Serving The Locally Curious

Everywhere you turn, it seems that there’s another article focusing on the importance of local content. Local experiences. Local resources. Much of it is fueled by the ever-growing desire among travelers (whether business or leisure) to discover interesting and memorable things to do within a destination. This trend to collect experiences over things has been building for over a decade, but it seems to be hitting a crescendo as of late. 

More than ever, the attention has shifted from where you’re staying on a trip, to being about what you’re doing. A recent Millward Brown study revealed that “discovery” was more sought-after among travelers than “indulgence” or “escape,” and a survey by Red Lion Hotels found that Millennials were more intent on a place being “interesting” than “comfortable.”

Whether you want to point to geolocation-fueled apps or the emergence of Airbnb as a revolutionary resource that literally lets you share a home with a local, this curiosity and quest to connect with a place is forcing all of us in the business to think about how to effectively appeal to and satiate this locally curious consumer.

Just as importantly, this trend is marking a clear shift from the hotel being the destination to the hotel now playing the role as gateway, facilitator and enabler to the community that surrounds it. Increasingly, the emphasis is on sharing, guiding, curating and creating opportunities to experience the local area in ways that underscore the value of staying in that property or with that brand. 

Hotels have always offered interesting packages and experiences, but where they had previously cloistered the guest on property, the focus is now on giving the guest access to information, experiences and activities going on outside the hotel.  

It’s that reality that brought Red Lion to launch locally inspired microsites for each hotel—filled with local content and flavor—and they are reportedly seeing bookings on the sites nearly double.  They’ve even adopted a tagline for their brand that could also be a rallying cry for the industry: “Local. Wise.”

No doubt there are countless ways to bring more local, relevant content into every touch point and to create richer local experiences regardless of whether you are a budget property or a luxury chain. 

At last week’s HSMAI Adrian Awards dinner recognizing the best in travel marketing, one of the Platinum Awards went to Oregon Tourism and the program that was started in the little town of Oakridge, Ore. In an effort to play to the community’s strengths, they enlisted residents to wear badges that proclaimed, “We Speak Oakridge” and highlighted each individual’s particular area of expertise: fishing; mountain biking; wildflowers; and more.

What a perfect way to deliver a rich, local connection and to provide insightful information that allows people to connect with a community in a way that aligns with personal passions. Perhaps some of those name badges that hotel employees have so long worn that listed what language someone speaks or where they are from can now be replaced with an invitation to discuss their interests and passions in a local context—food, music, art, gardening or anything else that could provide an informed view of what the local scene might offer.

Similarly, when I think about hotel loyalty programs, there should now be a concerted focus on redemption opportunities with a decidedly local flavor. Not that there’s anything wrong with using your points to get a gift card for Target, Best Buy or Home Depot, but they’re hardly the most memorable aspect of the countless communities they inhabit. 

Think how this might work in my hometown of Boston. There are wonderful restaurant groups here like the one run by Barbara Lynch that includes some of the city’s most-talked-about eateries including No. 9 Park, B&G Oysters, The Butcher Shop and Menton or the Columbus Hospitality Group that operates Mistral, Teatro and Sorellina. I’m sure both would be happy to offer their gift cards through a hotel loyalty program’s portal.

Imagine making your reservation to stay in Boston and being told you can use your points to dine in some of the city’s most interesting restaurants. That’s a brand adding value to their guests on a local level. Not to mention the goodwill you can create by driving more revenues into these dining establishments.

Yes, it’s a lot of work to identify and put those partnerships together, but no one said local was easy. The payoff, however, comes in the way of delivering more value to the guest and creating richer and more interesting experiences. Right in your backyard.

Local is as local does, and finding ways to serve the locally curious is increasingly the key to meeting the needs of today’s traveler.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, ideas and examples of how others are delivering the local life.

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2 comments about "Serving The Locally Curious".
  1. Dave Spector from Tambourine: Hotel/Travel Marketing , March 3, 2014 at 10:48 a.m.
    Great article Gary! Brands that centralized their marketing functions need to revisit that methodology and ensure they can deliver local flavor/content/experiences.
  2. Leslie Singer from SingerSalt , March 3, 2014 at 11:35 a.m.
    The bigger the world gets the more people are curating their lives to be smaller. As Creative Director and part owner of a hyper regional magazine I can tell you that we have hit a nerve that has exceeded expectation. With the advent of stay-cations and the need to support local, your article is spot on to new opportunities in our own backyards.