Imagine staying at a hotel where the minibar is stocked with nothing but your favorite drinks and snacks — even if you’re not paying VIP prices. Or enjoying a fully-customized around-the world adventure that gives you insider access to some of the globe’s most exciting destinations.Or shopping for exquisite jewelry and watches while you enjoy a decadent high tea that not only consists of freshly baked scones and loose-leaf tea, but also some of the world’s best champagne.
Providing consumers with an outstanding brand experience
Just a few years ago, these experiences would have sounded like far-flung fantasies — but today, each one is a reality.One luxury brand offers a series of once-in-a-lifetime adventures, including a trip around the world in a private jet, which combines a tailor-made itinerary with a top notch experience. Possibilities include observing mountain gorillas in Rwanda, enjoying the pristine beaches of Bora Bora and exploring the Taj Mahal. You get your own 24/7 personal concierge, a dedicated travel planner, an on-board executive chef, a dedicated luggage concierge, a journey physician and, of course, a trained cabin crew.
While these examples might seem vastly different, they have one thing in common: Each hotel is focusing on providing its clientele with an experience that fits within the hotel brand. One is all about convenience, innovation and fun. While the other offers experiences that meet the highest standard of excellence.
Clearly, a logo alone isn’t enough to create positive brand associations anymore. As these three brands have realized, hotels have to go the extra mile to create actual experiences that first, reflect what their brand stands for and second, provides their clientele with a value-added experience that makes their stay better.
Consumers are placing more value on experiences
This is in line with the trend that consumers are increasingly opting to spend their money on experiences rather than physical belongings. And in the highly competitive hospitality industry, knowing how to provide a branded customer experience (CX) can help you get — and stay — ahead of the competition. To illustrate: Luxury experiences accounted for almost 30% of the global luxury market in 2016 — and this sector grew five percent faster than the entire personal luxury goods sector in that same year.
The influence of social media
Moreover, we live in a world where consumers share many of their experiences online — including their vacations. From a Facebook post about a leak in the ceiling in a hotel room to an Instagram picture of an exquisite dessert, consumer-generated content on social media heavily influences how consumers think and feel about particular brands.
Consider the following statistics: Every single day in the U.S. alone, there are 2.1 million negative social media comments about brands. Yet at the same time, effective user generated content can have a positive impact on brands. In fact, research shows that it can generate 6.9 times higher engagement than brand generated content — and that’s just on Facebook. Other platforms such as Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat might have higher engagement rates.
Making consumers brand ambassadors
Clearly, it’s critical for hotels to engage consumers in a good way and make them brand ambassadors who not only keep coming back themselves, but also encourage others to visit.
To do this, you need to provide a branded customer experience for your guests — one that’s both in line with your brand and an incentive for positive consumer sentiment.
For example, a growing number of hotel brands are enabling their guests to connect with their concierges via Twitter or chat to ask questions about the hotels, as well as the cities where they’re located. For example, if you’re in Chicago for the first time and you’re staying at a luxury hotel there, you can use personal comfort assistant to ask the concierge where you can get the best deep-dish pizza.
Many of the main hotels all offer branded experiences as a part of their rewards programs. These experiences include a range of activities and events, from branded beach vacations to music festivals to helicopter rides over amazing landscapes.
The importance of shared values
It’s also important to keep in mind that living up to shared values is an important aspect of providing an outstanding experience. For example, if you offer your guests a range of branded outdoors adventures and you’re demonstrably taking action to fulfill your commitment to the environment, that will likely contribute to your guests perceiving you as an authentic brand.
Several hotel brands are already doing this. For example, a luxury hotel is dedicated to reducing energy and water consumption by a further 20% by 2020 compared to 2007. It also partners with local farmers and seafood producers to increase organic and local dining options, and it’s working towards building green hotels.
Another brand values include diversity and inclusion, as well as a 360-approach to serving the public by nurturing and empowering the world, advancing human rights and sustaining responsible operations. One important step it recently took to promote sustainable operations is the decision to eliminate plastic straws in all its hotels globally by 2019.
Emotions and positive experiences
Ultimately, emotions play an important role in brand perception. And travel, whether it’s for business or for pleasure, is all about emotions — it can be hugely stressful or wonderfully memorable. As a hotel brand, you have the opportunity to connect at a deeper level with your guests by offering them branded experiences that make their stay more pleasurable, fun and exciting. And that in turn can go a long way to turning one-time guests into repeat customers, as well as passionate advocates for your brand.
Alicia Williams, founder and CEO of Aliste Marketing