Within arm’s reach of me right now sit a new MacBook Pro, an iPhone5, an iPad and an iPad Mini. Overkill? Yes, considering these are four size variations of a product that essentially does the same thing. What is it that compels the changing demographic of tech-driven workers to armor up with Apple artillery? It’s product culture and loyalty at its finest, and companies from direct competitors to hotel brands are working to figure out the Apple formula.
I have owned Apple products exclusively for the last four years. That said, I have zero allegiance to any other company, particularly a hotel brand. Perhaps it is because I support independent hotels or because a deal means more to me than my loyalty points. Yet I am certainly not alone; my Gen X and Y friends, family and colleagues similarly share no exclusive loyalty to a hotel brand.
Baby Boomers have been and will continue to play their loyalty card. From Holiday Inn to Residence Inn, the loyal Baby Boomer guest was instrumental in building these brands. In recognizing the shift, we were treated with a plethora of new brands, including the Starwood launch of Aloft and Element, which set out to attract a new brand-agnostic traveler. While the idea certainly resonated, the result was less storied. The OTAs’ and flash-sales sites’ push to competitively challenge brand rates may have subsided a growing population of loyal travellers. But competitive pricing aside, have we seen a brand destined to become the match for the Gen Y business traveller?
Apple to Aloft is not apples to apples; the airline and restaurant industry are likely better future indicators of consumer loyalty. Take Virgin America, for example: a much superior airline to its U.S. competition, yet it will take a while to gain ground given banked miles and statuses travelers have with other airlines. If we were to see a growing number of older-generation Residence Inns, would new and better product in the extended-stay segment still have a hard time getting Marriott loyalists to swap a la Virgin America?
Restaurants may have the hardest time of all in drawing loyalty. Fewer barriers to entry, rapidly changing trends, and constant employee turnover all play a factor in attracting repeat customers. While Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality and Richard Melman’s Lettuce Entertain You have created networks of loyalists in New York and Chicago, respectively, this is very rare and growing increasingly more difficult in the restaurant space.
If there were a formula for building loyalty, we would be faced with a world of Apples. Depending on how you view things (and whether you are a Mac or PC user), this could be good or bad. I see Gen Y as continuing to be a stubborn, high-maintenance yet intuitive traveler difficult for hotel companies to lock into loyalty programs. But as I sit in a coffee house surrounded by young people on their Apple devices, I can’t help but wonder if or how things could change with Apple-branded hotels.