits are made of biodegradable cornstarch. Then there’s Soneva, which banned plastic straws in 1998 and bottles 10 years later and also has recycling facilities at all of its Indian Ocean resorts. Meanwhile, Soneva Fushi, in the Maldives, turns polystyrene packaging into construction blocks.

Luxury Peruvian brand Inkaterra also has a sustainable focus, aiming to be entirely single-use plastic-free by the end of 2019. In April, its Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel donated an organic waste treatment plant to the city in which it sits — the gateway to the famous ruined citadel. Everything organic — from food scraps to human waste — is turned into fertiliser, which is used to aid reforesting the Andean Cloud Forest and Machu Picchu itself. The hotel has also previously donated a plastic compactor and a biodiesel plant.

The latest move makes Machu Picchu Pueblo the first hotel in Latin America to recycle 100% of its solid waste.

These days, even air conditioning isn’t a given at the higher end of the market. Jade Mountain, one of St Lucia’s poshest hotels, swaps air conditioning for a missing fourth wall, with open-to-the-elements rooms designed to draw in trade winds. Manager Carl Hunter leads popular sustainability tours around the property. “Visitors not only pay attention to our sustainability efforts, but wish to learn more,” he says.

“[Being green] is a given at the luxury end,” says IHG’s Catherine Dolton. Hilton’s Danielle Foster, meanwhile, reckons it’s down to location. “Luxury hotels often have a tie to nature. You’re going there to see or experience something, and you want to preserve that for future generations.” 

Owners and CEOs of smaller brands tend to be vocal proponents of environmental issues themselves, according to Rajesh. In the ITP, she says, these brands can be more innovative, but it’s when big brands get involved that a difference can be made on a global scale. She cites the leaders of Soneva and ITC Hotels — India’s third-largest chain, which goes as far as using jute (vegetable fibre) name tags for conference guests rather than plastic clip-ons and urges guests to ditch suits and ties to help reduce the need for air con.

Making individual changes
Of course, a one-size-fits-all approach to environmental issues can lead to ‘greenwashing’ — banning straws isn’t so laudable if you serve poolside drinks in plastic cups, and there’s no point bragging about recycling prowess when there’s little recycling in your destination. Carbon offsetting, which many hotels do, is no substitute for using sustainably generated energy in the first place, and although there are numerous certifications schemes for ‘green’ buildings, there’s little clarity around what each means on a property-specific level. It’s on the individual level, however, that hotels can make a huge difference, working within their specific circumstances. 

Take Blue Apple Beach House on the island of Tierra Bomba, off Cartagena in Colombia. In 2017, owner Portia Hart launched the Green Apple Foundation, which sorts waste, composts organic matter, converts cooking oil to biodiesel fuel and uses a glass pulveriser to turn bottles into sand, which locals use to make cement. “Our logistics have been developed around our location — this is an island with little to no municipal services,” says Hart, who hopes to create a replicable model for places where recycling is scarce.

“If we end up with glass-recycling centres on the coast of Colombia, vermiculture [worm-aided composting] in the coffee region and plastic recycling in Bogota, that will be a win.”

Other properties are working with their direct environments. In April, Mashpi Lodge in the Ecuadorian rainforest doubled the size of the private reserve in which it sits to 6,200 acres, with plans to reach 35,000 acres by 2040. The move means everyone who stays there, or travels through Ecuador with its sister company Metropolitan Touring, will be carbon-neutral — the growth of the rainforest offsets their emissions in a place that needs protection (rather than other carbon offsetting projects planting trees in unsuitable places).

Main shareholder Roque Sevilla’s reasoning is stark: Metropolitan Touring’s 14,000 annual visitors generate around 25,000 tonnes of CO2. “It’s not enough to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from our operations,” he says. “It’s essential to offset their carbon footprint and absorb the difference by expanding the Mashpi Reserve.”

In Cambodia, designer-turned-hotelier Bill Bensley went so far as to buy 1,000 acres of national park-adjacent land in Cambodia after hearing that miners and loggers were after it. 

“Having spared the land from the prospect of clear-cut logging, the question was what to do with it,” says Bensley, who worked with business partner Sokoun Chanpreda. “Our dream was to educate Cambodians that conservation is smarter than extraction. We spent years coming up with a low impact model that would not only conserve and protect the land, but also create sustainable opportunities for locals.” The result is Shinta Mani Wild, which, as well as being green, is 70% staffed by locals. “They now have an alternative livelihood to extracting from the forest,” says Bensley.

So, what’s the future, sustainability-wise? Strawless hotels look like a given, as do properties trumpeting their carbon-cutting initiatives. And you can expect to see many more as standard, such as cork recycling (The Savoy currently does this), beekeeping (Fairmont St Andrews restored three acres of lawn to natural grasses for its 20,000-strong bee population), and less water-greedy gardens. For example, Blue Horizons Garden Resort in Grenada replanted more than six acres of its grounds with drought-resistant plants and trees in 2014, while Atmantan, near Mumbai, uses only climate-appropriate plants such as mango trees and chillis.

Crucially, green initiatives will be factored in at the planning stage, so hotels are built to be sustainable, rather than adapted retrospectively — something Madhu Rajesh thinks is crucial for real change. 

The other thing that can make a difference? Us. It’s time to alter our holiday mentality: turn lights off, employ the air con sparingly and use the same towel for a few days. IHG already offers extra loyalty points for guests who forgo housekeeping — as with the toiletries, expect others to follow. As Madhu Rajesh says: “We all have the ability to influence.” 

FIVE GREEN HOTELS

Hoshinoya Karuizawa, Japan
In the forest an hour from Tokyo, this eco-hotel by Japanese chain Hoshinoya is powered by hydroelectricity, generated by the river that runs through the property, and geothermal energy from onsite hot springs. It’s 70% self-sufficient and uses no fossil fuels. Doubles from £750.

Morukuru Beach Lodge, South Africa
In the De Hoop Nature Reserve, 150 miles east of Cape Town, this lodge is entirely off-grid. Electricity is generated by solar panels, while hot water and underfloor heating comes from pellet burner boilers. Wastewater is purified via an innovative take on a septic tank, linen is washed with biodegradable soap and toiletries are made sustainably from indigenous plants by local women. From £478.

AquaTurm, Germany
This quintuple-glazed former water tower on Lake Constance generates all its energy from solar panels, hydrothermal and wind power and donates the leftovers to the National Grid. From £104.

Zuri Zanzibar, Tanzania
On the Kendwa beachfront, this hotel uses 52% less energy than the baseline for green certifiers EarthCheck. Water comes from wells and the sea via onsite desalination, rainwater is harvested for irrigation, and the grounds are grass-free. The innovative air conditioning system uses a quarter of the power that normal AC does. From £331.

Stoke by Nayland, Suffolk
This hotel in the Dedham Vale AONB produces so much energy via biomass boilers, solar panels and air source heat pumps that it supplies the excess to the National Grid. Air is heated by the pool and everything down to cooking oil is recycled. From £175. 

Source: https://www.nationalgeographic.co.uk/travel/2019/10/new-generation-green-hotels

Independent Hotels Are Disappearing as Chains Grow

This should be the heyday of independent hotels, which by their very nature offer the distinctive experiences sought by many travelers.

Instead, they are up against huge hotel companies with deep pockets as well as competitors on Airbnb. The result? More independent hotels are either joining the big chains or shutting their doors.

Thirty years ago, about two-thirds of all hotels were independent, according to the hotel data company STR. Today, less than 40 percent are independently owned and run.

One of the biggest reasons independent hotels are disappearing is that they’re getting acquired by the large hotel companies or joining them as affiliates to tap into their marketing power.

Accor had 3,600 hotels and 14 brands in 2013. Now, through acquisitions and investments in other lodging companies, it now has nearly 5,000 hotels under 39 different brands. The chain IHG was also one of the first to the trend, buying the boutique hotel company Kimpton in 2015.

Marriott International’s purchase of Starwood Hotels & Resorts in 2016 included the acquisition of the Luxury Collection and Tribute Portfolio. These groupings of affiliated hotels, known as “soft brands,” get access to the big companies’ reservation and marketing resources but keep their individual identities.

Marriott has had its own soft brand since 2010, the Autograph Collection, which now includes more than 175 independent upscale and luxury hotels worldwide, among them the Emery Hotel in Minneapolis and the Publica Isrotel in Tel Aviv. Nearly 90 more hotels are in the process of joining the Autograph group.

From a customer standpoint, the clear demarcation between a chain and an independent hotel has totally eroded, said Jan Freitag the senior vice president of lodging insights at STR. When a guest walks into a hotel, he said, it’s not apparent that “it may be powered in the back by an affiliation.”

The big chains have been expanding their soft brands to meet the needs of travelers looking for “unique, boutique or historic” places to stay or to add a smaller or different-priced offering to a market where the company sees an opportunity, said Ting Phonsanam, co-founder of Momentum Hospitality Management. His company works with independent hotels to strengthen their brands, help develop renovation plans or prepare their properties to join a soft brand.

Independent hotels that join a soft brand keep much of their own personality, Mr. Phonsanam said. “They can make their own decisions on uniforms, dining offerings, furniture and other aspects of the hotel,” he said.

The fee can be significant, commonly 5 to 10 percent on all revenue, Mr. Phonsanam said. In return, soft brand members get help with marketing and can take advantage of the larger company’s purchasing power or property management software.

Joining a soft brand can get even more expensive, though, if the hotel requires significant renovations or operational changes as a precursor to joining the group.

There’s also significant competition from Airbnb, said Jeffrey Low, founder of Stash Rewards, which offers a loyalty rewards program for independent hotels. Airbnb is adding inventory to the alternative lodging market, attracting customers “who might otherwise choose an independent hotel,” he said. That drives down the prices independent hotels can charge, Mr. Low said.

Independent hotels with strong established positions in their markets are the most likely to reject offers to join a larger group.

Barbara Malone, co-owner of the 110-year-old Hotel Sorrento in Seattle, says the key to success for the independent hotel she owns with her husband has been to “stay true to the hotel’s DNA as a community builder,” offering music and literary events and serving their core customers including families coming to the area for medical treatment. At the same time, she said, it’s important to stay nimble and take advantage of new opportunities, like the current expansion of Seattle’s convention center just a few blocks away.

Still, she said, it’s getting more challenging to operate as an independent hotel. “The major brands can approach corporate clients with a large portfolio and a range of prices,” she said. “That’s stiff competition.” The Sorrento also competes with a growing number of Airbnb offerings and other short-term rentals.

Patty Baird, who owns the independent Cedar House Sports Hotelin Lake Tahoe, Calif., with her husband, focuses on creating a sense of place at the hotel, including photography retreats, cooking classes using local ingredients and a dog-friendly itinerary on the hotel website. A recent outing to a local food hub and brewery gave visitors. “a sense of our town and its spirit,” she said.

Independent hotels can face higher costs than large chains when working with online travel agencies like Expedia and the Priceline Group. Hotels generally pay a 15 to 30 percent commission when a traveler uses the online booking agency to reserve a room. But larger companies like Marriott use their market power to negotiate lower booking rates. Independent hotels also rely more on online travel agents to book their hotel guests than the big brands.

Independent hotels also face competition from online booking agencies’ sites. The agencies will sometimes buy key words, including the name of independent hotels, to advertise on Google and steer travelers to their sites rather than to the independent hotel’s site. Ranked first in a recent search for Cedarbrook Lodge, outside of Seattle, were advertisements from two Expedia brands, meaning that those brands had essentially outbid Cedarbrook Lodge for its own name on Google. This practice can translate to reservations that are less lucrative for the independent hotels.

For its part, Expedia says buying those key words can help independent hotels because its research shows that search experiences that associate hotels with an Expedia family brand name give those hotels more credibility and customers are more likely to book them.

Jolene DiSalvo, senior vice president of Columbia Hospitality, which manages the Cedarbrook Lodge, said that while the hotel appreciated the wider audience exposure provided by online travel agencies, the goal is always to “drive direct bookings to our websites,” both for the extra revenue and more important, she said, to own the customer experience from the start.

Extreme weather has been especially hard on independent hotels because they don’t have the resources of a major chain to rebuild. According to the research company STR, 1,000 independently owned and operated hotels closed in areas along the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic from 2003 to 2007. Those were the years that nearly 40 hurricanes, including Katrina, came through the areas.

The big chains have also been building new hotels at a faster clip than independents, according to STR. One reason for this may be that lenders prefer hotel projects that are affiliated with a large hotel chain because they see it as a less risky investment, Mr. Phonsanam said.

A set of businesses is serving independent hotels to help them “compete and thrive,” said Mr. Low of Stash Rewards. Accruing points for travel can be an important factor when choosing a hotel, especially for business travelers, Mr. Low said, so his product helps independent hotels stay on a guest’s radar.

Review sites like Trip Advisor can also help independent hotels. Accessing reviews and photos helps guests feel more comfortable booking a place they’re not familiar with, said Stephen Chan, a hotel real estate investor who helps organize the annual Independent Lodging Congress, a gathering of people who work in independent lodging.

Attendees at the latest conference, held last week in downtown Los Angeles, expressed their concern that many guests see soft brand hotels as “boutique enough,” Mr. Chan said. That, Mr. Chan said, was making it hard for truly independent and distinctive hotels to remain that way.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/21/business/independent-hotels-airbnb-boutique-chains.html

‘Scattered hotels’ offering village-type stays are taking off in rural Japan

A recent trend in the tourism sector that lets visitors stay in re-created traditional villages while experiencing local cuisine and cultural activities is growing in popularity in Japan.

The “scattered hotel” business is believed to have originated in Europe, and Maruyama Village — a facility that opened in 2009 in Sasayama, Hyogo Prefecture — is said to be the pioneer in Japan. Users of the facility can partake in activities such as agriculture, pottery-making and tea ceremony while staying at renovated traditional houses.

In Mino, Gifu Prefecture, which flourished with the production and trade of high-quality washi (Japanese paper) during the Edo Period (1603-1868), a traditional century-old house that belonged to a washi merchant was renovated into an inn. The inn opened in July and is named Nipponia. An association of local paper manufacturing companies is involved in the operation in a bid to promote the charms of Mino washi.

Many old merchant houses still stand in Mino. The front desk of the hotel is located in another renovated traditional house, while a vacant traditional house nearby is currently being renovated to become the second accommodation facility for the hotel. Six hotel rooms can be used, each by up to seven people. Rates start at ¥20,000 per person.

Jun Mizuishi, a 36-year-old resident of Saitama Prefecture, used the hotel for group training. “We could fully enjoy Mino by experiencing local cuisine and Mino washi-making, as well as by enjoying local landscapes,” Mizuishi said.

Scattered-style hotels are also found in Kyoto; Otsu, Shiga Prefecture; Obama, Fukui Prefecture; and other areas. Preparations to open such a facility are currently underway in Hokkaido and Kumamoto Prefecture.

Airi Ishikawa, from travel website Ikyu Corp., said scattered-type hotels are growing in popularity because business collaborations with local entities tend to work smoothly because of the expectation that such projects will help revitalise local communities and breathe new life into abandoned buildings. Those involved in the business are also hoping that it will encourage foreign tourists to visit their communities.

Source: https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2019/10/02/national/scattered-hotels-rural-japan/#.XZSuLS2B2Rs

Dine and Dish: Virgin Hotels San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) – The founder of Virgin Atlantic Airlines is back in the Bay Area in a big way.

Richard Branson opened up Virgin Hotels – San Francisco. In the city that’s known to party, the new Virgin Hotel is making a splash.

Opening night, complete with dazzling drag queens, Branson look-alikes and boy band’s Lance Bass — The real Branson arrived in a burning man bus.

Inside, non-stop music with dancing dj’s, bartenders behind the bar and on top of it.

Virgin’s Raul Leal, alongside Sir Richard Branson, talking about big plans for Virgin Hotels, Virgin cruises, maybe even a Virgin dating app, eventually.

You could say things are looking up.

The new San Francisco Virgin hotel is on Terra Firma but don’t be surprised if the next Virgin Hotel is on another planet.

Of course, you’re going to need to take Virgin Galactic to get there.

Source:https://www.kron4.com/news/bay-area/dine-and-dish-virgin-hotels-san-francisco/2050490854

3 Ways Independent European Hotels Can Increase Direct Bookings

Reliance on online booking agencies (OTAs) increasingly affects the bottom line of small, independent European hotels. The room rate offered via an OTA’s advertised rate is less than a direct booking rate. As well as absorbing this loss, the hotel also pays a commission to the OTA for every booking (ranging from 18 percent to 25 percent). So, how can the hotelier increase direct bookings and sidestep an OTA?

The task here is to suggest ways independent European hoteliers can entice potential clients to book directly with their hotels. So, the first click from the OTA to your hotel website must bring you to an appealing, dynamic and easy-to-use site.

1. Hire a webmaster.

The chance to increase direct bookings will only be effective if hotels have a well-maintained and smartphone-friendly website. This advice is not only obvious; it’s mission critical! When travelers choose a hotel on an OTA, the next thing they do is visit the hotel’s site. The challenge is to ensure that the potential customer does not return to the OTA to complete the room reservation. Enthusiastic, active web managers can maintain and update your web space. You can then concentrate on the day-to-day business of running a hotel.

Web techs can interact with any platforms or software that are used by your hotel to keep the website up-to-date. They can make sure the special offers constantly change. And they can use the business smarts of any hotel platform that you use. Keeping track of conversions to your site is essential — that is, which offerings made the most converts. Maybe it was your easy-to-use smartphone app for check-in and out. Or maybe it was the pop-up ad offering a “free night for booking now” that made a potential client switch to direct booking.

2. Subscribe to a hotel network platform.

One solid way to have your webmasters stay on top of the latest innovations for direct booking: Join a network of small hoteliers such as The Hotels Network. This platform claims to offer state-of-the-art software and marketing for every hotel. Just click on its site to test drive services for conversion to direct booking. It boasts a rousing 32 percent conversion rate upon using its service.

The offering of predictive analytics sounds imposing, but it’s not really. Predictive analytics simply uses an algorithm to sift through tons of data. These data can help with the success of your business. You might need to know what a customer likes in a hotel choice. Or you might need to know if a guest returns directly to your website to book a room.

The Hotels Network tools also allow you to add a comparison of hotel prices directly to your own website. And it can suggest tips to assure customers that they are signing up for exactly what they want. They may request two queen-sized beds (chocolates and a teddy bear on the pillow). Or they may want a first-floor entrance to the room and pool. Then these guests’ requirements can be saved for their next visit to your hotel site. Web techs can monitor these and relay both positive and negative gains for an increase in direct bookings.

Another offering is to display the reviews of your hotel that are presented on major OTA platforms (TripAdvisor, Booking, Expedia, etc.). The Hotels Network tools allow hotels to automatically display these positive and reassuring reviews directly on your site. Specific review elements of your hotel (location, food, service) are tailored to each web space visitor. Sometimes it’s a review by language or type of customers, such as family or business. You choose, and your web gurus can add these to your web presence.

3. Leverage social media

Let’s dig deeper into what else can be offered on your hotel website. TravelClick can suggest travel rewards programs to attract return customers. Check out this site for a demonstration of what it says will “turn shoppers into bookers.” The reward could be displayed in a pop-up ad. “Leaving so soon? Book now and get a 10 percent discount on our summer rates.” Or “Five people have booked in the last 30 minutes.”

Another enticement might be an appealing take on a familiar social media platform. One hotel offers guest access to personalized social media stations. Indeed, I chose this hotel from an OTA and then opened the hotel site to book. What drew me to book directly was its offering to log on to my personal social media station by using a digital fingerprint. I enjoyed the novelty of posting my adventures at the hotel and its surroundings. My posts looked very professional (instead of my usual smartphone attempts). And the hotel got a big free ad that went out to all of my followers and their followers.

These suggestions for conversion from OTAs to direct booking are not a miracle cure. They are a start for the financial wellness of the independent hotelier. Celebrate the competition with the OTAs. Embrace your ability to directly reach prospective customers without million dollar TV ads and OTA fees. Grab your fair share of the booking revenue now!

Source:https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/331779

Hyatt Place hotel thriving: Hospitality industry still growing

FLORENCE, S.C. — The hospitality industry continues to grow in Florence County. The downtown district in Florence saw the opening of another hotel in February.

Owned by East Evans Hospitality LLC, Hyatt Place joined its sister property, Hotel Florence, as one of two downtown hotels managed by Raines Hospitality.

“Downtown Florence was the ideal location for Hyatt Place, as Raines Hospitality saw a need for additional hotel rooms due to the success of Hotel Florence and the growth of the market,” said Brittney Edwards, vice president of sales, marketing and revenue management for Raines Hospitality. “We saw the addition of Hyatt Place as an opportunity to push development into what is a growing and unique market while placing a complementary hotel to Hotel Florence. Having the support of the community partners and a thriving city center allows all of Florence to continue to flourish.”

She said Hyatt Place was receiving a positive response not only from travelers coming to the Florence market but also from the community.

“With more business travelers coming to Florence, Hyatt Place offers the amenities this type of guest is looking for while also providing another brand option and bringing in those who are already brand loyal,” Edwards said. “Hyatt Place will draw new business to the area as well as support the businesses already here.”

“We have been so busy,” said Ashton Sankuer, director of sales at Hyatt Place in downtown Florence. “The apples are disappearing,” referring to their signature bowls of green apples placed throughout the hotel for guests to enjoy.

“We are extremely blessed to have so many people that are excited about the hotel,” she said.

The five-story, 103-room hotel represents one of the largest construction projects of 2018 in Florence, with an investment of $20 million in downtown.

Sankuer said she is receiving two to five inquiries a day about using the meeting facilities and three to five calls inquiring about group stays from corporate to sports to family reunions. She said groups are booked all the way to December.

The hotel is about 40 percent occupied during the week and more than 60 percent occupied on the weekends, Sankuer said.

“It takes time to get consistency,” she said.

Sankuer said the comments from guests have been encouraging. She said the upper-level terrace is one of the guests’ favorite places to unwind and relax. She said guests say there is nothing like the view of downtown from the terrace or the corner rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows.

Sankuer said being downtown has been great.

“It is a great opportunity to be part of something so much bigger,” she said. “The downtown is growing, and this is an amazing opportunity.”

She looks forward to getting more involved in downtown activities and the community. The hotel partnered with All 4 Autism during its Pacing 4 Pieces 5K and half-marathon and Piece Jam in March.

Edwards said 2019 will prove to be a busy year for Raines Hospitality, as it will “open two new properties and begin development on a few others.” In Florence, an 86-room Comfort Suites will open its doors in July, joining the Hospitality Boulevard cluster of hotels, she said.

“As well, development is under way with construction to begin later this year on a 175-room Holiday Inn/Avid dual-branded hotel,” Edwards said. “Avid is one of Intercontinental Hotel Group’s newest brands that was launched in 2017. The Holiday Inn/Avid will be the first dual brand of its kind.”

Source:https://www.scnow.com/news/progress/article_ee607844-6e9a-11e9-900b-1fdd1ce6f92c.html