Giving control and choice to consumers. That’s a 2019 travel megatrend, according to the global travel intelligence company Skift.

What does this mean for your hospitality brand? If you’re asking that question after the travel megatrend has been announced, your brand is probably not taking advantage of the growth it could have obtained if you had identified the trend long before it became mega.

That’s why research plays a critical role for any hospitality company. If you know what your customers are looking for (perhaps before they even do), you can prioritize initiatives and allocate resources so you provide exactly what they want at every touch point within the brand. There’s nothing like taking advantage of an emerging trend to fuel your company’s growth.

But how do you pinpoint what it might be? Henry Ford is known for saying, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”  He knew customers didn’t really know what they wanted, and they definitely didn’t know they wanted a Model-T.

There are two types of customer needs: explicit and implicit. Our explicit needs sit on the surface. We think we know what we want. But we actually shop rationally and buy emotionally. So when you ask a customer what they want, they answer rationally. But when people only answer rationally, the vision of solutions that can serve their implicit needs are limited.

That’s why you need carefully designed research that can uncover both the shopping behavior (or explicit needs) and the buying behavior (or implicit needs). Then you can find out where the emotional and rational overlap, hopefully uncovering the next trend in what customers want before Skift even does.

Airbnb did just that when they launched Airbnb Experiences in 2016. This four-year-old brand extension packages activities designed and led by locals that take travelers beyond just a host’s abode. Experiences has powered Airbnb’s growth for the last three years (in 2017 alone it grew 2500%) because it not only gives additional choices and control to their consumers, reflecting the general travel mega trend before it was a mega trend, but also because Airbnb pinpointed that what their customers really want are not just thousands of unique and local stay options, but also the option to live a variety of real, local experiences.

Marriott has recognized the importance of choice as well. While some have questioned why the heck Marriott has bothered to maintain 30 brands in their portfolio (and some have even made fun of their attempt to organize where each brand stands in the architecture), Marriott knows that 30 brands mean 30 choices for consumers. And when choice is about to be king, you don’t remove it.

The ability to pinpoint a hospitality’s brands most valuable audience and what they want is invaluable. Back in 2015, before consumer control and choice was a travel megatrend, our deep research that set the foundation for Hilton’s 13th brand, Tru by Hilton, identified choice as a key element for its audience.

Because choice was recognized as a critical element for its audience, we helped Tru operationalize around it, giving guests a four-zone lobby where they could choose to work, play, lounge, or eat, the option of digital check in, and a Build Your Own “Top It” breakfast bar with many choices of toppings for bagels, yogurts, and donuts. Today, with 425 hotels in the pipeline or in various stages of approvals, Tru by Hilton has achieved the fastest growing pipeline in the history of the hospitality industry, proving that research done with rigor and speed that identifies trends before anyone else can even name them is the key to a hospitality brand’s growth.

As Skift’s Andrew Scheivachman says, “The control that travelers now have during every phase of their trip will begin to revolutionize the sector starting in 2019, and smart travel companies are paying attention to ways they can empower their customers without eroding the value of their brand.” Even smarter companies began empowering their customers with choices several years ago.

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