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  • Marci Zaroff

Shifting Gears: Co-Creating a Transformative Experience in Hospitality

A change in values has been ongoing: holistic and long-term views are gradually replacing fragmented and myopic thinking. The quintuple bottom line (people, planet, profit, passion, purpose) adopted by organizations is not isolated to business; individuals are taking a similar approach to life. Their growing interest in personal, social, and environmental wellness mirrors the shift in business values.

Value Shift

Most people still prefer a solid paycheck, but (especially for Millennials and Gen Z) not if it means giving up what we believe in. We are becoming less and less willing to compromise-and rightly so. We expect to be able to sustain fulfilling careers, a balanced, healthy life and the same for those around us. This flux in values indisputably impacts our roles and responsibilities in the business of hospitality and the expectations of the communities we serve. We-as both consumers and businesses-are empowered and setting the bar high. We no longer feel a need to sacrifice any of the things that matter to us-especially human and planetary health.

This change in values should be reflected in the travel experience. So, if remote work is on the rise, it makes sense to provide decent Wi-Fi and a cozy coworking space. If over 82% of American households are buying organic products at home, create an extension of that behavior by offering organic linens and robes and sustainable dining options. If wellness tourism is growing at a rate more than double that of general tourism, accept your role in hosting mind, body and soul. If 86% of people care about brand authenticity, our marketing promises should meet or even beat consumer expectations.

In the past, hospitality catered to the individual. Our interactions were on the surface and transactional: here's your key, checkout is at noon, call us if there's anything you need. Today, a deeper view nurtures an entire community of guests. With over 10 hours a day spent behind screens, people crave connection and want to be part of something-not penned up in isolation. We need to be constantly asking ourselves how we can mirror humanity's shift in values and how we can help to continue their individual trajectory of growth.

Identity Shift

We cannot deny our new roles in the industry. Our relationships with guests are no longer transactional-we rely on one another for an interactive and symbiotic experience. Part of that relationship involves walking the talk of conscious living-guests want a home away from home experience. On top of that, we have a responsibility to elevate, influence, and inspire clients to take an awakened lifestyle with them after they leave our property. We are expected to be guides: authorities on local culture, on wellness and conscious dining, on events and social media, not to mention active listeners as guests become empowered and insist that their voices be heard. Our evolved roles inspire each other to do better, be better, and live better.

In fact, a recent study, "The Future of U.S. Millennial Travel" stated that 85% of Millennials prioritize "learning new things" and venturing out of their comfort zone when traveling. The report describes Millennial travel as a "game of experience, memories and humble-brags vs. ownership and its perceived kryptonite to mobility and freedom." Offering exposure to new and different stimuli-both intellectual and sensory-can satisfy this longing for personal growth.

We are not just serving, but we are now co-creating together with guests-synergistically designing a lifestyle experience that benefits everyone. And the passive role of yesterday's guest is obsolete. Even the word "hotel" is growing old. AirBnB continues to be both a threat and an inspiration as travelers seek autonomy. They want access to both seclusion and interaction, an opportunity to "live like the locals" and control over where, when, and what they eat. Hospitality providers are addressing these new demands by becoming interactive venues for discovery. Our clients, customers and guests are now more aptly described as participants, users, and partners in learning.

Experience Shift

People are seeking an extension of their journey toward conscious living when they travel. Curating an atmosphere of curiosity throughout the hospitality experience-whether that means introducing them to sustainable fashion labels in the gift shop, modeling mindfulness by rejecting single-use plastics, or sharing the benefits of green beauty and aromatherapy-it's all about marrying the comfort of home with the aspirational elements of exploration.

Lately, what stands out to guests is what doesn't mesh with their lifestyle. They want a seamless transition from home to hotel-their stay should be both instagrammable and cozy. Unique, but still comfortable. Inspiring, but not alienating. Millennial travelers in particular want to talk about their experience and feel like they're immersed in the local culture both in their room and when they step outside. The value in word of mouth through social media is more potent than the loyalty programs of the past.

Moreover, creating a safe and inclusive space has replaced a demand for exclusivity. From beginning to end, travelers need not give anything up-they want more. The old school hotel experience offered a colder, more corporate cookie-cutter design style-not the uniquely homey or welcoming vibe we see pioneering hotels and resorts dreaming up nowadays.

The many aspects of the hospitality business don't live in isolation anymore-everything is interconnected and overlapping, as are the facets of our individual health, career, and personal lives. Authenticity is demonstrated when our values are woven though every component of our lives. The knowledge we gather when we travel should complement our journeys to authenticity.

As hoteliers, the experience provided may include art and music, spa services and other wellness treatments, organic food and textiles, intelligent (LED) lighting and clean air quality management, access to nature both indoors and outside, design based on energies and Feng Shui-there are so many opportunities to partner with users on an immersive encounter of enlightened living. These added wellness perks benefit both guests and staff, boosting employee satisfaction and morale. It's a win-win.

Reality Shift

The rising tide of awareness is manifesting in activism and communal engagement, as consumers are now voting with their dollars. An understanding of humanity's role in global ecosystems is bringing about a level of social change and a thirst for purpose that gives the hospitality sector a new challenge. We can no longer remain passive or complacent in the single "hang your towels after use" green commitment-our incremental actions matter as much as our carbon footprint. People long to be part of something that solves the world's problems. Properties that create authentic, transparent (and even measurable) stories which demonstrate how they are part of the solution will leave their clients engaged in a way far beyond just sleeping in a room on your property.

The organic section of the supermarket used to be a couple of shelves in the corner, but now we see entire chains founded on holistic principles thriving. In the same way, there used to be one or two wellness rooms amongst hundreds within a facility, and now entire hotels are devoted to a mindful travel experience. The 1Hotel brand is a great example of a hotel bridging the worlds of holistic wellness, artistic discovery and comfort.

The Internet has changed the game. With consumer consciousness at an all-time high, a stance on social and environmental justice is no longer a choice-it's an imperative. People view silence as an acceptance of the status quo. Taking an active viewpoint and walking the talk is relevant and meaningful to today's guests. Society's move away from a myopic view should be reflected in the decisions made by hospitality providers. This can be demonstrated by choosing services, events, products and atmospheric settings that complement the values of the modern traveler, as opposed to opting for quick ways to make a buck.

Perpetual Shift

As an industry, we accepted old school models of "what worked" for quite some time. But now, everything is transforming-in the most exciting of ways-and we need to be cool, open and smart with the ever-changing landscape. It may feel like the ground is moving beneath us; that's just our intuition telling us to take a leap into the unknown.

This generation of travelers expects continuous innovation. A dynamic experience is not only anticipated, but knowing that their stay will be different next time gives guests a reason to come back. If hotels and resorts are going to be competing with the AirBnBs of the world, differentiation is key. It's a juggling act: we need to consistently manifest a mindful and comfortable accommodation while offering uniquely enjoyable experiences, such as a zero-waste pop-up shop or panel discussions on the future of virtual reality.

The biggest takeaway of the past decade is that constant reinvention is invaluable. In sitting still we've wasted money and resources when we could have been accelerating positive impact by modeling the change we wish to see. Now that we have the knowledge and the access, we are no longer part of the problem, but part of the solution. And it's no longer about keeping up with the ECOrenaissance movement-it's about not being left behind.

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