Darren Darwin, general manager, Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort, Oman, talks about the importance of indigenous offerings.
When I joined Anantara, I was to understand from an early stage that one of our brand pillars was offering indigenous experiences and this intrigued me.
Yes, I knew the dictionary definition in that it means produced, growing, living, or occurring naturally in a particular region or environment.
But, how did this relate to a luxury hotel operator? Was it a simple case of a hotel in London offering quaint afternoon tea, or a hotel in Cairo offering luxury Egyptian cotton?
Before I engaged in this service ethos, I decided to do a little research of my own. From the world-famous carnival in Rio to local rose water given upon check-in in Morocco, destinations and hotels alike are trying to offer something local to entice guests to their respective locations and venues.
We’re shifting into a new era of luxury travel where just offering white sandy beaches or extravagant crystal glassware is not enough anymore, the discerning traveller wants to feel a connection to the places and resorts they visit.
They’re looking for undiscovered, one-off experiences in order to escape their busy lives. They want to feel a connection with the local culture, history and even community in the destination they’re visiting.
Local brands often have a psychological advantage when it comes to seeking authentic experiences, as guests will assume that they already have this practice as part of their DNA.
Similarly, many international brands will actually make that special effort to connect with their guests via indigenous offerings in all the corners of the world in which they operate.
However, some brands confuse guests. For example, when a Thai hostess says ‘Sawadee Ka’ on Sheikh Zayed Road, there seems to be a disconnect, and this is where international brands need to understand the real benefit of embracing the local culture, not driving the local culture of the brand’s origin.
I also think it depends on the type of hotel. Surely the business guest is not too concerned about how indigenous the hotel is, but is more interested in high speed wi-fi, hot coffee and a speedy and efficient check out?
Whereas the leisure guest is more likely to want to consume as much of the local culture and customs as possible. Furthermore, we need to consider the location and uniqueness of the resort, after all, how indigenous can a skyscraper be?
It’s really all about knowing your market demographics and customer base. Historically, Anantara has been regarded as a resort brand, where guests are predominately on vacation so I can understand why we want to engage in the local cultures in which we operate.
Popular indigenous strategies will be driven mainly through local cuisine, gaining delight through the palate, with cookery classes currently very popular, whilst many resorts tend to exhibit local art or handicrafts.
The guest now wants the whole nine yards when it comes to indigenous experiences, such as tours offered by local guides with them telling and sharing their own stories about how they grew up in the area.
For example, our mountain guru will invite you to his house and explain how, as a child he had to walk down the mountain with his donkey to fetch fruit and vegetables for his family.
I’ve seen him in action and our guests are always mesmerised, as if they were living his story themselves.
We’re increasingly seeing hotels and resorts use storytelling throughout the whole guest journey, immersing them in the culture and history of the resort and destination.
From the arrival experience, to the architecture and interior design and cuisine, an indigenous experience is at every touch point, allowing guests to connect with their surroundings.
The narrative is simple, if you are going to be indigenous then go all out, from arrival to departure, and involve as many touch points as possible such as food, design and most of all people.
Only engage in this strategy if you feel it will create a demand for your hotel and subsequently have commercial value.
Yes, the must-see attractions, climate, and luxury amenities will influence a choice of stay, nonetheless it is the indigenous offerings and experiences enabling real life stories that will ensure your hotel stands apart from its competitors.