Are changing at lightning speed and are affecting nearly all industries. Now more than ever, it is crucial for companies to stay on top of changing trends in order to remain competitive. The amount of change in the hospitality and tourism industry within the past 3-4 years has been huge. After experiencing a dip during the 2009 economic recession in the U.S., the travel and hospitality industry has since bounced back and is steadily growing. U.S. Travel & Hospitality revenue growth from 2009 to 2017:
Ten important trends regarding branding in hospitality and tourism to be aware of in 2019 are the rising popularity of affordable private rental services like Airbnb, customer personalization, voice search, augmented/virtual reality, experiential travel, “bleisure” (a new term for combining business and leisure), elevating the mobile experience, video marketing, microinfluencers, and authentic local travel. Fortunately, the U.S. economy has not experienced another economic downturn since 2009, but hoteliers should still be aware of the possible repercussions a recession could have on business.
During a downturn, people may begin to rent out their homes on a platform like Airbnb to earn extra money on the side. A surge of people beginning to rent out their homes would saturate the market with more affordable accomodations and may put budget hotels out of competition. Even if a downturn doesn’t happen, it is impossible to ignore the growing popularity of Airbnb.
This may seem like a threat to traditional hotels, but the rise of private home rentals can also be an opportunity for traditional hotels to offer superb service and unique amenities that home rentals can not provide.
Marketers should be putting the majority of their effort on cultivating a unique experience with top-notch service and amenities to satisfy customers’ desires in order to differentiate themselves in a market that is getting more and more competitive. An incredibly important trend that marketers should consider in the hospitality and tourism industry is the rise of customers demanding more autonomy and personalization in their accommodations and travel. A customer wants flexibility– flexible check-in, room selection, specialty services, etc. Allowing the customer to have that sense of autonomy and control of their own vacation allows them to be less stressed and more satisfied.
The customer is beginning to have more and more power and it is the marketer’s job to recognize this and provide a sense of autonomy to satisfy the traveler’s needs. By allowing the customer to have the freedom of choosing, companies can actually “capture” each customer’s decisions and leverage it as “microdata”. Perhaps a customer liked room service, a room with a balcony view, and spa treatments during their time at the hotel. Hotels can (and should) record these decisions and use this new micro data on their customers to develop loyal relationships with customers and eventually lead to repeat bookings. With the rise in technology impacting consumers’ everyday choices, it is also important for travel marketers to be aware of the rising popularity of voice search. A study done in 2018 showed that 50% of the travelers surveyed use voice search during or before their trip. What does this imply for digital marketers? Consumers are now asking questions with voice search in a more conversational manner.
An investment in long-tail keywords to reflect user’s more conversational voice search requests will allow a company’s website to rank higher in the search engine algorithm. Marketers should consider writing content that answers their target customers’ most common questions and concerns. It may be smart to even consider using voice activation features as part of a consumer’s experience in some way during their stay at a hotel or restaurant to keep up with the customer’s wants. The next trend we see appearing in not only the hospitality and tourism industry, but across many different industries is the use of virtual and augmented reality. As consumers are becoming more and more selective with how they choose a destination spot or which accommodations they seek, adding an element of virtual reality really allows the customer to fully understand and expect what a hotel room would feel like or what a new destination would look like in person. VR can be used as a marketing tool to deliver information to customers in a better and faster way. Instead of listing amenities and specialty services in bullet points on a website page, customers can now see for themselves using virtual reality what to expect at a stay in the hotel.
This is a powerful tool because it becomes an opportunity for the consumer to “try” before buying, a concept usually only thought of with clothing. By creating an augmented experience, travelers will be much more inspired to book as soon as possible and feel more confident in their decision. One such example of how virtual reality has changed destination travel marketing is Visit Mammoth, California. Marketers felt that photos and videos of the region’s beautiful landscape were not enough to depict the beauty of the area, so a VR video was created instead. This VR experience took guests on an exciting adventure paragliding, kayaking, and horseback riding in Mammoth. This triggered much excitement in customers about the adventures Mammoth had to offer– now all potential customers had to do was pay to change virtual reality to reality.
The next trend is experiential travel: travelling with the purpose of fully experiencing and connecting with a country or place on a deeper level by connecting with the history, people, and culture . Travelers don’t want a generalized mass tour anymore, they want something more unique and personalized that offers some form of independence to do a bit of individual exploring. With the rise of photo sharing on social media in an era of (arguably) apparent narcissism, travelers crave memories and experiences that are “instagram-worthy”. Experiential travel is able to provide “instagram-worthy” opportunities for travelers by deviating from the typical mass tourist areas and providing a more aesthetically pleasing and local experience. Travel is now becoming a huge opportunity for everyone to create content for social media. Companies like Airbnb are also hopping on this trend, selling experience packages to tourists like “Instagram Wall Crawl in Los Angeles”. The host (a photographer) brings guests to Venice Beach and gives them a tour of the little Beach Town and shows them local hidden gems and takes instagram-worthy photos for them around town.
A study by Expedia in 2016 found that 60% of business trips include a leisure portion as well. The concept of work-vacations, otherwise termed as “bleisure”– a combination of business and leisure, is now gaining popularity. During the day, people attend to business and work regular hours. However, in the evening and on weekends, when there are no longer any work obligations, people will take the opportunity to explore a new city and enjoy activities on their own. This is low-hanging fruit for travel and hospitality marketers; businesses can target people that will already be traveling to a new city for work obligations and offer an extended stay and information regarding leisure activities and accommodations. There is an opportunity to market both business and leisure together for destinations that typically do not get as much traffic. If travelers have a surprisingly pleasant experience in a city they never planned on traveling to for leisure, this may entice them enough to come back again a second time. Destinations that struggle with branding can reach out to businesses to offer work conference packages as an opportunity to bring in more visitors and hopefully change traveler’s minds about a destination they might never have thought of traveling to in the first place.
We are now in a decade where mobile usage is more rampant than ever. In a report by Google, 48% of users said they feel comfortable with using their smartphone for travel/hotel researching, booking, and planning. This number will only become higher in the future so it is crucial for businesses to have a mobile-compatible website that is easy to use, seamless, and just as informational as the website. Increased mobile usage is an opportunity for marketers to look into building apps for their services. The intangibility of the hospitality and tourism industry can be lessened with a mobile app that allows users to fully engage with. A great example is Marriot, who has an app that allows users to search for and book rooms, as well as request additional amenities and room service. The app offers value that cannot be found elsewhere. The app can also double up as a room key and a chat message box with the concierge.
Video marketing is a powerful tool that continues to grow in the realm of travel marketing. Consumers would rather view a video of a beautiful destination or take a virtual tour of a bedroom at a hotel. For a lot of people, a video is the best tool to help visualize what their potential vacation could look like. However, videos do not always have to be a professional high-budget production. Live streams are beginning to become a more popular form of communication with customers. Live streaming is done in real-time with zero editing– just pure, raw footage that shows whatever is currently happening. Businesses can set up live cameras, such as a live beach cam, to show what they have to offer. Live cameras may actually even be preferred because it is incredibly authentic– no fancy editing or misleading portrayals. Customers know what to expect and have trust in the company. Businesses should consider adding a live camera on their website to pique a potential customer’s interest.
We all know of big name influencers on social media, but it’s the “microinfluencers” that travel marketers should be on the lookout for. A microinfluencer is a person that has a social media following around 10k-50k followers. One might think that the more followers a person has, the more influential this person might be. However, this is false– as a person gains more followers, engagement rate steadily begins to drop. Follower number is not nearly as important as engagement rate because more and more people are now purchasing their followers. Travel and hospitality marketers want to work with local, microinfluencers because these influencers have a much more tight-knit, loyal fan base. A more loyal fan base translates to a stronger influence, which will ultimately lead to more sales conversions. Businesses should work with microinfluencers that are in the local area, under the assumption that the majority of their followers are within the local area as well. Targeting people that are already close by the destination is an easy way to increase sales and traffic.
The last trend is traveling like a local. We mentioned earlier the importance of experiential travel; people want to fully immerse themselves in the culture, local people, and history. To travel for the purpose of experience is to travel authentically and locally. To travelers, going on mass tours on a crowded bus feels a bit too detached and commercialized. It makes you feel and look like a tourist. Consumers want something more interactive and authentic– to live vicariously through a local’s life in an entirely different world than their own. Airbnb does a fantastic job of offering incredibly unique experiences on their website. They are hosted by locals and include a wide array of experiences that has something for everyone.
For example, some of the experiences listed in Rome, Italy are: “Make your own Italian pizza in Rome”, “Visit a 16th century artisanal winery”, and “Discover Rome’s best nightlife scene”. Travel companies need to begin offering more authentic experiences for their customers, otherwise competitors like Airbnb will continue to grab more market share. These ten trends will shape the future of the hospitality and tourism industry in 2019. Many of these travel/tourism trends relate to each other, like how the desire for customer personalization melds together with the desire to travel like a local. Technology like virtual/augmented reality and voice search will make the customer experience even more convenient and seamless, making the future of the hospitality and tourism industry one of the most exciting and flourishing industries out there.