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  • Kate Reddin

Hotels: Why Going Local is Not Just About Soap

Whenever there’s a defining moment or change in a particular industry, ideas tend to shift together like a flock of birds. Often, a business trend is emulated without much thought. If people want local coffee and bath products in their hotel rooms, for example, let’s find a local provider for these things. Let’s deliver what people want. Let’s provide a convincing appearance, in the most economical way possible. When the next idea comes along, we’ll provide a convincing appearance of that.

Back in 2010, the New York Times ran an article about the rise of hotel gardens and apiaries. Yes, beehives. When you consider the mad dash toward local partnerships and seasonal ingredients, becoming a local supplier was the next logical next step. The Intercontinental Hotels Melbourne and Boston did this and ended up selling their own honey. Other hotels regularly have herb beds or more to supplement their menus. If raising your own vegetables or honey is practical (and not cost prohibitive), more hotels might take that step. Not only will they raise some of their own ingredients for the kitchen; they’ll have a powerful story to tell. This is an interesting way of connecting guests to a sense of place. Sensibilities and stories like this can make a hotel into something that is less “distant” and more “connected.”

The CEO of AccorHotels, Sebastian Bazin, recently shared some interesting thoughts about “hotel localism” in an interview with the travel research firm Skift. He indicated that the AccorHotels brand is moving toward a different kind of relationship with the local communities in which they operate. Instead of the hotel being a place for outsiders, a place where locals are afraid to go, the idea is to welcome locals, to provide valuable services to them, and encourage local people to walk through the doors - use the restaurant or business center. Let reception hold a package for you. Obviously there are security concerns that arise with any kind of open door policy, but hotels will continue to innovate in this direction, whatever way fits.

The reasoning itself is sound. In order for hotel guests to feel more connected with the community, the community should feel more connected to the hotel.

Pop up shops and art galleries are another interesting way in which this is happening. Local artisans and artists are a common way for travelers to feel enriched by the experience of traveling. These are natural pipelines to local flavour, which is what guests increasingly want. Hotels are finally reacting by bringing temporary shops and artists directly into the hotel space to interact with guests. The Paramount Hotel in NYC is one of many great examples.

Perhaps the most exciting example of hotel localism is taking place right here in Australia. Imagine a pop-up self-contained mobile hotel suite, tastefully built out of shipping containers that can be taken anywhere locally? This now exists, and it’s appropriately named the “Spontaneity Suite.”

A partnership between Ovolo Hotels and a booking app called HotelTonight the valuation of the mobile unit is $32,000, and it is currently making its way around Australia for nightly rates as low as $100.

Even if pop-up hotels aren’t a business model that takes off, the companies involved tried something innovative and local and drew good media coverage as a result.

On the other hand, what if it does take off? As “pop up” infrastructure becomes more sophisticated, this kind of hotel might attract significant investments, since the infrastructure itself is not tied to any specific location. And wouldn’t it be fantastic to wake up in a four or five star hotel suite in a piece of countryside on which no “real” hotel has ever stood?

If you think about it, this is a logical expression of how hotels have had to respond creatively to a changing industry.

The question to which we must return is whether any (or all) of these fascinating ideas and innovations really make guests feel more connected to the community? It may take time to figure out what works, and there may never be a proven formula.

What we can say is that the hotel industry is never going to stand still. This industry itself is an expression of culture. In some ways that culture is global. In other ways it’s local culture. It’s about being unique and being yourself. The reconciliation of these two values must, and will, continue to push new ideas in hospitality.

What are some examples you've seen of hotels authentically integrating 'local' into their offering?

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