Competition is heating up to cash in on young consumers’ wanderlust. To get the demo through their doors, many hotels are putting Instagrammability first—and with good reason. A new survey from TravelZoo shows that nearly two-thirds of Gen Z is inspired by social media when making their travel plans, reports TravelPulse. Meanwhile, CNBC reports that HotelTonight’s CEO says Millennials are willing to pay a premium for social media-worthy rooms. The founder of the always-innovative app for last minute travel says Millennials would rather spend their stay at unique, one-off hotels than name-brand, cookie cutter chains—another social media-inspired preference. Additionally, Ypulse found that 24% of 18-35-year-olds who are interested in travel want to take trips in order to post unique things to social media. From the Moxy to the Sister City, new hotels are being designed to fill social media feeds in a microhotel format, where The Outline reports they’re trading space for trendy amenities while cashing in on their “social media cachet” with free marketing from guests.
But while an Instagrammable space is important for getting hotels on the ‘gram, a once-in-a-lifetime experience is what generates authentic social media hype (something that can be hard to find in an industry full of professionally photoshopped photos). Kimpton Hotels may have the best of both worlds in their experiential activation, Room 301, which could be the next step in Millennial-focused marketing for hotels. While Room 301 might have a neon hashtag sign and selfie-ready wings painted above the bed, Uproxx reports that it’s more than an Insta-ready pop-up. One room at the Kimpton Everly Hotel is inviting guests to connect with each other via interactive activities, which range from adding songs to a shared Spotify playlist to recording a video diary answering questions like, “When was the last time you laughed or cried intensely, and why?” They’re taking pop-ups past a #selfie and asking strangers to connect in a shared space, building good will towards other humans, and of course, towards their brand.
We spoke to Kathleen Reidenbach, Chief Commercial Officer of Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, to learn more about Kimpton Hotels’ experiential marketing tactics and Room 301 in particular, how they’re incorporating key elements from this activation into future hotel experiences, and more:
Ypulse: How does Room 301 set itself apart from other pop-up experiences?
Kathleen Reidenbach: While Room 301 has its Insta-worthy moments, this experiment is more than an opportunity to take viral photos. Each element within the room is designed to spark creativity, encourage self-reflection and explore what makes people uniquely human and connected. We’ve added layers of meaning and intention for every activity—it’s not superficial.
YP: What’s the purpose of Room 301? Why did Kimpton Hotels create it?
KR: This is an extension of an overarching brand-wide campaign Kimpton launched earlier this year called Stay Human. The campaign recognizes that in our world of rapid innovation and technology, we’re actually feeling more disconnected and lonely than ever before. We know our guests crave authentic connection, they want to be celebrated as an individual, and they want to be introduced to something new. The hospitality industry at large is often focused on the latest technological innovations. We know there’s a time and place for technology in the hotel experience—but believe that heartfelt human connections are what define the hospitality industry. That’s something technology can never replace.
YP: Was the room designed with Instagram in mind?
KR: The room wasn’t specifically designed for Instagram, as the main focus is on creating human connection. However, the nature of a lot of these activities, the room itself and the integration of #StayHuman into the design make Room 301 something that’s organically been shared on social media. From the wings above the bed by Collette Miller from the Global Angel Wings Project (which have become major selfie-fodder) to the gorgeous Mystery Vice cocktails to the growing list of “confessions” our guests have painted directly onto the wall, there’s a lot of visual interest in Room 301. We’ve seen exciting real engagement on social from guests who have stayed in the room so far!
YP: Has the activation generated social media buzz?
KR: Definitely! Social media is, by its very nature, a conduit for human connection. Not only is the room itself something visually appealing and intriguing that guests naturally want to share on Instagram, but it also becomes more Instagrammable with every guest that stays—for example, with each guest there are additional confessions on the “Community Confessions” wall (an activation where guests can paint their secrets directly onto the wall of the hotel room). While Room 301 was in no way designed just for social media—it has a much deeper purpose—we absolutely knew that social media could play a big role in driving interest and participation. Guests have been documenting their experience in Room 301 on social media with #StayHuman.
YP: Are some of Room 301’s activities more or less popular?
KR: To our surprise, the community confessions wall is one of the most popular activities, as it not only allows, but encourages, guests to write directly on a hotel wall which feels a little taboo. It might be because that one’s cathartic and also anonymous. The guestbook and photo moods are also very popular, allowing guests to get creative in various forms—through writing, art and photography. We’ve had less interest in the video diary, likely because it’s the activity that encourages the most vulnerability and emotional exposure.
YP: Does Kimpton Hotels have any plans for future experiences?
KR: We plan to take insights and results from this experiment and release them at the conclusion of the three-month activation. We’ll also use them to inform how we continue to build community and design these immersive guest experiences at our hotels and restaurants. Since the launch of Room 301, additional Kimpton properties across the US have also started incorporating key elements of the campaign to further showcase the importance of and encourage human connections. We think there’s an opportunity to bring this to life at other hotels in 2019 so stay tuned!
YP: Are there any travel trends that you’ve seen on the rise? Any that you’re trying to tap into?
KR: We’ve seen the emergence of a few trends as we head into 2019—perhaps most relevant are the impact of brand values on consumer decisions, the continued rise of influencer culture, and the increasing popularity of food-driven tourism. Travelers, particularly Millennials and Gen Z, are in part choosing brands because their values align with their own.
We launched Room 301 because we truly value human connection—it’s the primary driver that makes Kimpton, Kimpton, and it’s something our guests value, too. We were able to tap into the trend of influencer culture to launch the room—our first guests before it opened to the public were influencers who shared content and helped get people excited to book. We’re also staying at the forefront of food tourism with our yearly Culinary + Cocktails Trend Report, which examines the ingredients, flavors, dishes and drinks that chefs and bartenders across the country will be exploring and experimenting with in the year ahead.
YP: How can travel brands better connect with young consumers?
KR: Authenticity. Young consumers build relationships with brands the same way they build relationships in real life. They want to get to know a brand—its values, personality, and style—and they want to be treated like real people, not dollar signs or potential sales. Heartfelt human connection is how we started the boutique hotel movement when the first Kimpton opened in 1981, and it’s what continues to drive us forward today.
KATHLEEN REIDENBACH | CCO, KIMPTON HOTELS & RESTAURANTS
Kathleen Reidenbach is responsible for overseeing both the Sales & Catering and Marketing departments, which together make up Kimpton’s commercial division. She began her career with Kimpton at the home office as a business analyst in 2002. She was promoted several times to oversee other areas including regional hotel and brand revenue management, and distribution and online marketing.
Prior to joining Kimpton, Kathleen was a financial analyst at Robertson Stephens, an investment bank that provided a broad range of financial advisory services to growth companies in the technology, consumer and services sectors. Kathleen has a bachelor’s degree in Economics and Spanish from Amherst College in Massachusetts. She resides in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and two children.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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