Affluence

I just attended a conference on Resort Marketing. We heard a lot about emerging markets. It comes as no surprise that those markets are (1) women traveling with other women (either girl’s weekends, adventure or educational trips); (2) multi-generational travel (kids, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles); (3) Small social groups like foursomes or weddings, birthday and/or reunion celebrations; and (4) BRIC (travelers from Brazil, Russia, India and China).

It seems the way we travel is inextricably linked to the way we live. If you’ve ever read “Trading Up” (or looked around at your neighbors), you’re aware that our lifestyle has become increasingly upscale and affluent. Even lower class Americans manage to include some luxury items in their lives. I can’t tell you how many middle class people I know have Sub Zero refrigerators and Viking ovens in kitchens they use only once a week. Rainfall showerheads, heated towel racks and separate showers and tubs have become commonplace.

It wasn’t many years ago that your average person didn’t know what kind of sheets were on his bed. Today, it isn’t uncommon for travelers to request 300 thread-count sheets. This upgraded lifestyle makes it increasingly difficult to “wow” travelers when they stay in hotels. Face it, home is hard to compete with these days.

But is it making us happier?

I’ve lived in small apartments, a log cabin and spacious suburban homes and I can’t recall being any happier in one than in the other. Some places were more comfortable. Some had more character. But, in the end, it was more about what I was doing with my time and whom I was with that determined how happy I was. If I was enjoying my life, I was happy even when I was in more cramped or less comfortable surroundings. I think that logic still applies to most of us.

Sure we’re used to larger bathrooms and sheets with a higher thread-count. Those luxuries have become the cost of entry for hotels. Guests are looking for excellence in every aspect of their stay – the activities, the staff, the service, the meals and all the little extras (chocolates on the pillow and/or complimentary afternoon tea). A traveler will forgive a lot if his experience is amazing.

The most memorable discussion at the conference centered around how to counteract negative reviews on Trip Advisor and consumer blogs. Should resort and hotel managers assign someone to respond to those comments? Should they hire a PR firm to handle it? Should the General Manger call each disgruntled guest? The amazing thing was, not one of the attendees suggested the real solution: improving the guest experience so they won’t get so many negative comments.

There will always be complaints. Disgruntled guests will always voice their opinions more loudly than satisfied guests. But we’ll never be able to control the consumer – no matter how much effort we put towards it. All we can do is deliver an experience that they’ll want to replicate. Again and again. I suppose that applies no matter what your business.

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