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Fostering Deeper Connections With Guests to Beat Airbnb

LONDON—The hospitality game is shifting as alternative accommodation platforms like Airbnb seek to gain market share by investing in wider guest experiences beyond accommodations.

A London-based brand experience agency argues that building a sense of community through intelligent design is one way for hoteliers to thwart Airbnb and the like.

“There’s much to be learned from the work of different market sectors, such as retail, to meet the changing needs or expectations of guests. Our background in these realms gives a slightly different perspective on hoteliers’ challenges, because we’ve seen how retail brands are able to take advantage of similar shifts and produce some radical, beneficial results,” said Michelle Du-Prat, co-founder and strategy director of Household Ltd., a brand experience consultancy.

“By adapting the principles of retail culture to the hospitality industry, we believe that hoteliers can connect with their guests on a new level,” she said. “Beyond a transactional basis, experiences can be created and designed to involve the guest more deeply with the hotel’s brand and drive the use of more diverse services or features—driving additional revenue.”

Hoteliers need to evolve from a model focused on selling rooms and reservations to maintain occupancy targets, according to Du-Prat, and work to create a richer role for hoteliers in their guests’ lives.

“Bringing together brand and experience as a singular entity is the first thing we do, helping companies articulate their meaningful differences, what they offer and how. Then we design the brand, spaces and experiences, which all feed that identity and provide customers something of value,” she explained.

In the U.S., Household’s clients include the Fairmont Miramar in Santa Monica, CA. In the U.K., the company works with a new lifestyle hotel brand called Another Place.

Du-Prat believes the use of intelligent design should be environmental as well as digital. “That can mean supporting the welcome of a guest at any time of day; helping them personalize their in-room experience; giving them flexibility, comfort and space to relax and socialize. That can’t all be achieved through an app— much of it can be done by well-designed space,” she said.

She added, “The best intelligent design is always centered around the guest, created and employed to enhance their journey, as opposed to installing a new tech application as a gimmick. The latter tends to disappoint if it doesn’t deliver value beyond novelty.”

Where should hoteliers start when it comes to design thinking? Du-Prat offers her own insight: First of all, it’s important to consider design as a tool for improving a guest’s overall experience, not just the hotel aesthetics or digital functions. Next, consider all the things your guests value or aspire to be. Understanding these central motivators and establishing consistent values that they hold will form the foundations for any sort of community you might build with your hotel experience,” she said. “Finally, consider the full breadth of your hotel’s assets or touchpoints, as each one will play a role of some kind to build identity and community among those who encounter it.”