People enjoying a bottle of wine at dusk at boutique hotel reStays.
To draw in business travelers, Canadian boutique hotel reStays Ottawa is promoting condo-style amenities, from full kitchens and spacious living areas to a private cinema room. — reStays

Three tips for thriving in the post-COVID hospitality sector:

  • Offer immersive programs, such as chef-led cooking classes and personal art tours, as well as work-friendly spaces that serve the surge in remote employees.
  • Team up with local businesses to offer perks like live music, wine tastings and discounts on products and services.
  • Tap technology to customize the guest experience via in-app conveniences like contactless check-in and exclusive city guides.

The hospitality industry hard hit during the pandemic is leaning into guests’ post-COVID tastes to buoy its revival.

Hotels lost $111.8 billion in room revenue during 2020 and 2021, according to the American Hotel & Lodging Association’s (AHLA) 2022 State of the Hotel Industry Report.

Over the last two years, the landscape changed. Consumers are now craving privacy, personalization, the great outdoors and substantive, meaningful experiences — and hotels are answering the call.

Hotels are distinguishing their venues with bespoke, immersive programming and all manner of perks, from art tours and chef-led cooking classes to one-of-a-kind local experiences, like a personal training session with an Olympic athlete.

Amid the surge in remote workers, the pandemic spawned a new wave of travelers, including “b-leisure” (business leisure) travelers and digital nomads, who have different needs and expectations than traditional business travelers — and hotels are adapting to meet their needs, Chip Rogers, president and CEO of the AHLA, told CO—.

However, it’s leisure travel that will continue to drive hotels’ recovery, “and that is transforming how hotels operate to meet the needs of guests,” Rogers said.

Quite frankly, “Hotel loyalty and perks are shifting, and the days of free Wi-Fi and late check-out are not cutting it anymore,” said Ellis Connolly, chief revenue officer of Laasie, which works with over 1,000 hotels on customer loyalty programs.

“Unlike a points-based program where you need to earn and burn points, hotels are looking at ways to instantly reward guests for behaviors the hotels want to encourage, like booking a room, dining at the property restaurant, etc.”

Indeed, guests want more private, customized experiences, said Emmanuel Burgio, founder of Blue Parallel, who is providing even more over-the-top experiences for clients. “We had a client who had to postpone a trip four times. As a way to say, ‘thank you,’ we surprised the client with extras, a spa treatment, a meeting with a scholar in an area they have a special interest, and a hotel upgrade.”

Here's a look at how hospitality companies are pouring on the perks since the pandemic:

The Nightfall Group: Grammy tickets, a cryptocurrency payment option woo luxury-seeking clients

As the “experience economy,” whereby consumers opt to divert spending from tangible things to lived moments, makes a COVID-comeback, competition among luxury travel businesses offering bespoke experiences is at an all-time high.

Since its inception in 2019, The Nightfall Group has taken a white-glove approach to service: Its clients choose the location or the property where they want to stay, and the travel concierge and luxury rentals company curates the rest of the guest’s experience, be it providing a private jet, an on-site butler or a personal trainer, or a fridge stocked with customized groceries on arrival.

It’s now gone next level to stand out from rivals. This year, The Nightfall Group started offering clients tickets to some of the biggest events of the year, including the Super Bowl, Grammy Awards and key boxing events in Miami.

“High-end clients have been incredibly receptive to these add-ons, as that is one less thing they have to worry about on their end,” Mokhtar Jabli, founder and CEO of The Nightfall Group, told CO—. Another new offering is the ability to pay for services through cryptocurrency, which extends the business’s reach to a larger audience, he said.

[Read: Work-From-Anywhere Isn’t Going Away: 5 Ways the Hospitality Sector Is Monetizing the Trend]

Hotel loyalty and perks are shifting, and the days of free Wi-Fi and late check-out are not cutting it anymore. Unlike a points-based program where you need to earn and burn points, hotels are looking at ways to instantly reward guests for behaviors the hotels want to encourage, like booking a room, dining at the property restaurant, etc.

Ellis Connolly, chief revenue officer, Laasie

HOTEL DU PONT: Touting local perks from museum tours to a workout with an Olympian

HOTEL DU PONT in Wilmington, Delaware, this year teamed with local businesses and curators to offer new guest experiences like an exclusive before-hours tour of the Hagley Museum & Library, the home of the du Pont family. Guests explore the museum with a personal tour before it opens to the public, something previously unavailable. Guests can also book a one-on-one personal training experience with track star and Olympic gold medalist, Wilmington’s own, Anthuan Maybank.

“Each experience is designed and created with a different personality in mind, to offer something unexpected or undeniably local,” Joseph Del Guidice, senior vice president at parent company PM Hotel Group, said in a statement.

The property put out a call to action for local collaborators to apply to be a host for these HOTEL DU PONT experiences, where they’ll receive a commission from each booking.

citizenM Hotels: App that customizes room ambience and serves up curated city guides boosts guest loyalty and bookings

citizenM Hotels introduced an app during the pandemic that enables contactless check-in and check-out, and allows guests to control their room’s lights, temperature and entertainment from a smartphone. With the app, guests can also learn about art in any citizenM property, many of which are blue-chip works commissioned for citizenM, and access exclusive city guides and tips curated by the hotel’s staff.

So far, guests are giving the app a thumbs-up, said Lennert de Jong, citizenM’s chief commercial officer. “The app has proven to be generating higher NPS scores [net promoter scores used to measure customer loyalty] compared to people that do not use the app. It has also directly contributed to a very large share of people booking directly with citizenM."

The Stonewall Motor Lodge: Thanks to live music and wine tastings, ‘we’re completely booked’

Anita Ortiz Lubke is the owner of a 1960s style roadside motel, The Stonewall Motor Lodge in Stonewall, Texas. Last year, she started a series called Evenings at The Barn, an indoor/outdoor social space built on the property. Every third weekend of the month from March to October, wineries come to the venue to hold tastings, serve food and provide live music.

“Most of the wineries around us close at 6 p.m., so guests are searching for entertainment options,” says Lubke.

How’s it paying off? “We are completely booked on these dates,” Ortiz Lubke said. “The wineries see us as a low- to no-cost way to market their wines to a captive audience, so they are now asking us to participate,” she said. “We always wanted to be seen as more than a place to crash, to offer an experience. The Evenings at The Barn lend nicely to that.”

[Read: 5 Consumer Trends Businesses Should Know in 2022]

 Two people on a medicinal tea tasting tour with an expert at San Ignacio Resort Belize.
For the San Ignacio Resort Hotel in Belize, programs like its Tea Tasting Medicinal Tour has increased customer bookings. — San Ignacio Resort Hotel

Conrad New York Downtown: Perks that woo both kids and remote workers generate ‘positive results’

The Conrad New York Downtown, which boasts 2,000 works of art from the likes of Sol LeWitt, Pat Steir, Mary Heilmann and others, sweetened its offerings to up its appeal with families and kids.

The Hilton-owned property partnered with author of “Little Kid, Big City!” Beth Beckman to create the “Little Kid, Big City!” package, an interactive self-guided tour that gives kids the opportunity to embrace New York City’s popular sites like the Bronx Zoo and the Statue of Liberty.

The Conrad’s other post-COVID perks include Bedside Reading Goes Digital, which provides complimentary best-sellers that are downloaded and accessible through in-suite TVs.

And its new Work and Well Package, designed as a remote-work solution for both corporate clients and individuals, includes one-day use of a Conrad suite and room service for breakfast and lunch.

“We have seen a number of positive results from the new programs,” said. hotel manager Juan Gonzalez Izquierdo. For one, Bedside Reading Goes Digital and Work and Well are appealing to Conrad’s business travelers, just as families become “an increasingly growing segment for us” as the hotel adds perks for kids, he said.

San Ignacio Resort Hotel: Going beyond bird watching with tea tasting medicinal tours ups bookings

Just before COVID, the San Ignacio Resort Hotel in Belize started its Tea Tasting Medicinal Tour on the resort’s 17-acre private property. The guided tour includes a tea tasting experience inside a traditional Maya hut using plants foraged for during the walk. And for the adventurous vacationer is the Critters of the Night tour: Put on your headlight and canvas the jungle for wolf spiders, cicadas, owls, tarantulas and more.

These were additions to on-site programs like bird watching, and the timing was right, said Mariam Roberson, owner of the resort. “The new programs increased bookings for couples and families during COVID because people were looking to [have] more on-site experiences and also get a deeper sense of local culture,” she said.

reStays Ottawa: Condo-style amenities like full kitchens and in-suite laundry appliances draws business travelers

Claudine Hart, marketing director of reStays Ottawa, says over the past year the Canadian boutique hotel has partnered closely with local brands to create special promotions and experiences for its guests, like 20%-off pizza from neighboring hot spot Rabbit Hole.

To draw in more business travelers, the hotel offers travelers the option to leave personal belongings in storage facilities so that they can easily retrieve them during their next stay. “This allows our business travelers the convenience to arrive with just a carry-on,” Hart said.

To that end, reStays Ottawa is more vigorously promoting condo-style amenities, from spacious living areas, full kitchens and in-suite-laundry appliances to a private cinema room.

As a result, “We have noticed an uptick in bookings, especially those travelling for business, which account for 80% of our midweek guests right now,” she said.

It’s likely hospitality companies will need to keep the perks coming. Said AHLA’s Rogers, “The outlook for 2022 is trending positively, but we expect continued volatility and full recovery is years away.”

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Published March 22, 2022