At its core, travel is all about the experience but what travellers want to experience is continually evolving.
Call it the Airbnb effect. The sharing economy, whether that's accommodation, meals, transport or experiences, has had a profound impact on how we travel. Today’s travellers are increasingly seeking authentic, local encounters that are less prescriptive. While homestay options and local guides are hardly a new concept, it’s taken industry disruptors such as Airbnb to shake up the model of the traditional hotel model.
Driving this change is the millennial or Gen Y traveller, who are predicted to comprise more than half of the world’s hotel guests by 2020. According to research, the millennial traveller values experiences over things. And a host of hotels is here to accommodate them.
What Moxy Hotels, Mama Shelter, citizenM and Mojo Nomad all have in common (other than a predilection for the letter ‘M’) is being specifically designed to target the tech-savvy, authentic experience-seeking millennial traveller.
Along with Starwood’s Aloft and Element hotels, AccorHotels’ Jo&Joe, Canopy and Tru by Hilton, and Indigo Hotels (IHG); traditional hotel spaces within Moxy (Marriott), Mama Shelter (Accor), citizenM (privately owned) and Mojo Nomad (Ovolo Hotels) have been re-imagined. Moxy Hotels, Tru by Hilton and CitizenM have downsized their guestrooms to make the lobby the communal focal point as an art gallery, library, games room and work space where guests can hang out and mingle.
It’s a concept that has worked well for Ace Hotels, whose lifestyle properties are in strategic locations within cool, emerging neighbourhoods. Ace Hotels is known for its individual appeal with rooftop bars and hipster baristas and the lobby is a collective space where even locals hang out and work from.
Sister City is Ace Hotels’ latest spin-off. Opening in New York City’s Lower East Side in February 2019, Sister City is a hotel “distilled to its most beautiful, working parts” – that being comfort, beauty and human connection. Dubbed ‘micro hotels’ for their smaller room size and an emphasis on providing only the essentials, these properties reflect the decline of the full-service hotel – travellers are no longer willing to pay for amenities and services they don’t use. See mini-bars, hotel laundry and fluffy slippers.
Micro hotels offer less space, but provide other onsite features in an effort to compete with Airbnb and other short-term rentals, such as onefinestay. According to Phocuswright research, the repeat booking rate for Airbnb is three times that of top hotel brands, with the millennial traveller its highest user.
Taking the communal aspect of hotel stays one step further is Element, which is trialling Studio Commons – communal living rooms within the centre of four guestrooms. Guests will have their own bedrooms but share a common kitchen, lounge and dining area for socialising and collaborating.
And blurring the line between hostel and hotel is Ovolo Hotels’ Mojo Nomad concept, which offers co-living spaces for digital nomads to travel and work at two Hong Kong sites: Mojo Aberdeen and Mojo Central. These design-led micro hotels have room options that include mixed dormitories with bunks that sleep up to 12 people and a communal bathroom.
Ovolo Hotels founder and CEO Girish Jhunjhnuwala explains: “We put ourselves in the shoes of the global citizen – a modern-day nomad – and realised when you’re travelling for work, in a new city or a local choosing accommodation, you want a little of everything. You want a hotel for lifestyle, a home for the creature comforts, areas to be sociable and meet fellow guests, plus space to work and be creative.”
This idea of sharing space and resources taps into the move towards a more sustainable lifestyle. Hotel industry research indicates approximately 50 per cent of travellers globally will consider environmentally friendly properties when choosing where to stay.
Crystalbrook Collection hotels group director Geoff York agrees: “Travellers today expect a lot from hotels. They expect ease, comfort, impeccable service and they want to know the hotel is doing their bit for the environment.”
As responsible travel makes inroads with travellers, hospitality groups have unveiled their plans for a more sustainable stay. From reductions in energy and water usage to eco-friendly cleaning products and amenities, hotels are keen to balance guest comfort with corporate responsibilities to the local community and environment.
At more than 20 Fairmont hotels worldwide as well as QT Sydney, Waldorf Astoria New York, Mandarin Oriental Paris, Shangri-La Hotel Toronto and many other properties, the focus on local and sustainable ingredients extends to the hotel-grown honey from rooftop garden hives as well as onsite herb and vegetable gardens.
Riley, the recently opened 5-star Crystalbrook Collection resort in Cairns, reflects the hotel group’s philosophy of responsible luxury. Apple iPads replace paper at check-in and check-out, and there’s no plastic bottles or straws on the premises – even room key cards swap out plastic for 100 per cent recycled wood.
“Today everybody wants to be more sustainable and responsible in all aspects of their lives. This is no different for travellers when making decisions for their holidays,” Geoff says. “At Riley, we want to make our guests feel good about their decision to stay with us and know they are doing something positive for the world.
“Responsible luxury meets innovation at Riley. Technology plays a huge role in the hotel, from the guestrooms and meeting zones to the interactive tour desk in the lobby.”
Creating a seamless transition from check-in to check-out is also increasingly digitalised – think online check-in, robotic butlers, in-room voice search devices and high-speed Wi-Fi. Some hotels have ditched the concierge altogether – former onefinestay CEO Javier Cedillo-Espin has argued that smartphones have eliminated the need for a dedicated service to call cabs and offer local restaurant recommendations when guests can simply DIY.
Marriott has been able to determine what travellers want through its M Beta hotel in Charlotte, North Carolina, which serves as is the hospitality brand’s innovation lab. The fully functional hotel tests and gathers feedback from guests in real time via beta buttons to define and refine what travellers want from a hotel stay from check-in to the way people utilise the amenities.
The paradox of travelling is people want to be treated as an individual while also feel part of a wider community. We’ve also never been more connected, yet are more isolated than ever. What travellers really want from their hotel stay is the convenience that technology provides paired with the personal approach. That, and some fluffy slippers.
This article originally appeared in Flight Centre's Travel ideas: Wow List 2019 magazine.