Top 10 future boutique hotel trends for 2015

Piers Brown By Piers Brown
Uploaded 17 December 2014

It's hard to believe how quickly our 2014 boutique and lifestyle hotel trends are closing out, and how some predictions still remain as relevant today as 12 months ago - who says we usually have a particularly shiny crystal ball? So, with the turn of the year just around the corner we're again gazing into the future to predict our top 10 'hot' trends in the boutique and lifestyle hotel sector for 2015.

Mobile payments - turn the moment of payment into a moment of delight
Those hoteliers planning to simply accept mobile payments in 2015 will fall behind the curve. Be first to embrace m-payments to facilitate new ways to share and split costs, increase competitive advantage and add a new dimension for hotel guests in the process.

2015 will be the year when mobile payment platforms and tokenisation become commonplace. in the US. Apple Pay saw 1 million cards registered in its first three days after launch in the US and Starbucks now processes 7 million mobile payments a week. In addition, there are forecast to be 450 million mobile payment users by 2017, up from 245 million at the end of 2013.

Bill splitting, and the use of new forms of real-time tools and data to help consumers seamlessly share costs will be the millennial traveller norm. A recent JWT study found that 45% of millennials in the US & UK would like to use their mobiles to split bills with friends and not just for products, but services and experiences too.

Chameleon socialites
There has been a lot of research conducted to gain insights on consumers' social media behaviour patterns and changes in consumers' behaviour are happening continuously. Consumers around the world are constructing their own identities more freely than ever - some adopting different personalities based on the type of device and social network they're engaging with. They perceive the use of different channels as an integral part of their daily lives. Research into social media behaviour reveals that Twitter and Facebook users fall into 12 different social media personality types.

As a result, consumption patterns are no longer defined by 'traditional' demographic segments such as age, gender, location, income, family status and more. It's time to disregard the traditional (and tired) demographic models of behaviour. Yes, younger, affluent hotel guests are still (usually) the earliest adopters of innovations and change - take a look around a 'poshtel' or 'budget chic' hotel lobby and you'll see those guests in droves. But now successful boutique and lifestyle hotels and brands will transcend their initial demographics almost instantaneously with more personalised offerings. It will be interesting to see how recently launched brands looking to penetrate the sector like Vib by Best Western will engage their guests.

Sympathetic pricing
We've seen that hotel guests will embrace spontaneous generosity and rewards for good behaviour, and how hotel brands can step in and provide essential public services. Sympathetic pricing is one more totally practical way to show that hoteliers are in tune and are willing to put their money where their mouth is to engage and drive greater long term loyalty. We're being contentious here, and hotel finance directors please turn your gaze now, but get ready for a wave of imaginative and dare we say it, compassionate hotel discounts that support a shared cause and relieve lifestyle pain points.

Only 30% of global consumers think brands make a sincere commitment towards their customers say Edelman, October 2014. Booking.com's moneyback guarantee and Premier Inn's good night guarantees aren't the most sincere but it's a start - show you care and address an eternal guest concern (price) and link this to a personal or meaningful cause.

Hub community connections
Guests and boutique and lifestyle hoteliers will increasingly feel the need to connect with humanity and the hotel's local environment as we become tired of the incessant bombardment of virtual stimuli - which is distracting in itself, and the pervasive mobile connectedness taking over our lives. Look for accommodations acting like community portals - think post offices; community centres; libraries; pubs, clubs and more host (or hosting groups) variations, introducing guests to popular local experiences that could become part of the hotel's approach to content marketing and story-telling.

Guest-Laning
Expect time-starved guests to demand accelerated physical service options, especially from hotel brands they extend their loyalty towards.

After a year where on-demand startups embracing the power of mobile found favour with guests around the world, where will demands around customer service head next?

More boutique and lifestyle hotel guests - accustomed to total empowerment, will expect those hoteliers that they give a lot of money to, and therefore often spend a lot of time with, to provide an optional fast lane through on-site wait times. And we're not just talking check-in, think the queue at the bar, food and beverage orders, premium dining areas and more, not forgetting how to make profits from these services. Take a look at the Disney experience and how theme parks manage 'guest expectations' to maximise profits and the feel good factor.

Selectively tiered service provision is perhaps more suitable for lifestyle hotels with more space than boutique hotels. Of course it can upset paying customers if handled poorly (paid guest lanes will just draw attention to sub-standard normal guest service). But winning hotel brands will design guest-laning solutions that benefit all customers, even if that's in part by removing the most time-sensitive customers from the 'slow' lanes.

2014 saw Hyatt, Hilton and Starwood hotel chains all test initiatives allowing loyalty program members to check in via their apps and use their mobiles as room keys, in order to avoid queues at the front desk.

Distribution, distribution everywhere and the rise of SoMo
Boutique hoteliers will focus on driving more profitable business from the ever growing selection of distribution channels available. Wary of increases in operating and distribution costs,  look for currently unknown disruptive distribution upstarts and more boutique hoteliers negotiating reduced OTA commissions. Keep an eye on the large behemoths like Amazon and Apple to disrupt the status quo. Imagine the knowledge and personalisation capabilities these companies now possess. Watch for a heavy social push with Twitter's 'Buy Button' (currently being tested in the U.S). Think of a boutique and lifestyle hotelier's full booking and promotions process on Twitter including payment for a small transaction fee! Facebook looks like it's on the path to becoming a "social search engine" too - who does one rather trust when looking for a boutique hotel for the next trip? The search results we get from Google, the results on TripAdvisor or the comments and check-ins from our Facebook friends at hotels in New York?

Peer2Peer dining
The hosted vacation rental model (think Airbnb and HomeStay - renting unique places to stay from local hosts) has made the natural transition to hosts' kitchens and dining rooms and traveller's unique dining experiences. A number of Peer2Peer dining websites, such as mealtango and eatwith have launched, prompting corporate level companies like Trip Advisor, to jump on the bandwagon. Much like Poshtels, Peer2Peer dining offers tourists a unique and authentic experience, within a budget; with user reviews (for both guests and hosts) and foodie pics providing welcome feedback through the experience.

Hotel brand stands
The democratisation of fairness threatens traditional hotel brands that expect millennial travellers to pay a premium for services elsewhere. With the rise and speed of information and news ubiquity, cutting edge boutique and lifestyle hotel brands will start contentious, painful and necessary conversations, because they know engaging customers is a primary goal as emotionally engaged guests provide a financial premium, regardless of market segment.

Watch hotels and brands closely, and you'd be forgiven for thinking how straight laced they are. There is the odd exception but here's two reasons why in 2015, that strategy couldn't be more misguided.

First, when potential guests are surrounded by a plethora of branded content and conversation, constantly occupying neutral ground means a slow drift into obscurity. Second, many consumers believe hotel brands should speak out.

C'mon boutique and lifestyle hoteliers,  relax those rigid brand standards and focus on something that matters for guests. Here's some inspiration on how some daring brands are already making real, tangible brand sacrifices for people, society and the planet.

Blurring of business and leisure
Bleisurites: They're smart, not trendy and focus on both business and leisure activities while on the same trip. As the lines between business and leisure travellers blur, and the speed of communications and technology improves unabated it's easier and quicker to get things done, and working on the move with mobile is now commonplace. With companies offering a more flexible approach to employee productivity it presents fresh opportunities for hotels to incorporate bleisurites into one's hotel visual story. Consider changing room configurations and amenities that would resonate with them most - how technologically advanced is your hotel to capture this type of traveller for instance?

Robohotel
Don't worry about the odd Terminator nightmare, Robert and Frank, and/or the sci-fi fantasies: many guests will have their first face-to-face encounters with robots in 2015.

Jeff Bezos recently told shareholders that Amazon would have 10,000 Kiva robots by the end of 2014 (from just 1,400 in 2013), and that this could cut fulfillment costs for an average order by 20-40% (Boston Consulting Group, August 2014).

And while lower costs will be the justification for robot proposals told in hotel boardrooms during 2015, smart hotel business will be planning not just how robots might decrease their costs, but how they can also increase guest satisfaction, too.

Draw inspiration from Aloft's hotel robotic butler as an early adopter, and how to use robots to initiate better more reliable, personal and convenient guest services. Remember, this isn't about man v machine. Robolove will free hotels' (human) in-house team from the most repetitive parts of their roles to focus on the more engaging, valuable tasks (that will further increase their satisfaction, and so ultimately that of hotel guests too).

Each opportunity above highlights a key innovation that could see the boutique and lifestyle hotelier delight, surprise and build stronger loyalty with one's guests. Thanks to Trendwatching.com for some inspiration whilst writing.

We welcome your thoughts on these and please join the conversation with others on the discussion board below.

Read how we did with our boutique and lifestyle hotel trends for 2014 and 2013.

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