Take Shinola — a Detroit-based watchmaker — which opened the Shinola Hotel in January, its rooms outfitted with Shinola products made exclusively for the property including a desk clock, alpaca throw and signature hotel candle. Then there’s Muji, a Japanese retail company which sells minimalist designed household and consumer goods (everything from health and beauty products to apparel and furniture), and opened its third hotel in Tokyo earlier this year, entirely outfitted with Muji products — down to the toothpaste. Like what you see? Just head downstairs to buy it; a 10-floor building, the first 6 encompass a Muji flagship store. Soon to jump on the branded hotel bandwagon is West Elm — its first set to open in Indianapolis in 2020, with locations to follow in Oakland, Detroit, Minneapolis, Savannah and Portland. (The experience economy has also given rise to a new wave of branded pop-up hotels — see The Bell in Palm Springs, a temporary Taco Bell-themed hotel and resort.)
Part living showroom, part brand engagement channel, these brands are taking advantage of the immersive experience hotels inherently provide, but they’re also aligning themselves with the feeling travel evokes in all of us — the intangible feeling of “away.”
There’s something about travel that affects us deeply as humans. We yearn to escape the rote-ness of every day — not just to new destinations, but to new states of mind, dreaming of the chance to press pause on familiar surroundings and activities and explore a different environment. It’s also a chance to clear our heads and refresh our souls, satisfying curiosities and longings for the uncommon, if just for a little while. You can call it boredom, or burnout, or wanderlust; but you can also call it human nature. From our nomadic history to an internal reward system that encourages the novelty of seeing new places and learning new things, there’s scientific reason behind why we like to pack our bags and get out of town: “The brain reacts to novelty by releasing dopamine which makes us want to go exploring in search of a reward… Each new stimuli gives you a little rush of motivation to explore…”
There’s also an animalistic openness to something new when you’re happily out of your comfort zone, and the hotel setting creates an environment primed for this kind of deep, emotional connection with customers.
It begs the question: How might hotels emphasize and capitalize on the “away” feeling — and the fulfillment that comes with it? What can they do to play a more meaningful role in consumers’ everyday lives, wherever they might be?
Some hotels are moving in the reverse direction of the retail brands — making hotel and room amenities (bath products, room art, even glasses and dishware) available for purchase. When guests buy this this branded merchandise, “It basically implies that they want to take their hotel experience ‘home’ with them,” Michael Weiss, senior director of online retail for Marriott International said in a New York Times article earlier this year. “I’d say that’s an incredible endorsement.”
The civic space has been all but annihilated from modern American culture. Hotels could help fill the hole. Already, many have positioned themselves as destinations open to guests as well as locals, providing much more than a place to crash for out of town explorers. Alongside accommodations, newer-breed hotels (especially boutiques) now feature unique, best-in-class dining, nightlife, local art and a variety of spaces in which to congregate. It’s mindset change (and instant community, plus the opportunity to “hang like a local”) for all, not just those renting a room.
AccorHotels, a French hospitality company, is extending their concierge services to local non-travelers via app. You can book yoga classes, schedule dry cleaning pick up, order flowers and pick up breakfast on their way to work. “Beyond providing accommodations to travelers, hotels are striving to become essential to enhance the daily lives of as many people as possible.
Hospitality must evolve towards more flexibility and be able to open the gates to non-travelers for a drink, a yoga course, a fitness room, etc.” Sebastien Bazin, Accor Hotels CEO told travel industry media company Skift. “In other ways, we are targeting non-travelers by bringing hospitality outside the hotel.” This includes co-working space partnerships and the AccorHotels arena in Paris, one of the world’s largest (it will be a venue during the 2024 Summer Olympics in France).
In this experience-driven era, the state of the hospitality industry has never been stronger, and hotels should see it as a chance to expand services and look for more mechanisms for delivering experiences to travelers and non-travelers alike. The stage is already set to take guests away… hotels just have to embrace the opportunity and seize it.