BLLA Leadership Symposium Wrap-up – – 6 Growing Hospitality Trends to Watch

6 growing hospitality industry trends spotlighted at the 2014 Boutique Lifestyle Leadership Symposium

BLLA Events Special Report
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As the boutique and lifestyle hospitality sector experiences unprecedented growth, industry trends continue to expand. Lead by innovations from hoteliers, designers, architects, builders, chefs, and of course the unique tastes and expanding needs of travelers, today’s boutique or lifestyle property must continually evolve in order to stay ahead of its competition.

Leading the conversation with the hospitality industry’s top boutique, lifestyle, and luxury brand executives and independent property owners, the BLLA (Boutique Lodging & Lifestyle Association) held its third annual symposium in Las Vegas September 17-19 to discuss hospitality’s evolving trends and movements.

With a focus on advances that include adaptive reuse and sustainability, experiential travel, wellness, community engagement, and new definitions of luxury, top CEOs and executives from sbe’s SLS Las Vegas, Crystal Cruises, Canyon Ranch, The Athens Group, and more, shared valuable insights on six expanding movements driving today’s boutique and lifestyle hotel brand.

1. Adaptive Reuse

The concept of adaptive reuse prevailed as the 2014 Boutique Lifestyle Leadership Symposium took place at the recently launched SLS Hotel Las Vegas, an sbe project in partnership with Gensler, The Penta Building Group, and Philippe Starck, that retained 70% of its original bare bones of the former historic Sahara. Reshaping the north end of the strip, they’re redefining how Vegas approaches new hotel developments. It’s no longer about spending billions of dollars to demolish old buildings. “It’s a journey of destination and tenacity,” says sbe Hotel Group President Arash Azarbarzin. Old buildings like the Flamingo and Paris need “an infusion of creativity” and adaptive reuse provides a “more cost effective way – the way of the future – and from a sustainability stand point, it makes sense.”

2. Experiential Travel

One of the latest trends for consumers in the lodging industry has become the search for the unusual. CEOs & COOs from Crystal Cruises, Luxury Frontiers, Generator Hostels, & Uniworld Boutique Riverboat Collection revealed some of the ways they are catering to the growing need of adventurous travelers who are looking for accommodations that are not “typical” hotels. Josh Wyatt, Partner of Patron Capital Partners, shared how Generator Hostels is “creating the next generation for travel worldwide” through its innovative and fast growing international hostel brand.

Frank Stork, Partner of Luxury Frontiers is evolving the movement in experiential, luxury travel – tree houses in unique locations developed around ecological values and sustainable construction. Stork explains how “social media is extremely important in the luxury space” when it comes to growing a global resort brand.

Guy Young, CEO of Uniworld Boutique Riverboat Collection, is leading the conversation in one the “fastest growing sectors of the travel industry” with a lux boutique fleet of river cruises. Voted among the “World’s Best Cruise Lines” by Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Poll and adding 8 ships in the last 5 years, Young shared the greatest benefit in river boat cruising is that “you actually get into the heart of the destination.”

3. Health & Wellness

Health and wellness become top priorities for travelers and hotels are rebranding to focus the physical and mental wellbeing of their guests. Because of the increasing interest in having a wellness experience and the bump in revenue, this trend has transformed into a growing segment of the travel industry. “It’s important to establish your unique viewpoint on how you’re catering to wellness,” says Tracey Anne Latkovic, Corporate Vice President of Canyon Ranch. CEO Polly Johnson of SpaEquip, a global spa company, describes how “spas allow for the opportunity for human to human connection that allow hotels to create a personal relationship –it’s what the big chains can’t do.” She explains, “You want the experience to be about humanity, it’s not always about technology.”

4. Community Relationship

Founder and CEO Rafit Ali of Skift, a cutting-edge travel intelligence company that offers news, data, and services to professionals in the travel industry and professional travelers to help make smart decisions about travel, discussed the rise of mindfulness in travel. “Mindfulness is having a moment as the casual tyranny of pervasive connectedness, constant virtual stimuli and hyper distractedness have taken over our lives,” says Ali. And with the rise of mindfulness, comes the travelers need to connect with humanity and its local environment.

“Accommodations are acting more and more like community portals by introducing guests to popular local experiences, turning them into living exhibits,” shares Ali.

One way luxury cruise line Crystal Cruises is anchoring guest experience more deeply into local communities is through voluntourism* opportunities. Edie Rodriguez, President & COO of Crystal Cruises shares how on every itinerary, they have a voluntourism* trip ranging from giving back to a local orphanage or activities from an environmental standpoint.

5. Farm Fresh & Local

As travelers are becoming more aware and engaged in wanting to know about the food they are putting in their bodies, restaurants in boutique hotels are creating ways to design a “farm fresh” interactive experience. From culinary staff focusing on buying more local and organic produce to increased focus on educating servers to answer guest questions about a locally sourced dinner, the farm fresh conversation is growing in importance.

Tara Lazar, owner of Hotel Alcazar in Palm Springs, also awarded as the 2014 BLLA Person of The Year, shared the importance of local through a moving video played at the symposium. “When you see food grown from seedling to plant to being picked, it makes you really respect it – and especially makes you not want to waste it. Local farm trips with guests help seal that connection.”

While sourcing locally also helps out the local farms, it satisfies the need of guests wanting to know where their food comes from. “Within a 100 mile radius, we can source ninety-five percent of our food,” says Lazar.

6. Authenticity as Luxury

As of May 2013, Forbes has projected a booming future for ultra-luxury, especially in the hotel industry. But it’s not just about high-count linens, marble floors, and embroidered initials on guest pillows. Today’s lux customer has a shared set of values based on responsibility, awareness, and intelligence.

Jay Newman, Principal and COO of The Athens Group, a luxury, full-service real estate development company specializing in environmentally conscious, upscale resort communities such as Montage Laguna Beach & Beverly Hills and Fairmont Miramar Santa Monica, describes how today’s lux customers seek service and authenticity. And authenticity comes in many forms from sustainable development, and approaching design “to make it timeless and real,” to letting guests know through emotional touch points they are known and valued. “We are becoming a voyeuristic society – people want to be recognized,” explains Newman. Letting people know they are important – in an authentic way – speaks luxury.

Luxury customers are smart and have a lot of choices when it comes to how they spend their money. Newman shared, “Luxury is about respect and embracing your customer.”

*Explaining “voluntourism.” More and more Americans are no longer taking a few weeks off to suntan and sightsee abroad. Instead they’re working in orphanages, building schools and teaching English. It’s called volunteer tourism, or “voluntourism,” and it’s one of the fastest growing trends in travel today. More than 1.6 million volunteer tourists are spending about $2 billion each year.

Author Bio: Jessica Blotter is founder and CEO of Kind Traveler – a new digital platform that rewards travelers for making donations to top-rated charities with discounts on today’s greatest hotels and unique properties. As a published writer, Blotter contributes to Fast Company, Hospitality Design, CBS Los Angeles, Examiner, and the BLLA (Boutique Lodging & Lifestyle Association) covering the topics of travel and social impact.

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