The travel industry is constantly being disrupted, which often provides great benefits for travelers and a path to fostering a culture of innovation and new business models. A current trend in hotel and travel disruption is coming from a new breed of unlikely players within the luxury brand space. Over the course of 2015, brands have surprisingly taken the leap into the hospitality industry, from a plan by West Elm to launch a line of boutique hotels, Equinox expanding into hotels earlier this year, and Karl Lagerfeld’s decision to launch his own brand of hotels.
We have come a long way since online travel booking websites permanently changed the course of the travel agency business model and placed the power squarely into the hands of consumers. Today, hotels have Airbnb to contend with, as consumers can not only book a place to stay, but become hosts themselves. The on-demand economy has been democratized, aided by technology and creative thinking — generating micro-entrepreneurial ecosystems in hospitality.
Experiential travel is now a focus of not just Airbnb’s new product offering, Trips, but we’re seeing the trend being facilitated by luxury brands who are extending their brand experiences to hotels and travel. Brands are looking for new and creative ways to further engage customers with multifaceted brand experiences. So, how can your brand take advantage of this approach to grow customer reach and engagement?
Sideline to Full-blown Business
Most luxury brands are already involved in sideline businesses by collaboratively designing with hotels, luxury residences, and more. The move into making a sideline into a full-blown hospitality business is the latest trend for luxury brands such as Armani, Bulgari, and Versace. And the possibilities are endless for how far a brand would like to take it in the space. The opportunity to extend a brand’s reach and fully immerse customers with an authentically branded experience can be a great way to build affinity among its customer base for years to come.
More brands will enter the travel and hotel space as their competitors’ experimentation with this business model starts producing success. The beauty of jumping into a new category of business as a well-established brand is that your loyal customer base will be willing to follow you on the adventure. It’s like starting out as a fashion designer and then adding perfumes, cosmetics, and more to your offering, a multifaceted approach is now the new norm.
Beyond Brand Systems
Luxury brands entering the travel and hotel space have the advantage of studying years of historical data around hospitality disruption. There is the opportunity to learn the dos and don’ts quickly and design your go to market strategy wisely. Just remember to always stay true to your brand when crafting each experience and know what your customers have come to expect of your brand. Deep brand connections foster a lifestyle that aligns itself well with customers’ standards and expectations. Brands can easily slap their logo on a nicely designed building and property, but it goes well beyond visual branding. You need to know why this move into hospitality makes sense for your customer experience.
Brand ethos needs to permeate in every experience crafted for travelers. Beyond interior design and architecture, your excursions and amenities should align with your offering. If your brand has never created for experiential travel, you may need to enlist the support of experts within the hospitality industry to help guide your approach while weaving your brand’s DNA into every aspect of the project. Resist the temptation to design a pool shape based on your perfume bottle or shoe.
Branded experiences should feel nothing like a sales pitch, even if subtle. Having a boutique store or private shopping experience may be appropriate to provide exclusive brand products and services offered only to travelers. However you decide to do it, make the experience exemplify your brand’s personality and mantra.
Success in branded hospitality revolves solely around your customers’ experience. Take into consideration what your competition is already doing and then craft experiences with your own brand DNA. Know your audience and what they expect of you, then go above and beyond by creating delightfully unexpected experiences.
Remember, a five-star rating online for your brand is a rating for your brand overall, so always shoot for the stars. Whether you are established or new to market as a luxury brand, Armani, Lagerfeld and others are proof that with some ingenuity and out of the box thinking, innovation is limitless and can create new categories for brand extension. This is an opportunity to meet people who love your brand where their lifestyle matters.