Cultivating emotional connections in hotels

VANCOUVER — Pollster Nik Nanos told hoteliers at WCLC in Vancouver that Canada is not immune to populism and these are the customers showing up at hoteliers' doors — and explained why an emotional connection is important.

Craig Wright (left) and Nik Nanos.

Craig Wright (left) and Nik Nanos.

VANCOUVER — Public opinion expert Nik Nanos told hoteliers at WCLC in Vancouver that Canada is not immune to populism and these are the customers showing up at hoteliers' doors — and explained why an emotional connection is important.

Nanos of Nanos Research and economist Craig Wright of RBC presented an economic and political update for the four western provinces at the Western Canadian Lodging Conference 2018, held at the JW Marriott Parq Vancouver Nov. 19 and 20, attracting a record 375 attendees.

“Craig is taking care of the behavioural bucket, and I am handling the emotional bucket,” Nanos said of the information they were to present. While Wright dealt mainly in facts and figures, Nanos talked about how people are feeling around the world, in Canada and in the four western provinces. His theme: Canada is not immune to the populism emerging around the world, and hoteliers should take note.

He gave examples of how emotional beliefs are trumping facts. Before the last Brexit vote in the U.K., the pro-Brexit forces said that exiting the European Union would repatriate £350 million back to Britain to be used  for the National Health Service. The anti-Brexit forces said that families would have a negative hit of £4,300. The British equivalent of Statistics Canada pointed out that both numbers were false. Nevertheless, 47 per cent believed the first statement and 17 per cent believed the second.

“In today's world, evidence is not enough — you have to connect emotionally,” Nanos said, as he gave other examples of populism — Trump and his Mexican wall in the U.S., Angela Merkel's demise in Germany and the rise of a right-wing Nazi party in Sweden.

“These are the discontented people showing up at our hotels. It's no longer about we; it's about us.”  Donald Trump's approval rating stands at 40 to 45 per cent — and this is without an opponent. Maxime Bernier is an anti-establishment disruptor. “Don't dismiss these populist type movements,” Nanos noted.

Trump's effect on U.S. travel

Nanos said a study showed three possible negative responses to Trump's presidency from Canadians: to boycott U.S. retailers, to boycott U.S. goods and to curtail travel to the U.S.  The top response was that 57 per cent were likely to curtail their travel to the U.S. “As long as Donald Trump is president, many Canadians, given all the choices for vacations, would find it is a psychological barrier — why not Winnipeg, Calgary, Vancouver or Victoria instead?

“Canadians are fixated on the border — almost everyone is within a few-hour drive of the U.S. border. These are psychological and emotional decisions. Outside Canada, maybe travellers will decide to go to Vancouver, rather than Seattle. With the new American brand, people are seeing Canada as a great place. They see the U.S. as less open, less free. It's a twisted, bizarro kind of world.”

Hotels and emotional connections

“For the consumer, concepts such as locally sourced are gaining the upper hand,” said Nanos. “If the hotel industry can connect [with this and] with thoughts of comfort, there's potentially an opportunity to connect. Many [hotels] are seen as establishment, and that's not very popular right now.”

Yet it is possible to be both a pioneer and a behemoth. Take Apple for example. Steve Jobs did not wear a suit — he was a maverick, irreverent, creative. “But Apple had systematic, purposeful, innovative delivery of new value, almost like clockwork. Once a year, they would tell the public, here are the innovative things we are doing. Innovation, creativity and agility can all be part of your operation.”

In his research for the Hotel Association of Canada on short term rentals, Nanos found that once homeowners realized that there could be an Airbnb beside them; that they wouldn't know who their neighbours were; that the value of their homes could be affected — they were against short-term rentals. “It turns selfishness on its heel — since it could affect the value of their home — their most important asset.”

Embracing selfishness

Nanos' four sons have all travelled with him, staying at the same hotels in each city — meaning that the boys all have a shared experience. “There are different types of loyalty.  I'd like to think that 20 years from now, my boys will go to the same hotel and the same coffee shop, saying 'I used to go here with my dad.' It's not a value proposition; it's on the ledger as an emotional connection.

“We should think about the psychological understanding of customers — embed ourselves in that.”

“I would be very happy if my grandkids go to the same hotel I did — I'm not [physically] with them, but I am there.”