By Dana Baasiri
In today’s experience-driven economy, travelers are spoiled for choice when it comes to hotels and unbeatable guest offerings. With 78% of Millennials wanting to spend their money on experiences rather than things, hotels are making sure to prioritize experiential offerings. From epicurean, chef-led experiences and bespoke cultural events that are inspired by the locale, to some of the most progressive wellness offerings the hospitality industry has welcomed, there is no doubt that plenty of hotels are offering out-of-the-box resort programming. With hundreds of travel brands catering to every type of traveler, how can one stand out from the rest? The answer lies in just how well they can unlock the power of resort programming, and what their “experience beyond the room” looks like.
The Evolution of Resort Programming
Over the years, resort programming — particularly in the all-inclusive space — has evolved significantly and come a long way from your typical aqua aerobics and water volleyball (although still very popular and expected among many guests). Longtime brand veterans who have dominated the industry for decades have had to reinvent their experience to meet the expectations of modern travelers. While global brands who are new to the arena have had to adapt their experience to fit into the all-inclusive model, ensuring they offer added value to guests through unique experiences.
Today, there is a much higher level of attunement to guests and what they desire. Data collected from past guests and target consumers, including their goals and priorities, have helped resorts cater to different segments of travelers such as families, couples, or even solo travelers by providing tailor-made experiences to address their needs and expectations.
At the all-inclusive Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya, a dynamic gaming partnership with HyperX — one that our team was proud to bring to life — introduced the first-of-its-kind gaming lounge to the family-friendly resort. In a bid to add more value to the guest experience while attracting younger audiences, families, and gamers alike by partnering with a highly-aligned and globally-recognized brand, the recently-debuted space will bring to life gaming, events, tournaments, influencer collaborations, and much more. Developing an onsite brand integration such as this one illustrates just how much our industry has raised the bar when it comes to unique programming.
Leveraging Hospitality Trends In Resort Programming
In order to stay competitive, it is essential for hotel brands to not only keep up with hospitality trends but more importantly identify the ones that align with their guests’ preferences. Whether it’s offering unique experiences, creating a sense of community, or prioritizing sustainability, there are many ways to stay ahead of the curve and keep guests coming back for more.
Take wellness tourism as an example — a trend that has been dominating the travel landscape in 2023 and is expected to grow more than any other wellness sector according to The Global Wellness Institute as it’s set to become a $1.1 billion industry. The forecast for wellness tourism has started to make the hospitality industry take note. In response recent Hilton report, “The 2023 Traveler: Emerging Trends that are Innovating the Travel Experience,” citing that 50% of respondents believe that their 2023 travels need to address their mental or physical wellness, the brand has expanded its resort programming to include new wellness experiences for guests. From rooftop fitness classes and mindful meditation to Retrograde Ritual guides and synastry astrology, Hilton is just one example of how travel brands are leveraging hospitality trends to create powerful resort programming that caters to their guests.
Using Resort Programming To Drive Sales and Boost Loyalty
Strategically crafting and timing resort programming can help establish drive bookings to a specific need period. One way to increase occupancy during shoulder season is to implement seasonal programming that attracts bookings during your need periods. This could include an enticing seasonal music residency or a multi-day event filled with enhanced experiences — think lifestyle expert talks, master classes, or even a culinary festival — that helps you fill any gaps in occupancy between large in-house groups. Elevated resort programming can be packaged and built into the ADR, while marketed and sold as an “added-value” perk that further incentivizes travelers to book with you.
One resort brand that does an exceptionally good job of leveraging seasonal programming is Nickelodeon Hotels & Resorts with Summer of SpongeBob, a summer-long-themed takeover of their properties. Every summer, guests can look forward to exciting activities and programming exclusive to the summer like episode watch parties, scavenger hunts throughout the resort, special character appearances, and so much more. Coupled with a great booking offer, Nickelodeon Hotels & Resorts Punta Cana and Riviera Maya give their customers a reason to visit with their families.
Alternatively, more exclusive resort programming can be offered at an incremental cost for additional revenue and upselling opportunities. For example, incorporating a limited-time entertainment show or high-profile artist where tickets are either sold separately or even bundled into an upgraded room category that is in need of a quick boost.
As for loyalty, hotels that have a timeshare or vacation club segment of the business can use personalized members-only resort programming to surprise and delight, boost their loyalty, and even sell more memberships or upgrades. Of course, resort programming to members can often look quite different than to the average guest in order to create a sense of exclusivity — think behind-the-scenes tours of local attractions, tequila tastings, and more.
For the Legendary Vacation Club, we took that exact approach to elevate their annual members’ appreciation event, “Legends of Paradise.” Our team concepted, designed, and produced an exclusive and immersive live show where guests were given the ability to choose the direction of the set list. Through the integration of technology, members were invited to curate the entertainment with a “U-Pick, We Play” concept that was voted on the week leading up to the event. The result was “U Experience” — a never-seen-before shore hosted by TV personality Joey Fatone, and performed by an all-star cast from American Idol, The Voice, and Dancing With The Stars. Exclusive member events and programming, like U-Experience, are not only a way to surprise and delight customers for their loyalty but an opportunity to upgrade by incentivizing them to buy into these memberships.
Increasing Brand Awareness Through Resort Programming
Resort programming is a great opportunity for hoteliers and marketers to get creative by partnering with highly-aligned brands for additional exposure, brand awareness, and even leads.
Integrating brands onsite into the guest experiences is a great way to add credibility behind the offering, and reach a new audience. Take this first-ever KIDZ Bop Experience that was launched at the all-inclusive Hard Rock Hotels Riviera Maya and Punta Cana as an example. With the resorts looking to expand their reach to families across the country while providing a one-of-a-kind experience to little ones, KIDZ Bop was the ideal brand partner to help them do so. The experience in itself served as an interactive and dynamic space for younger guests that both Hard Rock and KIDZ Bop cross-promoted to each of their audiences. Additional events like onsite concerts and foam pool parties created more unforgettable moments for guests.
Sweepstakes and giveaways are another effective way to capitalize on unique resort programming to garner brand awareness, even if the experience is not branded. Whether coming together with a lifestyle partner or maybe even a TV talk show or game show partner, resort programming can be highlighted through a compelling travel prizing package or an exclusive promotional offer where audiences are invited to experience it firsthand. Partnership opportunities can also span across social media channels, as they provide a unique hook and plenty of content-worthy moments for influencers and creators to showcase the guest experience to their followers.
Lastly, resort programming can help generate headlines and news stories for properties. Whether utilized as an interesting story vignette for features, editorials, and round-ups or hosting a press trip around the newly launched experience, they can be buzzworthy experiences that interest more than just your guests.
Owning the Customer Journey
Overall, resort programming can be a powerful tool for travel brands and marketers to engage with guests, be the focal point of conversations both online and offline, and increase revenue. By focusing on authenticity, immersion, and catering to their guests, resorts can differentiate themselves from competitors and build strong brand loyalty. For hotels looking to stand out from the competition, it’s all about owning the customer journey — creating loyalty through effective programming, making it as memorable and relevant as possible, and making sure they aren’t just a hotel where guests want to sleep. By delivering exceptional experiences outside of those four walls, hotels can establish themselves as the top choice for discerning travelers, no matter the destination.
p.s. Did you know that Alliance Connection has helped design, produce, and execute resort programming, including 150 award-winning custom entertainment, live events, and brand experiences for the travel and tourism industry? From strategy and design to planning, management, and execution we ensure each and every event leaves a lasting brand impression. If you’d like to learn more, read our Success Stories here or ask us how we can support you with your onsite programming.