By Matt Ferebee
The world of leisure travel continues to change, particularly as it relates to younger affluent travelers. Raised on the internet and fed a steady stream of content via social media, these younger guests are seeking out travel that delivers what they have become so accustomed to online and on social: relevant content that is as immediate as it is immersive. In the context of hotels and resorts, that ‘content’ includes everything destination-related that a guest experiences before, during and after their stay.
This desire to be surrounded by a more integrated, memorable experience is not, of course, a new expectation of travelers—nor are efforts by smart hoteliers to attract travel connoisseurs by offering more than just a clean bed and a warm shower.
What is novel, however, is the depth and breadth of guests’ expectations about their experience. Those evolving expectations are being transformed by travel influencers who have showcased everything from which resorts have the best sheets or most convenient power outlets, to which boutique brands have the fastest room service or cleanest bathtub. Podcasts and web series have profiled destinations down to the smallest physical, logistical and emotional detail—not just which inns are rumored to have ghosts, but which specific rooms are haunted.
As a result, today’s affluent travelers know more. They’ve seen more. And ultimately, they expect more. Although premium destinations are all responding to these changes in different ways, several consistent factors can be identified among properties having the most success with this well-informed, well-heeled audience.
Integrating Culture, Curation and Connections
First, today’s best-in-class destinations are infusing a sense of authentic culture into more aspects of a guest’s stay. More than mimicking local traditions or showcasing cultural clichés, this is about respectfully weaving culture into guests’ stays. The Waldorf Astoria in Los Cabos Pedregal, for example, reimagined its activities as inspiring touchpoints to the storied Baja region. The outcome—which includes offerings like soak rituals, traditional ocean-to-table feasts and an elaborate ‘Agave Study’ that is the furthest thing from a typical tequila tasting—have captivated guests and editors alike. These touchpoints, however, don’t have to be elaborate or expensive to be effective. Clear cultural links to the world around a destination can be made with gestures as simple as locally sourced snacks or a running or biking map that highlights unexpected points of local interest.
A second theme emerging among properties responding to this savvy audience is the idea of curation. In stark contrast to the one-size-fits-all sensibility resisted by today’s younger affluents, destinations like Tennessee’s Blackberry Farm provide an immersive stay tailored to each guest and in tune with each season. Every visit is different for every guest. Situated on 4,200 acres, the Relais & Châteaux destination draws on its farm roots to create distinct culinary, spa and outdoor experiences that reflect deep attention to detail and passion for personalized hospitality. Guests who remark about beautiful tomatoes in the heirloom garden, for example, may be presented with an impromptu tomato flight at dinner. Questions about the nuances of a wine varietal may lead to a private tour of the underground wine tunnel and cellars. These thoughtfully curated experiences, delivered with the hotel’s hallmark southern hospitality, have kept the property booked solid for years—they have also inspired a successful catalog that now allows guests to engage with Blackberry before and after their stay. Curation, of course, doesn’t have to be complicated or as comprehensive as a lifestyle catalog. It just has to demonstrate a commitment to creating a great guest experience. That can be as creative as a library of vinyl to enjoy on a vintage turntable, or as simple and affordable as a thoughtful mix of off-beat publications in each room.
A third theme young affluent travelers are clearly responding to is a sense of connection. Just as they prioritize staying connected digitally, they also (especially for the more sophisticated traveler) still value actual human connection. Hotels that recognize this are reframing their properties as dynamic hubs where guests can come, stay and connect at whatever level and in whatever way they choose. They can connect with other guests and locals through creative programming. They can connect with themselves through introspective spa and wellness offerings. And, of course, they can connect with their social circles through thoughtfully integrated (but not too obvious) Instagram-able moments. For Grande Lakes Orlando, an expansive property that’s home to a JW Marriott and The Ritz-Carlton, a focus on connections has meant celebrating the 500-acre property’s stunning beauty as a hidden gem and urban oasis set apart from Orlando’s typical hustle and bustle. Situated at the headwaters of the Everglades, it’s a place to connect with family, friends and nature. But given its proximity to the airport, as well as to the region’s iconic theme parks, it’s also a convenient place to connect with local fun and excitement. Marketing and delivering all those kinds of connections—from garden photo ops to world-class culinary events to guided adventures with a staff naturalist—has produced triple-digit growth in website traffic year-over-year and double-digit growth in bookings and room revenue.
More Meaningful Guest Experiences
Thanks to the internet and social media, today’s younger affluent travelers have easy access to a wealth of travel information and inspiration. They hear about destinations celebrating culture with recipes and artwork from notable locals. They see boutiques fostering connections with tastefully branded selfie spots—or with a charmingly old-school alternative: stamped postcards ready for guests to drop in the mail. Exposure to all of this content fuels younger affluents’ desires for more immersive and meaningful travel. As a result, their expectations are higher than ever, but so are opportunities for hotels to deliver unforgettable guest experiences.