Like every other business these days, it seems, the hotel business is all about branding — the art of distinguishing your hotels from those of other brands.
Every lodging chain from Motel 6 to W Hotels has a brand, and a target customer they believe will respond to that brand. Motel 6 appeals to budget road travelers who apparently arrive late at night. W Hotels appeal to affluent younger arty types, who don’t mind paying big bucks for cool but cramped quarters. Not many Motel 6’ers are going to stay in W’s, and not many W aficionados are going to bed down at Motel 6, no matter how late they leave the light on for ya.
As JW Marriott’s global brand manager Mitzi Gaskins told the travel trade site Skift.com in a recent revealing interview, “It’s not as though we are trying to be everything to everyone.”
According to Gaskins, JW Marriott — a luxury brand with 63 hotels that’s in the process of adding another 35 — is seeking target guests they call the “Accomplished.” Gaskins explains that “They are really about learning and curiosity and going deep into the things they are really interested in.”
And JW Marriott has done its homework. “We did research,” Gaskins told Skift, and “we found out that culinary, culture and really overall well-being was what they are most passionate about.” She calls culinary, culture and wellness their three “passion points.”
Then she asks the obvious question: “So how do we provide this experience for them in the hotel and how can they live the life on the road that they do at home?”
Gaskins acknowledges that “We are really good at culinary. The other ones we might not be.”
But they’re working on it. Culture-wise, JW Marriott has partnered with the Joffrey Ballet (for “grace”) and Christie’s (for art).
The Joffrey Ballet partnership is, well, interesting. “We’ve been using them to do trainings on how to teach our associates to hold themselves at point and grace,” Gaskins says. “They use their ballerinas and dancers to help instruct those and do training vignettes.” (Is this a way of saying they’re trying to keep their desk clerks on their toes?)
Wellness-wise, they’re spiffing up their spas and making them more accessible; their research had shown that “the reason they (many hotel travelers) weren’t going to the spa is because they felt it wasn’t approachable.” So they’re opening the front part of each hotel’s spa into “a high-trafficked area,” Gaskins says. “It is an extension of the lobby, but much calmer,” a place where you can have some “quiet time” and maybe something to eat or drink.
JW Marriott is also going high tech, releasing a new app called CUR8, which “allows guests to take the videos they’ve recorded while on their vacation or a trip, the pictures, some assets and the music that we provide them. And it creates a little 30-second to a minute video. We expect that people will use it to talk about the food experience that they’ve had or an art gallery that they may have seen or something that they’ve done at the spa.”
But what I really found intriguing is an internal app they’ve developed called Orchestrate, which is for employee use only, “where we encourage the behaviors that we set forth for service training,” Gaskins says, adding that “We also have daily rehearsals of service harmonies.” One such “service harmony”: “be present, pause and engage.”
What does that mean? “That’s just reminding our associates that they will always have to be present and in the moment,” she explains, “and looking and trying to read the cues of the guests.” Then she adds: “What a difference it makes when someone is passing you, say a housekeeper is passing you in a guest corridor, and you see them and you just say good morning and they keep walking. But if they actually stop, acknowledge you, say good morning, and then allow you to pass, then that’s a much more impactful experience. And it also allows the associate to read the cues of the guest if they need anything.”
The bottom line? “We really want to curate our experience and make it much more high end,” Gaskins told Skift. “A lot of the brands in the lower quality tier, you think about their lobbies and they are very programmed. Ours will be very customized. But it is more about how we bring the passion points to life in the hotel. Doing things such as the way we design our central food and beverage bar and doing that in a way that feels like a really high-end artifact bar.”
I have to admit I’m a bit dazed by all these passion points and service harmonies, especially the “be present, pause and engage” routine, which kind of reminds me of what the staff of Downton Abbey would be trained to do, only in less jargony language.
But as noted earlier, running hotels these days is all about establishing a brand, and JW Marriott is certainly mining every element of that.
As for the “Accomplished” target market, it sounds a lot like baby boomers to me — “learning” and “curiosity” and “culinary, culture and wellness” all being things that baby boomers tend to seek when they travel. Many boomers also have the money to spend on high-end hotels.
Gaskins, though, also notes that “Everyone has to attract the next-gen traveler, right? We’d all be in trouble if we didn’t.” She points to JW Marriott’s new emphasis on technology, including mobile check-in, as evidence of that.
The last time I checked, though, baby boomers are carrying smart phones, too. Mobile check-in — now that’s something I can get behind. Even more than having a housekeeper stop, say good morning, and let me pass before she proceeds, unless she senses I need something by the cues I’m emitting. In all likelihood, if I’m emitting cues, I’m searching for the nearest elevator to go to breakfast, and headed in the wrong direction. That’s when the service harmonies could really come in handy.
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