Your Local Hotel Is Trying to Impress Guests With a New Amenity: You


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Edilson Cremonese, sitting, chatted recently with Alberto Garcia, left, before they went running with a group formed by the Westin Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort. The group, part of Westin’s national “running concierge” program, ends its runs with a happy hour at the hotel.

Credit
Scott McIntyre for The New York Times

Even though he lives nearby, Edilson Cremonese is a regular at the Westin Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort. But he never sleeps there.

Every Thursday evening after work, he joins a group formed by the hotel and a local running store for a 5K workout, followed by a post-run happy hour.

It’s part of a national “running concierge” program created by Westin, which is finding, as many hotel chains are, that a local clientele can help even out the ups and downs of the lodging business. And locals can even help out-of-towners feel more at home.

“Most of the people staying in the hotel are just looking for something to do that’s more local than something they’d read about,” said Mr. Cremonese, a physical therapist by day. “They all want to know what to do, places to go,” he said, and he is happy to give them tips.

Chris Heuisler, a Westin manager in Fort Lauderdale who leads the company’s national running-concierge program, said the point was “making the locals really aware of your property.”

Hotels are always eager to get people in the door, of course, whether to spend the night or their money at the bar. And catering wedding parties and banquets has long been central to the hospitality industry. But the newer trend is to focus on getting repeat business from a local following. So the innkeepers are sponsoring running clubs or organizing other attractions like author readings, art shows or musical performances.

“You’re trying to look for incremental revenue anywhere you can,” said Bobby Bowers, senior vice president for operations at the travel research firm STR.

The effort includes making lobbies and lounges more inviting hangouts, rather than simply places to stare at your smartphone while awaiting a car to the airport. The theory is that a vibrant group of local patrons can make the hotel more attractive to out-of-town lodgers.

“Certainly, what we’ve seen is younger travelers like active spaces, even if they’re sitting by themselves,” said David Loeb, senior hotel research analyst at Robert W. Baird & Company. “This is certainly one way to spur on that activity. It’s the coffee shop mentality.”

A buzzing social hive can even convince lodgers that they don’t need to leave the hotel to have a meal, drink or general good time.

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Runners meeting at the Westin Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort after a 5K run.

Credit
Scott McIntyre for The New York Times

“A lot of times when people come and stay, they look for things to do, and if there’s no activity at the hotel or it’s kind of sparse, then the likelihood is they’ll go somewhere else,” Mr. Bowers said. “If you have that activity there — and a lot of time that does come from the locals — that’s a way to capture that revenue.”

Or as Thom Kozik, vice president for global loyalty at Marriott International, put it, “Nothing is worse than a dead lobby.”

To breathe new life into its public spaces, Marriott has experimented with various ways to attract an in-town clientele. Its Renaissance Hotels brand a few years ago created an online concierge service, supplemented by recommendations and insights from local “navigators.”

More recently it started an Evenings at Renaissance program, with amenities like craft cocktails and musical entertainment. The Renaissance in Asheville, N.C., for instance, had a local acoustic-country duo play for guests at one of its weekly music nights.

And the company recently completed a five-week test in the Baltimore-Washington area in which local Marriott Rewards members could earn points by drinking or dining at 21 of its hotels in the region.

About 1,000 members participated, Mr. Kozik said, with nearly a third of them doing so more than once. In many cases, he said, the repeat customers spent more on subsequent visits — having a full meal, say, instead of just a round of cocktails.

“We’re going to do more of these things in the latter half of the year,” Mr. Kozik said, adding that Marriott hoped to augment the experiment by including members’ social media connections.

“I can make better recommendations based on what people like you or your social network has done,” he said. “It gets to more of that personalized view of the member experience.”

Jonathan Frolich, vice president for global brands at Hyatt Hotels’ Andaz line, said each of its hotels holds six to 10 “salon” events a year, which typically draw several dozen people — usually a mix of lodgers and local residents. In Napa, Calif., aspiring artists painted and drank wine alongside a local artist, and in Savannah, Ga., a local scholar gave a presentation on art and design.

Demographics are also driving the localist trend. Millennials are a growing consumer force, and when they spend their money on travel they often seek personalized experiences.

“There’s a growing demand among younger travelers,” said Mr. Heuisler of Westin, describing the sentiment as, “I want to go somewhere that really only the insiders know about.”

Mr. Loeb, the hotel analyst, agreed. “The best advertisement for a hotel is the local community,” he said. “If you can get locals to have a good experience, however they spread that word, it’s a positive.”

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