Mr. Tall

Architecture & Design

When an Urban Resort is the Concierge

By Michael Tall, President & Chief Operating Officer, Charlestowne Hotels

Today's travelers are drawn to urban resorts not only for their centralized locations, but for the feeling of connectedness within the larger destination they provide. When travelers walk through the door of the urban resort, they are stepping into an extension of the city.

Many different generations, from millennials to baby boomers, are seeking out urban resorts. Travelers perceive urban resorts as special, unique, interesting-and people of any generation with the mindset for authentic travel will flock to these hotels.

In order for the concept to work, the hotel has to provide certain amenities that distinguish it as an urban resort. It's not enough to simply call a property an urban resort if the service, offerings, and amenities don't match up to the claim. The question is: Does your urban resort have the aspects that will appeal to today's guests?

It Starts with the Team

While some players in the industry may think the urban resort concept starts with physical attributes such as décor, it's the people who truly make the experience. The hotel's team needs to be connected to what's happening around the city in order to help facilitate a sincere bond between the guest and the destination. From the moment a guest steps on property to the point of departure, every staff member who interacts with a guest must make themselves available as a concierge, offering key insights and knowledge to empower the guest to craft a curated local experience.

Experiences, therefore, are central to the urban resort process for both employees and guests; without experiences, the concept remains an abstraction. By engaging employees with the ethos of their hotel's brand, they become inspired by its purpose and understand their role in delivering a guest experience that enables them to be in touch with, and be fascinated by, the richness of the culture that surrounds them.

To meet this goal, urban resort managers can provide incentive programs to ensure team members are immersing themselves in the city. Based on performance and customer feedback about employees, managers can offer incentives for top performers to send them out to enjoy restaurants that match guest demographic and ask these employees to share their knowledge with colleagues. This not only builds the entire team's understanding of the destination, it also helps develop first-hand anecdotes and recommendations that can be used with guests, enhancing the visitor experience and turning the team into a reliable resource.

Management should also include opportunities for first-person city exploration in the employee onboarding process, requiring new team members to go on walking tours and try activities they will then recommend to guests. This firsthand knowledge is pivotal to providing an accurate recommendation, and without it, the explanation becomes contrived. As today's travelers demand deeply authentic experiences and desire to explore the community beyond the hotel grounds, hoteliers can enhance the traditional concierge service with a passionate and knowledgeable team who are equipped to provide guests with a genuine assessment or recommendation of destination highlights. This added value amenity is a key driver to enhancing the guest's stay and building long-term loyalty.

Another key to the success of the urban resort hotel are partnerships with area businesses that enhance the guest's presence within the locality. For example, a company that runs a city walking tour might be a suitable partnership, as it adds a new element to the guest's stay while giving them a better appreciation for the larger destination. That said, it's not enough to simply recommend that guests go on the walking tour. The hotel's team should remain in close contact with the tour company because that partner can then become an invaluable resource for specific things happening around the city. By remaining close, the hotel's team can consistently remain up-to-date on trending destination news, strengthening their position as a true urban resort.

Building the Experience

In a recent American Express survey, consumers illustrated their demand for more enriched lives and personal fulfillment through experience and learning. In fact, over 72% of respondents said they would rather spend money on experiences than things. Further still, 88% said travel is the number one dream on their life's bucket list, ranking higher than family or wealth.

The same survey polled a group of its travel "counselors" (agents), of which 34% responded that their customers are, "specifically looking to immerse themselves in the destinations they visit and to travel like a local." With this in mind, urban resort hotels are in a position to attract these experience-centric guests by offering a truly curated, immersive stay with both resort amenities and community integration.

Urban resort hotels are attractive to these experiential travelers because of their commitment to providing guests with all the benefits of an upscale hotel stay coupled with a localized getaway. With today's discerning travelers hitting the road for a variety of reasons, it is the responsibility of the urban resort hotel to understand that "one size doesn't fit all" and build programs around each guest's own preferences and desires.

For instance, many guests may desire an immersive, cultivated journey that throws them into everything the city offers-from arts and dining to shopping and historic sites. In this instance, the concierge could assist with building out a personalized agenda to include a guided history walk, a private tour of an art museum within walking distance of the hotel, the best undiscovered boutiques with a certain shopping district and a restaurant favored by locals. In other instances, guests might seek out a more relaxing retreat, which would require a hotel team member to recommend activities tied to local nature parks, spas and quiet coffee shops. The success of a guest's stay at an urban resort hotel is dependent on understanding what a guest desires on his or her individual trip and then providing that personalized and customized itinerary in a way that highlights both the hotel's offerings and the special touchpoints of the local community.

It might seem like a large undertaking for the hotel's team, but there are multiple ways to navigate the process, including developing a "stay plan" prior to check-in and maintaining a connection with guests after they've checked out. It will be worth the guest loyalty earned at the end of the stay.

Developing individualized "stay plans" with guests is a beneficial tactic in top-tier cities where there is so much to do (such as Nashville, Tennessee) and up-and-coming destinations where guests might not know all the diverse offerings (such as St. Augustine, Florida). Before guests arrive, hoteliers can reach out via email or phone call to help them plan their trips.

To determine the best way to get in touch with guests, the hotel team should spend time researching guests prior to check-in. If there is a VIP or returning guest on the books, general managers or staff can reach out via phone to maintain the rapport already established. It goes without saying that the hotel should always keep detailed guest history notes in an attempt to recognize specific preferences for their returning guests. For new guests, an email survey to better gauge their interests is an effective way to reach out and build excitement surrounding a stay before guests even arrive in the city. Whether a guest is new or a familiar face, the hotel's Customer Relationship Management System (CRM) can spread the word about "stay planning" services through email blasts which let guests know how the hotel's team can help make their trip special.

When guests arrive, they should be provided with an itinerary of activities and be introduced to the concierge service or "urban trip planners." The hotel team should be available to answer any questions or make suggestions during the stay, offering proactive suggestions they believe could fit within the guest's trip.

The connection shouldn't end after guests check out, either. Hoteliers should follow up with past guests via their CRM system and solicit feedback on what guests liked about their stay and their personalized trip itinerary and how it could have been better. These comments will allow the hotel team to improve upon the experience. If a complaint is recorded, it's not enough to simply apologize. Management needs to work to fix the issue moving forward and prove that the hotel's team is willing to accommodate guest needs in the way an urban resort requires.

When measuring success, the return on investment will be determined by the ability to have a guest return to the hotel. The more guests who return to the property, the less hoteliers will need to spend on costly customer acquisition. If hoteliers build loyalty through personalized and localized stay planning, they'll build their bottom line.

The Design and Branding of the Urban Resort

While an educated, passionate and local hotel team is the No. 1 factor in developing a successful urban resort, the physical aspects of the property are still vital for the concept to make an impact with guests. The urban resort's design needs to incorporate a local feel. How can the hotel be immersed in the city if the hotel doesn't look as if it belongs in the community?

One of the main reasons guests choose to stay at urban resorts is due to their sense of place. The hotel's design needs to draw in inspiration from its community to connect to its location. If the hotel is disconnected from its place, that doesn't bode well for its long-term success.

For example: The Bristol Hotel repurposes downtown Bristol, Virginia's Executive Plaza which dates to 1925. The construction of the building upholds its historic value, preserving the original stucco exterior, display windows and main façade. Guestrooms at the hotel draw inspiration from the nearby train station, with interior design elements that point back to the station's history. By drawing inspiration from a city's past and present and using design elements familiar to the destination, the urban resort hotel establishes an instant connection for guests, making them feel right at home in the hustle and bustle of the city.

For an urban resort to be truly authentic, not only does the design need to be inspired by the local area but it also helps if the team working on the project is local-from the developer, to architect, designer and management company. Local partners are going to know the city inside and out, and they can help to build the hotel's brand from the ground up.

To start the branding process, developers should consider the following:

  • Ask whether an urban resort would be a good fit for the location being considered-will it serve as a portal to the rest of the city?
  • If the answer is yes, then conduct a feasibility study to support whether the hotel will be successful.
  • Determine the recommended aspects of the property-segment, scale, size of the guestrooms, amenities, etc.
  • Consider what the market needs from the hotel and what market segments it should appeal to.
  • Create a branding process that will drive the architecture and interior design.

When developing an independent urban resort, the investment in the branding process is critical. One of the key differentiators in an urban hotel is its sense of hometown heritage. It's important to bring together all the stakeholders of the project and come to a consensus on the vision of the brand to ensure that vision reflects the current look and feel of the destination.

Finding the right management company to assist in the planning and to operate and execute the vision is equally important in an urban resort hotel's success plan. While it might seem like a simple task, owners should take the time necessary to conduct research and find the right fit. Consider the pedigree of management companies and what kind of experience they have with the type of property at hand. Past and current clients can also provide valuable insight about the management companies being considered, which will prove helpful in the search for the best fit for the hotel.

With 78% of millennials booking travel to learn more about a city's culture and history, there is no better time to focus on building urban resort hotels to meet travelers' increasing demands for more localized experiences. By recruiting a strong hotel team with a deep understanding and affection for their city, providing guests with tailored itineraries that show off the best of the destination and working with partners to design a hotel that evokes a strong sense of place, developers will be on the path to establishing a successful urban resort hotel and building unmatched guest loyalty.

Michael Tall joined Charlestowne Hotels to guide marketing, e-commerce and revenue management initiatives. Since becoming co-owner of the company, he has made it a priority to recruit and hire the industry’s top talent and to expand the company’s client base. Under his leadership, Charlestowne Hotels’ portfolio has doubled in size twice, with many hotels under the brand’s umbrella receiving prestigious industry accolades including Travel + Leisure‘s Number 2 Hotel on the “Top 100 Hotels In the World” list and Number 1 and Number 15 on the Top 15 Hotels “Best City Hotels In the Continental United States” list, as well as other national media and industry honors. Mr. Tall can be contacted at 843-972-1400 or info@charlestownehotels.com Please visit http://www.charlestownehotels.com for more information. Extended Bio...

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