Boutique Lodging Trends
Service is the fastest growing employment sector in the U.S. It consists of government, education, medicine, financial, sales, accommodations, information, and recreation. The travel/tourism industry has been the biggest in this sector. There were about 1 billion travel nights in the U.S. in 2001, an 8% increase over the previous decade. Fifty-four percent of those nights were spent in hotels/motels/B&Bs with the average lodging stay being three nights. B&Bs account for 40% of the U.S. lodging properties. Between the recession and the 9/11 attacks, tourism has taken suffered since 2001. I believe that trend will reverse itself, though I think it will take time. I further believe that B&Bs and boutique hotels are more immune to the recession and the fear of further terrorism than large hotels and resorts, but it will take focus and effort to maintain that edge. Let me underscore the need to have a clearly and narrowly defined market niche, or brand.
[I’ll mention brand or market niche every chance I get. It’s that important!]
An intangible factor favoring bed and breakfast inns over other lodging types is that people want personal attention and good customer service. I feel this is a result of the cold, impersonal world resulting partially from the electronic age we live in today, giving us electronic receptionists instead of real humans for example. The need for personal attention comes from living busy lives without having time for personal interactions so when we leave our homes we are looking, on many levels, for personal satisfaction and attention. The businesses that offer personalized service are making a comeback; dress shops, gas stations, food stores, specialty shops, and lodging, to name a few. There is a cultural change taking place in the U.S. that is creating a demand innkeepers can satisfy. This cultural change is also reflected in the decisions you should make about your quality of life and what is important in your life.
Start analyzing the experience you want to offer your guests and with what kind of people you want to share your home. The analysis helps you define your market niche. It’s not an easy exercise but I firmly believe it’s worth tackling the challenge and winning that struggle now. Businesses that have a specific market niches are more successful sooner. By knowing the answers to the questions asked above regarding your market niche, many other decisions fall into place — location, amenities, colors, prices, food, and where to advertise and what the copy for your brochure and web site look like. Know your niche. Focus on that niche. Keep honing your concept until you have a pointed, precise picture. You should control the market; don’t let it control you.
[People often respond to this topic with reactions like “we’ll see who our guests are and then state our niche”. I feel that’s a case of the “tail wagging the dog”. Be more proactive and enjoy your guests and your success.]
The U.S. doesn’t have a national economy so much as many regional economies, so each region will experience different business realities. Sixty percent of all spending is done by people passing through their 40s and 50s. Baby boomers (37-56 years old) generated the highest travel volume in the U.S. in 2001 and spent more money on trips than people in other age groups. Do you know about OPALs — Older People with Active Lifestyles? Twenty-eight percent of the population is over 50 — and that number is growing, projected to be 30% by 2005. Luxury and self indulgence are their reasons to travel. People are looking for fantasy, nostalgia, adventure and lost youth. Women consist of 50% of the business travelers, up from 25% in the ’90s. Minorities represent 17% of U.S.A. travelers. The average traveler is a 47-year-old woman. Did you hear all of that? Will you fit in with the trends of the 21st century? Will you dive or thrive?
It’s too early in the 21st century — with big changes in the way the world works and how it feels — to see clear trends, but here’s what I am gathering at this point. People are still traveling, though 30% fewer trips are by air; those with money, leisure travelers (accounting for 76% of all travel), and honeymooners being at the top of the list. Car travel is up, helping lodging properties along the highways and within driving distance of home. Leisure travel is 46% by car and 41% by air and 59% of leisure travel involves a hotel/motel/B&B stay. Travel with kids is 18% of the travel happening in the 21st century.
It seems that the traveling public wants to get out of the big cities and into the country. The inns that seem to have fared best are those 2-6 hours from urban areas with clearly defined market niches and that have maintained an active marketing campaign. Price is only an issue when innkeepers don’t have a clear picture of their niche and can’t convey their guest experience and value to their potential guests. The message I hear from various tourism sectors is in a travel recession it is important to not drop your room rates but to add value and to offer price incentives to your return guests for specific dates. Randy Smith of Smith Travel Research has pointed out that it took lodging properties 10 years to recover their room rates after the last lodging recession. Can you afford that?
Travelers seem to be looking for quiet, re-connecting, rejuvenating guest experiences. They want to feel safe. They want to be pampered. Those wants and needs can be met in a variety of ways. Your niche can tend to those needs without making your B&B Inn identical to other inns. Seniors are still traveling leisure traveler statistics are that 9% travel with their laptops and 22% use the Internet while traveling. They want romance. They want private, en-suite baths, too. Those traveling by car have their pets with them 14% of the time. Since 29% of those travelers stay in hotels/motels/B&Bs, can you accommodate pets to attract those travelers?
Executives and entrepreneurs are traveling for relaxation more too. While business travel dropped 3% from 2000 to 2001 (13% of 2001 travel was for business), one-third of the business travelers are combining business with pleasure. Take note that more than 20% of the business travelers are couples traveling together. Technology is a key calling card for these travelers. They want phones, TVs with VCRs/DVDs, music systems, and high speed Internet connections. Statistics for business travelers using technology are that 25% travel with their laptops and 42% use the Internet while traveling.
These are the trends to consider for the decade of the 00s.
[I feel business travelers and honeymooners/special occasion travelers have similar needs — for different reasons, so give them lots of options. We all have our own way of relaxing.]
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