Column: What the Sharing Economy Really Means

Vice President—Content/Editorial Director, Ruthanne Terrero.
Vice President—Content/Editorial Director, Ruthanne Terrero

I’m loving the new trend of hotel lobbies becoming a place where fellow travelers can mingle and network. The other day, a friend of mine stayed at The Lexington, a newly renovated hotel here in Manhattan on East 48th Street that’s part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection. She loved it. At an evening wine tasting, she networked with some interesting people from her industry who happened to be staying at the hotel as well. I recently checked out the scene for myself. The Lexington is a former Radisson, a traditional tourist hotel meant to accommodate the many people who passed through it daily. In its new life, it has long tables where people can sit with their laptops, and grabbing a drink is a snap since the bar is right there on the sidelines. The front desk looks like a structure you’d sidle up to to start a conversation, and there’s a library sitting area where it would be easy to spend hours relaxing and reading.

RELATED: Making the Hotel Lobby a Place to See and Be Seen

Andaz Hotels by Hyatt has also made a big play in this direction after it conducted consumer research years ago and found that the “alone together” trend is here to stay. “Alone together” means that we want to stare down at our electronic devices, but find it more comforting to do so in public areas rather than in the loneliness of our hotel room. The upside is you can casually order a coffee or glass of wine and have a chance conversation with someone sitting near you. Or not. As Matthew Upchurch, chairman and CEO of Virtuoso says, “We’re wired for human connection. We crave it.”

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His comment was made in relation to the fact that human travel consultants will always have the advantage over OTAs because we want to talk about our trip during the planning process and we want to collaborate. Virtuoso has allowed consumers onto Virtuoso.com so they can see for themselves what their options are and provide their passionate input to the selection of where they’ll go with their travel advisor.

There are ways to extend the benefits of your status as a human being even further. At Luxury Travel Advisor’s Ultra Luxury Summit in March, those in attendance spoke of their successes with client events. Bringing their customers together in unique venues (Bob Romano of Fugazi Travel hosted a special event at the San Francisco Zoo) has been wildly successful. And it’s not just the place that adds to the conversation—clients want to talk to each other. “Put travelers in the same room together under your umbrella, and they’ll sell each other,” said Joshua Bush of Avenue Two Travel (formerly Park Avenue Travel). Do the math. If you have three couples who have each been on five different types of vacations and they brag to each other about how great their trips were, you’ve just had a very lucky, lazy day indeed. As Upchurch says, we’re wired to talk to each other.

Our new sharing economy doesn’t have to mean only that we’re sharing our homes by renting them out to strangers on Airbnb or that we’re posting all of our photos of food on Instagram. Give your clients the chance to share with each other. Be sure as well you’re allowing them to exchange their thoughts with you on how they want to feel when they’re on vacation and what their ultimate dream trip would be. We have so many tools to help us communicate these days, but face-to-face is still the best method.

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