Travel companies must focus on lifestyle to survive: Something to declare

Brands now wield creative content and seductive images to sell a lifestyle - driving customer engagement and sales far outside the traditional travel cycle

The days of travel brands surviving only as service providers is over. Clean sheets and safe flights are considered standard, especially among so-called “millennials”, customers who seek deeper connections to brands’ values and the lifestyles they represent. No sector is better placed for this than travel.

Brands now wield creative content and seductive images to sell a lifestyle, and therefore drive customer engagement, loyalty and sales far outside the traditional travel cycle. Positioning yourself as a purveyor of underground jam sessions or chic cabana getaways is now easy. Social media and creative events have proved their influence. This year, we’ll see even more companies commit to a specific lifestyle message. “The best brands command premium pricing. Commodity thinking results in commodity pricing. Other categories get this. Apple and Starbucks command premium prices because they are brands consumers resonate with,” Devin Liddell, principle brand strategist at Seattle-based design consultancy Teague, explains. “People will pay more for a brand that believes in something.”

Luxury brands were the first to understand the benefits of selling an image. Even no-frills travel brands have started to understand that standing for something can shift customers’ perceptions. Less mercurial, but still budget-minded brands, are also settling into a lifestyle.

Generator Hostels shares more photos of young travellers at late-night parties or exploring a city than it does of beds. And Starwood’s boutique Aloft brand engaged guests in their hometowns with 100 intimate concerts performed in honour of its 100th hotel.

Taking a position as a lifestyle brand often requires changing the core of a product, such as by adding wholesome food and local cultural integrations. For businesses with means, it can lead to the launch of a new category of product. So, global hotel corporations unable to shift branding on their familiar business or leisure brands, invested millions in starting brands from scratch. Hilton launched Canopy, Best Western unveiled Vb, and InterContinental Hotels Group opened Even in celebration of a wellness lifestyle. Marriott went so far as to drill down into specific lifestyles with Moxy, an urban boutique brand, and Renaissance, built around art and discovery. Most of these hotels have yet to open, but digital media campaigns, innovative events, and branded products, from shoes to bags, are no doubt in development for when they do.

As companies create links with customers they can communicate via mobile apps and social feeds to become a part of aspirational travel from the start. There are virtually no barriers left to developing a lifestyle brand. Creating a beautiful Instagram account costs nothing. No matter the company, no matter the message, travel brands can’t afford not to align with a lifestyle.

This article featured in Skift’s report, ‘Megatrends Defining Travel in 2015’ (skift.com).

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