Emotional loyalty is the aspiration for hotel brands

Emotional loyalty rather than a repetitive transactional type of loyalty is the aspiration for hotel brands, which can be achieved through offering quality experiential hospitality.

That is according to a panel discussion at the IHIF EMEA conference in Berlin, Germany, on Wednesday. “That’s not subject to prices, change of certain trends,” said Antonio Gonzalez, CEO of Sunset Hospitality Group, an investment and management company with a presence in 16 countries.

The group launched Sunset Hotels & Resorts last year to oversee its hotel brands, including its flagship brand METT, and drive its four-strong hotel portfolio to more than 20 hotels and resorts by 2026.

Gregory Lanter, chief development, construction and property officer & CEO mountain strategy at Club Med, agreed: “How do we get the clients loyal today? It’s by providing this life experience, human experience. How do you do this? It’s not about the hard part of the product, it’s not about the facility. Everybody can do a good room, restaurant, bar... the human part of it is where you create the loyalty.”

That means providing the hospitality and staff that facilitate guests to make memories and experiences with the people around them: “They are looking for more than a room, food, swimming pool, someone at the entrance and reception being nice. They are looking for a human experience, a life experience, they want to feel alive.”

To achieve this, he said, Club Med focuses on recruiting staff with ‘human skills’ rather than necessarily the full technical knowledge, “somebody who has the capability to interact with the guests beyond the tasks of their day-to-day jobs”.

Gonzalez said that by focusing on experiential hospitality, brands have more touchpoints to differentiate themselves. “You can add that extra layer of services that make the whole experience different,” he said. “The more touchpoints we can have with the consumer... we can create a more durable experience and memory that translates into loyalty.”

He continued that, having transitioned from an F&B business into a hotel business, meant realising the importance of considering those touchpoints not just when a guest is on-property but from reservation – and in any follow-up contact after they’ve left.

When asked by moderator Alissa Hendel, VP owner advocacy at technology business Oracle Hospitality, about the role of technology in experiential hospitality, Gonzalez said he saw technology as “the use of data as an enabler to create a better experience”.

“How can I predict what the client wants? How can I see trends before they’re in our face? How can I make the experience seamless?” he said. “And ultimately it will translate into a better experience for our guests.”

Lanter, meanwhile, saw AI as being a disruptor on the distribution side, allowing Club Med’s sales teams to focus on establishing emotional human connections with customers.

Club Med owner Fosun is looking to sell a minority stake in Club Med at a valuation of around $800 million, according to reports. Maus Frères, owner of Swiss department store brand Manor, offered to buy a majority stake earlier this year, however the bid was rejected.

According to its most recent investor presentation, covering the first half of 2023, Club Med owned 10 of its 66 resorts, with 15 managed and 41 leased. 34 resorts were in the EMEA region, 10 in Asia Pacific and 10 in the Americas. The all-inclusive operator plans to open nine new resorts, refurbish 10 others and reopen two more while the opening of its Kiroro Grand resort in Hokkaido strengthened its all-inclusive offer in the winter season, taking it to more than 20 mountain resorts.