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Zip Lines, Virtual Reality And Social Media: The Future Of Resorts Is Experiences

Zip lining to the beach, camping out under the stars and going on a roller coaster while wearing virtual reality glasses — more resorts are adding experiential activities to lure guests and keep them coming.

“The new luxury is personal fulfillment,” said LWHA Managing Director Mark Lukens, who moderated The Future of Resorts: Experiential Tourism panel at Thursday's Bisnow Lodging & Innovation Series West event at the Sheraton Grand hotel in downtown Los Angeles.

LWHA Managing Director Mark Lukens, The Athens Group COO Jay Newman, MGM Resorts International Chief Experience Officer/CMO Lilian Tomovich, TOTO USA President - Operations Bill Strang, Auberge Resorts CEO Mark Harmon
LWHA's Mark Lukens, The Athens Group's Jay Newman, MGM Resorts International's Lilian Tomovich, TOTO USA's Bill Strang, Auberge Resorts' Mark Harmon

Lukens joined Athens Group CEO Jay Newman, MGM Resorts International Chief Experience Officer Lilian Tomovich, TOTO USA President Bill Strang and Auberge Resorts CEO Mark Harmon in the 45-minute discussion. 

More than 230 people attended the all-day Bisnow event that featured seven panels on pressing hospitality topics, a keynote from SBE Entertainment Group CEO Sam Nazarian and experts from a wide range of hospitality and tech companies. 

Experts discussed a wide range of topics, including the state of the hospitality industry, how hotels are building brand loyalty by creating exclusive members-only guest experiences, the rise of boutique lifestyle-type hotels and the continuing emergence of tech and innovation in the hospitality industry.

The Athens Group's Jay Newman discusses the future of resorts with MGM Resorts International's Lilian Tomovich April 26 at Bisnow’s Lodging & Innovation Series West event at the Sheraton Grand hotel in downtown Los Angeles.
The Athens Group's Jay Newman and MGM Resorts International's Lilian Tomovich

Authentic Experience

With more people — especially millennials — changing their spending habits from goods to experiences, resort developers and owners are using a combination of high-quality guest service, technology and the incorporation of authentic activities to bring in guests.

There was a time when an experiential activity at a resort was spending four or five hours playing golf or laying on a Magic Fingers vibrating bed, Lukens said, chuckling.

But these days, it has become more than a shaking bed.

MGM’s New York New York hotel in Las Vegas recently added a virtual reality component to its roller coaster, which has been a big hit with visitors, MGM’s Tomovich said.

At one of Athens Group’s projects, the company is considering including a zip line as one means of access to the beach. 

In a resort project in Naples, Florida, Athens officials have had conversations about shortening the golf experience by creating a smaller golf course or adding a pickle ball court, Athens CEO Newman said. 

Even using a high-end toilet with a bidet could be a fulfilling experience, TOTO USA’s Strang said. 

Auberge Resorts CEO Mark Harmon networks with guests April 26 at Bisnow’s Lodging & Innovation Series West event at the Sheraton Grand hotel in downtown Los Angeles.
Auberge Resorts CEO Mark Harmon

Increasingly, there will be ways that visitors will be able to control the temperature in their room, the television and order room service from their phone. 

“We want to personalize those experiences so they can be much more meaningful to the guests,” Harmon said. “If you could go beyond, that could become transformative travel.”

With the rise and influx of social media sharing, it is important to provide guests with “snackable content” — or short experiences throughout the vacation — and genuine authentic experiences, Tomovich said.

“We don’t know today what is hip tomorrow. We try to create something that is authentic and real," Newman said. "Everyone is incredibly sophisticated. We have social media that is so powerful but if you could bring a real authentic experience … people will pay an incredible amount of money for it.” 

But, Newman hedges, if done wrong, people will turn on you and share their negative experiences on social media.

One thing the panelists all agreed on was that even with the rise of tech and using computerized check-ins, computers can never replace great customer service. 

Newman said it is important to provide a personal touch and hire locals who could help visitors with details like finding a favorite hidden restaurant.

“At a resort you want to be pampered, you want someone to bring you your favorite cocktail and you want to get a massage,” Newman said. “Technology could be a facilitator to get something done right.”

“We want to find that balance, where technology complements the guest experience,” Tomovich said. “We want to make sure we don’t become too robotic.”

Check out the slideshow of the event here:

Bisnow Hospitality & Innovation Series (BLIS) West