Hilton CEO Chris Nassetta called 2022 the “year when travel came roaring back” in his company’s recent report: “The 2023 Traveler: Emerging Trends that are Innovating the Travel Experience.” Certainly, the leisure traveler was looking to catch up on old times, deprived of vacations, reunions, golf trips and other events that the pandemic rendered prohibitive.
Nassetta also made a pitch for his business: “In 2022, we realized how much it matters where you stay,” he said.
It’s within this context that Hilton set out to enumerate four trends or themes that will characterize the 2023 traveler, a predictive profile that, likely, Hilton hotels will be prepared for and cater to. (Nassetta touted traveling with pets, which, selfishly, I wish more hotels would appreciate and make easier; for example, removing the rather onerous associated deposits and fees.)
Here’s what Hilton found… followed by some editorial commentary that breaks down its true meaning:
1. People will turn to travel for deeper, more engaging, human experiences and connections. “Travel is a gateway to discovering different cultures and perspectives and, in 2023, people will focus on travel as a way to create deeper connections with friends, family, colleagues, customers, cultures and the earth. There will be a rising interest in unique and engaging experiences, design and food & beverage programs, especially ones that connect the traveler to the local communities.”
What it really means: The experience economy has been something that travel marketers have long used and touted to describe today’s consumer. It’s not a new trend or theme but, rather, one that has stood the test of time. People do search for unique experiences, like safaris, for example, oftentimes over things, like a luxury watch. This trend should continue in 2023 as global travelers are further roused from global hibernation.
2. People will recognize authentic travel as an essential part of their wellness routine. “As the world emerged from the pandemic, people reconsidered what wellness meant in their lives—considering areas of mindfulness, emotional well-being and sleep, in addition to nutrition and fitness. In 2023, travelers will further prioritize travel with wellness in mind, looking for accommodations, destinations and authentic travel experiences that address their holistic wellness needs.”
What it really means: Hotels better have facilities and services that can accommodate travelers’ wellness needs. It’s not so much a pivot but an investment in the future. Hotel companies have recognized that wellness matters, so features like gyms, spas and—perhaps most important—food and beverage must be up to snuff. Today’s travelers are more health conscious and carry that with them when they travel. They expect their quotidian wellness needs to be matched when on the road.
3. Travelers will want to be taken care of more than ever. “Next year, there will be a renewed appreciation for the most basic tenet of hospitality: to feel cared for. Travelers will be loyal to those brands and partners that fill this emotional and physical need and welcome moments of personalization or recognition for their loyalty.”
What it really means: To call this a theme is a stretch since, to be sure, it should always be. It does, however, bring up the notion of loyalty, which runs deep in the hospitality industry. Hotel loyalty programs are a lodging company’s most important business—it’s what connects all their brands together into one, it hopes, inescapable network. Becoming a Hilton Honors member should result in a traveler always seeking out Hilton brand properties when they travel, feeding that web of hotels with customer spend. Hotel brands will have to fight harder to obtain and keep a customer’s loyalty and catering to these trends is a smart start.
4. Travelers want frictionless travel innovations that are both technology- and human-led. “While technology often powers the day-to-day, people provide relatability and personalization. To reduce travel’s strongest tension points, travelers will utilize new technologies, like enhanced online booking options and app-based solutions to make travel easier but continue to want excellent customer service through personalized guest engagements, tailored corporate contracts and unique event activations.”
What it really means: Hotel guests want the best of both worlds: great customer service; a great tech stack. At luxury hotels, human-to-human staff and guest interaction matters; at select-service hotels, this dissipates some, and technology can fill that gap, especially for business travelers who are looking for ease in checking in and checking out; reliable WiFi, a comfortable bed and good shower pressure. It’s a pretty easy formula and technology can help assist. Technology is an omnipresent discussion in hospitality and something hoteliers are, typically, late to adapt to. It all sounds dandy, but it’s a huge cost and though brands love to speak about it, at the end of the day, it’s hotel owners who foot the bill.