Travelers remain very much focused on experiencing destinations as if they were locals, and they’re increasingly abandoning impersonal formality in their endless quest to achieve genuine familiarity. Our research partner, Iconoculture, has even given it a name, “Homestyle Hospitality” and they’ve illustrated how this trend is not only about giving travelers a sense of living like a local, but just as importantly the feeling of doing it from a place that feels a lot like home.
For many savvy and curious travelers, mobile apps and Internet research still seems overly generic and impersonal, as consumers increasingly look to localize the experience, often turning to personal guides that allow travelers a much more intimate experience.
Foodies on the hunt for hidden culinary gems and insider secrets are hiring local food guides. These “sherpas” help travelers explore a destination as if they’re in an episode from the Food Network. A good example is Bay area-based Edible Excursions (www.edibleexcursions.net). Started by Lisa Rogovin, a former ad rep for the late, lamented Gourmet magazine, the company offers food-focused tours for up to 14 people, or they’ll gladly create a customized private excursion. Pre-programmed offerings include, “Ferry Building & Farmer’s Market Tour,” “Japantown Culinary Tour” and “San Francisco Craft Cocktails Tour.” Programs range from two to three hours and cost between $50 and $85 per person.
If that still feels a little too structured, then there’s always EatWith (www.eatwith.com) that invites you to dine in the private homes of people around the world. It’s a lot like Airbnb, but for dining. And, although the service is relatively new to the States, it’s quickly gained traction in Europe and other parts of the world.
EatWith recently had 29 listings posted for New York City, one of several U.S. cities that they feature, and the choices are both interesting and eclectic. What could be more local than dining with a middle-aged husband and wife who are advertising “A Typical Upper West Side Dinner” that reflects what a working-class family might regularly experience after a hard day at work. The multi-course meal includes the promise of locavore ingredients and a suggested donation of $34 per person.
More compelling, perhaps, was the offering of a “Middle Eastern Brunch with a Hummus Master” that turned out to be Noam, the Hummus Master from Brooklyn Hummus. Boasting 16 past reviews, all with 5 stars, a bevy of mouth-watering photos and a suggested donation of $27 per person, it certainly has the potential to be the kind of intimate and unique experience that you’ll remember and talk about for years to come.
Not be outdone, hotels are providing their own interpretation of “Homestyle Hospitality” by blurring the line between hotel and home, with an emphasis on bringing more of a guest’s regular routine and familiar comforts into the hotel experience. It’s a direction that’s further reinforced by a 2012 Workstyles Study that revealed more than one-third of business travelers miss their “normal routine,” up from 12% in the 2010 study.
It’s all about finding unique, personalized touches that feel big on intimacy, quality and charm.
At Westin and Fairmont it’s as simple as providing easy access to exercise clothes and shoes, which they lend to guests. At the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Los Angeles they’re giving guests an opportunity to add their personal touch through a complimentary “Do it Yourself” fresh floral arrangement. Marriott's Residence Inn has a free grocery shopping service which encourages better eating habits—especially desirable for frequent travelers who have to eat out regularly. And at San Diego's Hotel Solamar guests can feel connected to the folks they've left behind by requesting a framed photo of their loved ones be placed in their room.
From lobby spaces that are increasingly being repackaged as living and entertaining spaces, to expanded outdoor areas that are starting to resemble one’s own backyard (complete with fire pits and DIY grilling), there’s a concerted effort to bring more personal touches and the conveniences of home to the travel experience.
Encouraging guests to wear their slippers in the lobby or to enjoy dinner with some nearby neighbors, may in fact not only be the fastest way to a traveler’s heart, but ultimately to their wallet.
Indeed, today’s “Homestyle Hospitality” movement is less about talk and more about those simple connections and genuine actions that can make even the biggest brands and most expansive of cities feel intimate and caring.