One only needs to look at what’s happening in the hospitality industry to understand how the world is changing. Hospitality companies make their money from catering to trends and the ever-morphing demands of travelers.Agent@Home recently spoke with hospitality executives, hotel chefs and travel professionals to get the scoop on hot trends for 2015, from the Chinese travel market to culinary trends. Here are some trends that were highlighted in the coming year, including views on the effect these trends will have on home-based travel agents and professionals.
Chinese Travel Market
The burgeoning Chinese travel market is one of the hottest topics in the industry right now. Why? Because the market is still relatively untapped and it stands to generate a great deal of business. Today, the younger Chinese generations not only have more money to spend, but they also have greater flexibility in visa rules.
The Hawaiian Islands, which have been popular for Japanese traveler for decades, will likely see an increase in Chinese. For Outrigger Enterprises Group, which has its headquarters in Hawaii and recently introduced its new beachfront brand Outrigger Resorts, this is good news.
“With the recent change in visa rules between the U.S. and China, student and exchange visas are being extended from one to five years, and business and tourist visas are being extended to 10 years,” says John Limper, vice president, sales and marketing, Hawaii & Guam for Outrigger Enterprises Group. And his company is seeing some promising results.
For example, Robert Conrad, executive chef of Outrigger Laguna Phuket Beach Resort, has seen an increase in Chinese tourism over the past three to four years at his property
“For about four to five months of the year, our hotel experiences an influx of Chinese guests,” Conrad says. “Young Chinese people … now can travel because they have the financial ability that they didn’t have 10 years ago.”
These developments are also good news for travel agents. The rise in Chinese tourism will naturally impact the availability of hotel room inventory, in the U.S. and elsewhere. As a result, timing will be crucial when booking. Given the knowledge agents bring to the table, it is possible there could be a greater demand for agents because it should generally become more difficult to book what you want and people simply don’t have the time to go through the whole process on their own.
“These additional numbers could impact travelers on the U.S. mainland and elsewhere, since additional visitors from China will impact the availability of hotel room inventory,” Limper says. “This means travelers from the U.S. mainland to Hawaii may need to book their travel to the islands further out to ensure availability.”
“People are living such hectic lives these days,” he adds. “Time truly is a luxury for many. This is where travel agents have the advantage. We’re seeing home-based agents becoming even more valuable to the consumer because of their knowledge and expertise in destinations such as Hawaii.”
Enrollment in Outrigger’s Expert Agent program has increased by 15 percent this year, which will further accommodate the increasing demand for travel agents.
“This tells us there is still tremendous value for the end-user using a subject expert, i.e., the travel agent, in making their arrangements,” Limper said.
There are several new foodie trends in the hospitality industry that have sprouted up in the past few years. In fact, wellness tourism as a whole has increased by 12.7 percent in 2013, according to the 2014 Global Spa and Wellness Economy Monitor. The trend accounted for $494 billion in expenditures in 2013.
The Westin brand has been a prominent leader in the health and wellness movement. It formed a partnership with SuperFoodsRx in 2007 to provide healthier meals and introduced a healthy kids menu earlier this year.
Starwood also introduced the Element by Westin brand a few years ago, a brand specifically dedicated to health and wellness.
“One of the more prevalent trends, especially in our hotels, is healthy eating,” says Brian Povinelli, senior vice president global brand leader for Westin and Le Meridien. “People are taking more personal responsibility for the way they eat and becoming more demanding in the expectations they have in restaurants and food and beverage outlets.”
Conrad also has seen an uptick in customers asking for healthier food options.
“People have become more concerned about health, and they tend to eat more healthy food,” Conrad says. “In Phuket, we have more vegetarian [options], many guests require gluten-free meals and a lot of guests have special diets. Organic food has become increasingly popular.”
In response, Outrigger Laguna Phuket Beach Resort has its own vegetable garden. The property’s restaurants draw ingredients directly from the garden.
PHOTO: Outrigger Laguna Phuket Beach Resort is dedicated to health and wellness.
Another trend on the culinary front is the appearance of more Chinese and Japanese options on menus at hotel and resort restaurants.
The increase in Chinese tourism certainly has helped in terms of this sharp upturn in international demand for Chinese food, but Conrad also says Chinese and Japanese food has become less expensive, which has aided the spike.
“Japanese restaurant prices are much more reasonable than they were 15 to 20 years ago … In the past three to four years, it has become very popular,” Conrad says. “Chinese food, we should not forget, has also become popular, and there are more Chinese traveling around Asia. At [Outrigger Laguna Phuket], we hire Chinese chefs because we realize the importance of Chinese food.”
Outrigger Laguna Phuket Beach Resort’s onsite restaurants Locavore and Edgewater specialize in Asian cuisine.
Last but not least, more guests are concerned about the artistic component of a meal, and chefs are responding.
“There’s a surprisingly growing expectation of presentation,” Povinelli says. “Where in the past you could get away with not being as thoughtful with the way the food is plated, I feel people really appreciate when it’s done well now. ”
The rise of social media use, especially on channels such as Instagram, has helped contribute to this demand, Povinelli says. Obviously, restaurants that surprise customers with eye-catching dishes get a lot of exposure through these social media channels.
Hotels and tour operators have naturally spread cheer and made sure to give back during the holidays, but more charity programs are emerging this holiday season.
“We’re noticing hotels and tour operators incorporating charity components into their holiday programming — whether that means a partnership with a local charity or an interactive event on property,” says Catherine Colford, media relations specialist at Hawkins International PR.
Here are some examples of both ongoing and recent charity programs:
Through Jan. 15, Madeline Hotel & Residences Telluride is offering local organizations the opportunity to host events on the property. In exchange, the property will give back 5 percent of dollars spent to a local nonprofit of choice.
The Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina, hosts the nation’s largest Gingerbread House Competition every year. Through Jan. 1, half of the proceeds from parking fees will be donated to six local nonprofits.
For Thanksgiving, Omni Mount Washington Resort in New Hampshire, Omni Homestead Resort in Virginia and Omni Hotel at CNN Center in Atlanta and Hotel Eden in Rome all featured charity programs.
XV Beacon in Boston donated 15 percent of every nightly room rate in November to the Greater Boston Food Bank.
Until Dec. 1, Lake Arrowhead Resort & Spa had offered a complimentary day pass and a 30 percent discount toward its spa and salon services for anyone who donated a new or rarely used coat.