More than half of all business trips are now a mix business and leisure – so called bleisure travel, according to Nate Marcus, chief executive of events data company OccasionGenius. And guests are increasingly expecting hotels to help them make the most of their stays.

Forward-thinking hotels are investing in improving the total guest experience by broadening their offerings and building databases of local activities, attractions and experiences. These can then be cross-sold and upsold throughout the guest journey.

Several technology providers – such as Alliants, Lokalee, OccasionGenius, Flip.io and Travel Curious – are helping hoteliers capture more of total traveller spend, including commission from selling experiences outside of the hotel.

Hotel groups can display a ‘what’s on’ page when guests are booking that can result in significant revenue uplift from trip extensions. Or simply sending a monthly ‘what’s on’ email can be extremely effective.

Kashif Yamin, senior vice-president of data and strategy at Alliants, says: “Guest appetite for experiences is growing; it’s no longer enough to sit around the resort. We now see a lot more marketing around the whole experience and what guests can do outside the hotel itself. Hoteliers are spending the time and effort to curate content – often assisted by AI – and as it’s in digital form it will be available right through the

booking journey.”

Digitising the concierge experience

James O’Keeffe is a former general manager of boutique luxury property the Wellesley Knightsbridge and now works as a consultant at Alliants, a provider of guest experience technology for hotel clients including Four Seasons, Nobu Hospitality and Mandarin Oriental.

Traditionally, especially in the luxury segment, the concierge is responsible for offering guests recommendations and assistance. “They can do very strange last[1]minute requests,” says O’Keeffe. “Anything from jewel-encrusted teddy bears to private tours of museums. Wealthy people, particularly families, are coming to London looking for unique experiences, and they see the concierge as their ticket to do that.”

However, with digitalisation, guest services are transforming, and Alliants provides digital concierge services that deploy AI-driven algorithms and automation tools in mobile and chat applications. These solutions provide dining, sightseeing and entertainment recommendations for guests and lighten the workloads of hotel employees.

“It gives the guest the option to self-serve. Sometimes it’s just easier to flick through your phone, decide what you like, make a request or, via the Seven Rooms API [application programming interface], make a direct restaurant booking and have it added to your digital itinerary,” he says. “It takes pressure off front desk employees.

Some of it is cultural; when guests from the Middle East come to London, they do everything via WhatsApp.”

O’Keeffe is keen to stress that digital concierge software is not intended to replace in[1]person service. Obviously, at the most luxurious addresses, concierges perform miracles, such as last-minute tickets to Wimbledon or front-row seats at the Royal Opera House, that would be impossible to replicate digitally.

“We’re not trying to remove those personal touches. We’re just trying to elevate what is there digitally, so it’s a little bit more personal and gives that time back to the guest,” he explains.

Luxury venues want to ensure the choice of external activities they promote is on[1]brand and appropriate to their target market. The Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park London, for example, displays an endorsement quote from Bryan Ferry along with a choice of activities including horse riding around Hyde Park (from £115 per person per hour), a helicopter tour over London (£3,850) and a behind-the-scenes tour of Kensington Palace.

Alliants works with hotels to deliver the back-end functionality of the concierge software, uploading vendor lists and deploying automation triggers, while the consumer-facing content is curated and decided by the brands. With shortened booking windows, having an app that enables guests to better plan activities during the post-booking, pre-arrival phase is a financial benefit for hotels.

O’Keeffe says:

“Four Seasons, for example, has an integrated shopping cart functionality on its site so guests can pre-book experiences, whether that’s snorkelling, spa and sauna, or decide how they are picked up from the airport. Easy access means guests can understand availability and pricing. Guests don’t want to miss out on private surfing lessons; they need to make sure they’ve locked that in.”

The Taylor Swift effect

Taylor Swift’s ongoing world tour has underlined the huge impact major events have on hotel revenues. Swifties and their families poured $208m into US hotel bank accounts last year, according to STR data, and that’s a conservative estimate as it only covers rooms revenue.

As Swift continues her tour in the UK and Ireland, hotel executives are thrilled. Dominic Paul, chief executive of Whitbread, revealed that Premier Inn hotels quickly sold out when Taylor Swift’s 17 UK and Ireland tour dates were announced.

While fans usually book Swift’s concerts well in advance, short booking windows and inadequate planning often lead to missed opportunities. Many of us have experienced this firsthand – realising what we missed only after returning home from a trip.

To address this, hotel groups are taking action. Margaritaville Hotels & Resorts, a US brand, presents a calendar of local events to customers during the booking process. This feature, powered by marketing platform Flip.to and events API OccasionGenius, has resulted in double-digit conversion increases for hotel clients.

Marcus emphasises the distinction between activities and events. While activities contribute to ancillary revenue, OccasionGenius focuses on extending guests’ stays, which significantly impacts a hotel’s finances. Instead of earning a percentage from a £60 ticket, hotels can earn an extra night’s stay, along with food and beverage revenue. Events drive trip extensions and reduce cancellation rates.

OccasionGenius aggregates data sets for hotels or hotel groups, including free events, and offline and online ticketed events (such as those from Ticketmaster and Eventbrite). Integration typically takes one to five days, with pricing ranging from £118 to £275 a month based on data set size and timeframe (30 days to 12 months). Hotels pay per market, making it cost-effective for groups with multiple properties in

the same city.

Marcus underlines that this approach informs guests about exciting local happenings without being overly sales-oriented, enhancing the hotel’s authenticity and helpfulness.

Bad weather? No problem

Destination marketing is an approach whereby regions or countries become adept at selling themselves around the world. Instead of directly advertising products and services, destination marketing showcases the general appeal of a place, aiming to build awareness and interest among potential travellers. Last year’s ‘Fill Your Heart with Ireland’ campaign is a good example.

Hotels need to adopt this mindset and think of themselves as destinations, says asset manager Alex Sogno, chief executive of Global Asset Solutions. “Then, they need to go one step further and become destinations,” he says. “This is particularly relevant for seasonal businesses. Only by doing this can you maintain a steady stream of guests at a rate premium, which maximises the hotel’s value.”

But how can hotels attract guests in both high and low season? By offering something special and different. One hotel which has successfully done this and even turned a perceived negative – bad weather – into an asset is the Headland hotel in Newquay, Cornwall. With clever marketing (‘The Perfect Place for the Perfect Storm’) the hotel offers storm-watching packages from November to February.

Commercial manager Leigh Archer says: “Storm-watching was introduced when the family owners discovered locals were travelling to our cliffside location to experience all the drama of a storm hitting up close. Before that, the hotel had traditionally closed after October half-term. Realising the opportunity we had to help promote Cornwall as a year-round destination, the storm-watching stay was curated.”

Special events are drivers of demand, explains Sogno, and there is nothing to stop hotels creating such events themselves. “If you find yourself looking enviously at the rates and occupancy delivered during London Fashion Week, don’t wait around for your local tourism agency to create such an event, build one yourself. If you do it right, it will become an institution on its own,” he says.

Potential events include film or music festivals, art fairs, literary festivals, Christmas markets, stand-up comedy festivals, wedding expos, antique fairs, culinary tours, fashion weeks, sports events and health and fitness expos. Hotels should consider partnering with local businesses and organisations to enhance the event and attract more attendees. The idea is to help initiate the event but not necessarily own the event in the future, Sogno advises.

“The first year may be challenging financially and with the overall organisation, but soon the event will stand on its own. Once you have created this event, you can tailor your marketing to the specific needs and preferences of the target audience and help build loyalty and repeat business.

“This will provide you with valuable data on your guests, including their booking habits, preferences and behaviours. This data can then be used for future marketing efforts and to improve the overall guest experience, which can ultimately lead to higher occupancy rates, increased revenue and greater profitability for the hotel.”

This content first appeared at The Caterer