This summer, leverage the art of strategic hospitality

Hospitality-related businesses have an opportunity to invent new ways to engage with their customers

Summertime in the Pacific Northwest signifies many things – from the long-awaited arrival of bluer skies and warmer temperatures, to backyard barbeques and outdoor adventures with family and friends. As locals prepare to maximize the sunny months ahead, many hospitality businesses and service providers are preparing for their busiest time of year. This season, they will be looking for ways to elevate their offerings beyond the traditional notions of hospitality to create unique, innovative experiences that will keep residents and tourists alike coming back for more.

For businesses, a key to success is understanding that “hospitality” is no longer confined to traditional hotels and restaurants. Consumers today show a strong appetite for experiences that will have a positive impact on their quality of life, whether that entails a digital detox, a spiritual retreat or simply a getaway from the humdrum of daily life. People are taking shorter but more frequent vacations, excursions and even staycations. This allows them to escape the day-to-day while still indulging in quality dining, shopping, arts, culture and other experiential activities – particularly those related to entertainment, sustainability, education, health and wellness, or a combination of such elements.

Current hospitality trends indicate a shift away from a “value-in-exchange” approach to purchasing goods, toward a “value-in-experience” approach that has given rise to consumers purchasing more experiences. Millennials are a showcase example, as they notoriously prioritize spending on experiences – such as traveling abroad, trying new bars and restaurants, or attending concerts – over material things. Not surprisingly, people also crave authenticity and personalization more than ever before.

Amid these evolving consumer preferences, hospitality-related businesses have an opportunity to invent new ways to engage with customers. A concept I call “co-creation” entails exactly this: strategically designing guest experiences that are tailored to an individual. Engagement between customers and staff is dynamic and collaborative, sustained between the customer and service provider. Understanding the synergies between all the components of hospitality, as well as the various touchpoints between customers and staff, ultimately enhances customers’ perception of service quality and makes their experience more satisfying, resulting in more return business and positive recommendations.

Businesses that successfully practice co-creation also empower their staff to play a role in the process. By fostering a culture of rewards and recognition for superior service, organizations can encourage employees go above and beyond in addressing customer needs and solving problems. Face-to-face customer interactions range from hotel concierge and guest services, to travel agents and tour guides, to restaurant hosts, servers, sommeliers and bartenders. But it is highly likely the customer has also engaged online, through social media or mobile apps, before ever setting foot in the building. The habit of sharing this information and taking into account customer feedback and recommendations – whether in-person or online – may help improve staff’s understanding of customer needs and desires, thus making their job less demanding and the service more effective.

At the end the day, hospitality and tourism constitute one of the largest industries in the United States, generating $118 billion in tax revenue nationwide and $1.1 billion in Washington state alone. To be sure, there is an incredible opportunity to leverage contemporary notions of hospitality to co-create memorable, engaging experiences with customers – here in Vancouver and beyond.

Dr. Robert Harrington is a professor of hospitality business management at Washington State University’s Carson College of Business. He holds a Ph.D. in strategic management and is author of “Food and Wine Pairing: A Sensory Experience.” His extensive research and teaching interests include food and drink pairing relationships, innovation, strategic management in the hospitality field, and culinary and wine tourism strategies.

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