Commentary

Focusing On The Local

Tip O’Neill, the legendary Massachusetts congressman, famously said, “All politics is local.” And now it seems all hospitality is local. Hotel brands and operators are racing to out-local each other. They profess to be training their staffs to be the equivalent of classic concierges: knowing the hottest new restaurant in town, where to get the best deal on clothing and where to hear music usually reserved for those in the know. And they’re employing technology in the form of interactive maps and virtual reality to step up the local game even more. 

That seems a worthwhile goal but one that is not easy to execute. Making a hotel a reliable source of local knowledge and lore is challenging. And while many in the industry seem to think that their guests increasingly want a local experience, there is still a solid percentage who simply want a comfortable place to sleep and don’t mind if they never step outside the hotel door. They have to be catered to as well.

So the winner of the local games will be those who execute best — and a good example of what that might look like comes from Benchmark Hotels & Resorts, a growing management company with high-end hotels around the country. With a new campaign that designates the group as “Masters in the Art of Extraordinary Experiences” and a new website strategy, Benchmark has laid out some ambitious goals:

  • Become the most experiential hotel company in the world.
  • Supply the platform, relationships, programming, rich content and information that enables the guest/meeting planner to connect to the destination.
  • Design the technology, operational culture and delivery system to facilitate a seamless experience delivery.

What that means for leisure guests:

  • What and where do they cherish?
  • Connect me to the culinary scene.
  • You’re the expert; you tell me.
  • Where can I get an adrenaline rush?

And for meeting planners:

  • What are the off-site venues that are unique experiences?
  • What themed events can we experience at the property?
  • What specialty menu offerings and culinary-focused events do you have?
  • What amenities and unique meetings technology do you have?
  • What team-building events are available?

That kind of content presents obstacles as far as being in-depth and up to date but, says Ted Davis, chief experience officer, that’s what Benchmark intends to do — mandating that its third-party content creator insure that all sites are consistent, targeted and current. 

Benchmark’s new website model offers "a platform of creative ways to engage with literally every property across the brand and every single destination" and user-generated content from “travel influencers.”

The payoff can be rewarding if the content draws customers to the sites on a regular basis — with resultant bookings. With an average age of 53 years and annual income of $130,000, Benchmark’s customer base has an online engagement 83% higher than the average, according to Davis.  

It will be interesting to check back in a year or two to see where the local frenzy has gone or is going. On one extreme, as with previous crazes, it may have moved to a low back burner; on the other, if the local advocates are right, all hotels will have to up their game as being the neighborhood insider. 

Benchmark is betting that local is here to stay — and will in fact intensify. After all, Tip O’Neill turned out to be right about politics.

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