More than Accommodations: Crafting Immersive Guest Experiences in Outdoor Hospitality
As the Outdoor Hospitality Market continues to evolve and rapidly change, competition in the market place and an ever evolving guest profile has left many operators scrambling to react. The key to a successful resort development is and always has been the ability to deliver a premium guest experience.
Guests today demand more than just accommodations, they are not looking for just a place to stay, they are searching for a unique and memorable experience, Instagrammable moments, and new opportunities to do something they have never done before. According to the 2022 North American Glamping Report 42% of glampers and 54% of campers sought out unique accommodations. Something different, out of the ordinary, and something that provides amenities and services at a level above typical camping. 63% stated that they wanted an EXPERIENCE that blends the benefit of staying at a luxury resort with the benefit of enjoying the outdoors.
Even the traditional hospitality industry is reacting to the demand for immersive entertainment. The 2019 Immersive Design Industry Annual Report written by Ricky Brigante, founder of Inside the Magic, was an industry first attempt to quantify and qualitatively measure the impact of immersive experiences as a standalone industry. Brigante states “Written with industry creators, sponsors, investors, and reporters in mind, this report begins to place a value on the industry as a whole while stressing the industry’s unique abilities to offer audiences meaningful experiences that have the potential to engage and enrich them in bold new ways.”
Outdoor hospitality today offers an opportunity to deliver premium guest experiences that rise to a level well above traditional hospitality and engage guests in a deeper and more meaningful way. The guest experience drives demand and consumers today value and even expect more for every dollar spent. The perceived value to your guest is apparent the more unique the opportunity you create and the better overall experience you deliver.
So what does that look like? How do we create an immersive guest experience? Who decides what the best opportunities to capitalize on are? LOCATION
This one seems obvious but a huge factor in resort success is their location and proximity to local attractions. Whether that’s a National Park, a scenic drive, wine trail, premium dining, and adrenaline fueled high adventure, knowing what’s around you helps to establish who your guests are and what they came to do. According to the 2022 NAGR nearby attractions are the largest deciding factor guests consider in their overall selection of where to stay. Closely related to location is your site itself. Knowing the limitations of your site and looking for opportunities to capitalize on unique assets of your property are key to creating the best guest experience. We often say, “if you don’t have it, we have to create it.” If a resort site is 30 miles from the nearest restaurant then a focus on on-site F&B becomes paramount. A site on waterfront may want to capitalize on the views, offer kayak and paddle board rentals, or install an inflatable waterpark play feature. Sites without water may consider creating a pond or lakefront instead. Understanding what your guests want and knowing what’s available in your area will expose the opportunities that exist to capitalize on what is missing from the equation. Ignoring these gaps has the potential to create a negative experience or fall short of guest expectations.
IDENTIFY YOUR GUEST PROFILE
Understanding who your guests are is the best way to craft an experience that will appeal to them. Millennials account for most of the camping market today and 63% of them are specifically searching for family focused and kid friendly activities. Gen Zers are searching for group experiences with friends and family while Boomers and Gen Xers prefer private couples retreats and romantic weekend getaways. And it makes sense! Campers in different stages of life are looking for different experiences. It can be difficult to appeal to every taste so establishing your main target guest early on is essential. Often these differing guests’ demands can run in opposition to one another. A couple looking for a quiet weekend getaway may not want to stay at a family friendly resort with a waterpark full of screaming kids. A group of college kids may not select a resort that only offers accommodations for couples or two person units, instead preferring larger units that can sleep 4-8 people together with flexible arrangements. Identifying and prioritizing the guest experience you want to deliver will help determine every other design and development decision you will make.
Secondly, once identified, every decision made should be made through the lens of that guest’s experience. It should drive everything you do and influence what type of resort you establish. It also creates tremendous freedom to say “no” to certain things because it simply isn’t consistent with the guest experience you want to create or the type of guest you are hoping to attract.
Lastly, listen to your guests. In the days of Yelp, Amazon Comments, and Google Reviews today’s consumer is more empowered than ever to share their opinions. Key to a hosted glamping experience is a responsive and attentive host, a personal connection with an on-site customer facing representative. New tools and technology that allow guests to chat in real time with an AI specialized bot with data and typical questions for any resort while at the same time allowing an on-site manager to review questions and responses not handled by AI to provide a custom-tailored response to each guest. Personal interactions with your host are still the single biggest differentiator between an exceptional glamping experience and traditional lackluster hospitality accommodations. The best Glamp sites are NOT accommodations, they are hosted guest EXPERIENCES.
CREATE UNIQUE GUEST EXPERIENCES
In a social media curated, digital world, people today are searching for authentic and personal experiences above all else, and most are willing to pay for it. Guests today are seeking educational, unique, fun, experiences that allow them to connect with nature and with other people in real ways. The best types of opportunities often arise organically from each site and each operator. Popular F&B options can be extended into immersive classes led by trained chefs that walk guests through a three course meal with prep and education about farm to table practices there on the resort. Painting or pottery classes taught through partnership agreements with local artists or craftspeople connect guests with locals in meaningful ways. Specialized experiences such as coffee roasting and blending, chocolate making, wine or beer crafting, honey making/bee keeping, or health and wellness focused group experiences led by experts give guests options to do something new, learn or try out a new skill, or further explore something they may have already had a limited experience with. Pairing these experiences to features on your site and collaborations with locals helps to embed your glamping resort within the fabric of your local community and creates stronger connections with your guests. The ability to deliver authentic and immersive experiences and connect your guests to your site and back to nature are really what Outdoor Hospitality is all about and what sets apart Glamping from traditional hospitality.
Delivering a consistent guest experience, no matter the time of year or season, across multiple locations (if applicable) and over time is important to building trust with your guests and establishing your reputation within an industry as a premium resort experience. Certain experiences may lend themselves to working better during specific times of year or may prove to be impossible during certain months. Don’t be afraid to adjust as you learn more about what works and what doesn’t. Activities that sound good on paper may not resonate with your guests or prove to be logistical nightmares that require more time and effort than is profitable in the long run. When you hit on something great, work to make it better and establish it as a recurring activity. If something falls flat, question why? Can it be done a different way? Was it consistent with the guest experience you were trying to deliver? Is there another partnership that might be able to do the same thing but executed in a better way? There are never any wrong answers here, the only bad choice is not to try new things or refuse to change. Lastly, clear communication with guests is the best approach when it comes to these experiences, being honest and receptive to feedback, making meaningful adjustments to your program, and communicating why with your guests how and why these experiences change over time. Utilize guest surveys to gather meaningful feedback from your guests and use that feedback to enact effective change in what you do will help you to continually improve the overall guest experience you deliver and strengthen the relationships you build with your guests. It’s also the best way to give your guests reasons to return for future stays with opportunities to have new experiences each time they stay with you.