Lessons learned from ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’

After being told by a friend to “run — not walk” and see “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” I rushed to the theater for a weekend matinee. Despite having been released several weeks prior, the film was still sold out. “Fair enough,” I thought, and made plans to see it the following Monday. But it was sold out that day, too!

Clearly, this film was resonating with its audience, and I was now more determined than ever to see what all the commotion was about. After booking tickets in advance (like I should have in the first place!) and sitting in a still-very-packed theater, I can safely say the fuss is justified.

Steering clear of all the CG effects, droning explosions and ADD-inspired editing that seem inescapable these days, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” focuses on what makes for genuinely great cinema: strong storytelling and well-drawn characters. The movie boasts a cast played by a veritable “Avengers” of talented Brits including Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson and Bill Nighy. The story revolves around a group of retirees who decide to spend their golden years at a hotel in India. They each have their own reasons, and there’s the perfunctory level of internal strife, yet they all grow to love each other and their new home.

One scene in particular should be recognizable for hoteliers. As they reach the property, it does not appear as advertised. In fact, it’s dilapidated. The patrons are swiftly informed that the brochure is advertising what the hotel “could” be, rather than what it actually is. After some debate and hubbub, they decide to stay and make the most of it.

While this is perfectly fair to drive the plot, I cannot foresee this situation playing out in the same way for a real-life hotel. It is much more likely that a visitor would turn around and never set foot in such an establishment, snickering to all his or her friends on social media about the experience. In a movie, I’m willing to suspend disbelief and assume that the characters will act like hyperbolized people in order to take the story somewhere special. But in real life, I’m pretty sure paying customers wouldn’t be as obliging to this blatant deception.

Think for a moment about your website experience. Examine your guestroom photography. Does it accurately represent your product, or are there features that are exaggerations of the truth or do not exist entirely? Compare your professional photography to those taken by guests and displayed on social media. They should be similar, as customers will expect the real thing to be consistent with your web presentation.

There is a lot more to this film than this one scene, of course. Overall, it’s a stellar antidote to all of the woes baby boomers are feeling about the trending slates of Hollywood movies these days. Here, the focus is put back on wonderful acting by some very strong performers. A cursory glance at Box Office Mojo estimated the film to have earned around US$115 million worldwide thus far — not bad for an adult drama that only went through a limited release in North America.

The success of “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” demonstrates the baby boomer generation is still seeking a bit of wish fulfillment, in much the same capacity as children watching a Pixar animation or teenagers ogling the latest superhero extravaganza. The film works because it begs to ask the question, “What will you do with your retirement years?” And it appears many recent retirees are on the search for renewed adventure.

As it pertains to hotels, the takeaway question is to ask yourself how you can translate this nugget of socioeconomic insight into revenue. What makes your hotel appeal to retirees? What specific adventures can you offer them? Think of all the local and unique experiences that may appeal to an energized baby boomer, and you’re bound to tap into this ever-prevalent demographic. Just make sure your establishment is first and foremost as advertised on your website and in the brochure!