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Solving The Airbnb Competition Crisis: 5 Ways Boutique Hotels Can Win Loyal Customers In 2017

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Boutique hotels are caught between a rock and a hard place. With standardized branded chains on one side and the anything-goes choices with Airbnb, independent hotels must distinguish themselves in a big way in order to foster customer loyalty. Bisnow talked with Charlestowne Hotels VP of business development Larry Spelts about what boutique hotels must do in 2017 to delight customers and earn repeat business.

The Local Experience

Solving The Airbnb Competition Crisis: 5 Ways Boutique Hotels Can Win Loyal Customers In 2017

Spelts says that hotels learned an important lesson about their customers, thanks to Airbnb: when visiting a new city, people want to feel like they are part of that city. They want to experience it as a local; eat where the locals eat and jog where the locals jog.

Hotels are now orienting themselves to offering those authentic experiences both on and off-site, and positioning themselves as a kind of base camp from which guests can explore new neighborhoods.  

Conversely, some hotels are seeing opportunities in the local population, and seeing themselves as a community amenity with free coffee and newspapers for whoever wants to enjoy the offerings. Increasingly, hotels are finding opportunities within their neighborhoods to be an entertainment and dining hub.  

Creative Food And Beverage

Food

F&B will need to become more creative, Spelts said. The appetite for rich, flavorful and localized meals has grown, and local hotels will have to step up the quality of their offerings. For hotels, this means putting more emphasis on standout food and beverage services, even if ROI may be less. 

One way boutiques are displaying their foodie chops is by creating their own gardens. Triple Creek Ranch in Montana features an orchard and garden that produces apples, cherries, strawberries and other fruits that regularly appear on its menus.

The food shouldn't just taste delicious and fresh though—it should also look amazing. In the days of Top Chef and Chopped, customers increasingly expect their food to be beautifully presented. We live in the Instagram Age when every milkshake, cocktail and hot dog is photographed, filtered and hashtagged. Hotels should take advantage of that fact, and recognize that one eats first with one's eyes.

Sensory Experiences   

Whiskey Suite at Gleneagles

Brands will focus on fully enveloping the guest through each of the five senses—every touchpoint should exude the brand identity, from music that matches the character of the hotel, to the lobby scent, to tangible “surprises and delights” for consumers during their stays, Spelts said. Turndown amenities, he said, complimentary cocktails and quality sundries all go far to round out the customer experience.

Value-Add Amenities

Bay Area Bike Share

In an effort to build loyalty, hotels will ramp up their value-driven amenities, integrating them into average daily rate rather than offering these amenities at an extra, outside cost, giving the consumer a sense of appreciation for the property rather than feeling nickel-and-dimed, Spelts said.  

Charlestowne Hotels properties, for instance, offer a welcome cocktail at check-in, high-quality complimentary breakfasts with items from the local community (such as pastries from a nearby bakery), butler service, free bikes, shoeshines and 24-hour complimentary coffee and tea service. The one amenity that all customers demand is the ability to get online without hassle, Spelts said. Customers want to be able to use their own devices as seamlessly as if they were at home.

Technology

Hotel Technology

Technology will become more ubiquitous, Spelts said. Beyond automation for keyless entry and payment, hotels will use technology for increasingly ambitious tasks. At the Residence Inn by Marriott Los Angeles LAX, robots makes guest room deliveries, including Starbucks from the lobby store.  

At the Renaissance New York Midtown Hotel in the Garment District, guests can approach a virtual concierge that responds to human motion. By stepping up to the screen, guests choose with their feet the distance they’re willing to go from the hotel, and then point to the screen to access suggestions curated in real time by the hotel’s local experts.