Where do you go when you want to meet someone new? A bar, a gym, a singles cruise? How about the sky? A recent survey from HSBC suggests that one in every fifty travellers meets the love of their life on an airplane, and that your odds of making a lasting friendship or business connection in flight are even better than that.
It’s no surprise that strangers should interact in confined spaces whilst in transit from one location to another. Travel has a romance about it, a certain intrigue that puts conversations in motion. Everyone has a story – where they’re coming from, where they’re going, and what they seek along the way. And, whilst a lot of holiday romances don’t translate back in real life (did you see Up in the Air?), there are no doubt some that do stand the test of time.
In similar fashion, hotels have long been seen as places where chance meetings can occur. Whilst a recent report suggested most people meet their significant others through friends (39%), there were at least 12% who met in bars and public spaces. And, although there doesn’t appear to be any data (at least none that I can find) about the percentage of madly-in-love couples who met because they were staying at the same hotel – we do know it happens. Hotels have all the intrigue and magic of travel, minus the cramped spaces and seat-kickers. Everyone has a story – but there is more time and space to tell it in a hotel.
A number of properties are bringing this dynamic out into the open, and taking active steps to facilitate connections between guests. The Millennial-focused Moxy brand by Marriott has partnered with Bumble, a dating app, to make certain Moxy hotels into so-called “BumbleSpots” where guests and locals are actively encouraged to meet.
The Standard, another newish, creative hotel brand, has launched a proprietary app called Lobby, which provides a ‘virtual lobby’ for guests to interact. There are no pictures or real names; and with this layer of anonymity, guests can have fun interacting and take interesting conversations into real life.
Generator, a hostel brand with properties in 10+ countries, has a slightly more platonic take on the hotel social app. GenFriends uses the swipe-left-or-right model to facilitate connections between like-minded travellers and groups of friends. Sparks may or may not fly, but new experiences are there for the taking.
You’ll notice that these three hotels have something in common: They’re young and hip – the kind of properties where front desk staff are encouraged to show their personalities a bit more (and their tattoos, no doubt). Leveraging digital platforms to bring guests together fits perfectly with the social nature of these brands. It’s all about breaking down traditional barriers and creating a vibrant social scene.
Early adopters of hotel matchmaking have described is a powerful differentiator to Airbnb. The share-economy giant revolutionised hospitality by bringing apartments, houses, teepees, igloos, and every type of dwelling you can imagine into the realm of possibility – but the perception that Airbnb is all about standalone properties is misguided. Recent years have seen the company drastically increase the number of boutique hotels it lists. At least 15,000 were listed in early 2018, and a partnership now exists between Airbnb and the hotel distribution platform SiteMinder.
Hotels themselves still have the advantage of controlling the physical product, including common areas and the potential for guests to meet and interact, but let’s be honest: Airbnb will find a way to crack the social code as soon as it feels that hotels are winning an important battle.
It doesn’t really matter though, because this one is not about competing with Airbnb. It’s a question of delivering a product that exceeds expectations. Is opening up channels of communication between guests a valuable way to achieve this? Many hoteliers are saying ‘yes.’
Of course, hotel matchmaking services are more or less relevant to different hotels. The introduction of a dating or social platform at a five-star property would probably run counter to the brand. Insofar as a hotel is socially-oriented, matchmaking apps could see increased relevance as hoteliers seek to create better experiences. The prospect of meeting other guests, even if it doesn’t result in a real-life meeting (to say nothing of a romance), might become a mainstream amenity. There is a big difference, however, between partnering with a massive dating app and creating your own unique experience. Bumble can be used anywhere; it doesn’t add to the unique character of a hotel. A proprietary virtual space, on the other hand, just might.
Oh – and if a relationship runs out of steam, there’s a hotel that can help with that too. Believe it or not, the Gideon Putnam Resort in New York offers a weekend divorce package, complete with separate rooms and professional mediation. You can check-in married and leave single. Who knows – your next great love story may be waiting in the virtual lobby.
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