We caught up with our INSPIRE ‘19 emcee Jaclyn Riley, a hospitality brand marketing and communications consultant who launched Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants internationally after overseeing all communications for the hotels and resorts in the Eastern U.S. and the Caribbean.

You launched Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants internationally following its acquisition by IHG. What perspective would you share with other brands that are being affected by the consolidation trends in the industry?

I’ve given this a lot of thought, taking what I learned from launching Kimpton outside the U.S. and comparing notes with experts ranging from owners and developers to private equity investors and innovation strategists. The strategic challenge with consolidation is that smaller luxury brands tend be highly curated and experiential – the “cool kids,” really – whereas most global hospitality companies are driven by standardization and system size. The key to success for the parent company is to empower leaders who understand both the growth model and the cool kids’ mentality. You have to be unflinching in defining and protecting what makes your brand memorable – and then you have to find the best tools, systems and strategies to deliver that brand DNA at scale.

We all know that guest experience has become central to brand identity. What’s your take on how this works in practice?

Luxury hoteliers tend to think we understand guest experience because we’ve always relied on guest journeys and service standards – however, we can no longer ignore that today’s luxury consumer is demanding a deeper, more personal connection. Guest experience represents a holistic approach to creating memorable moments by combining psychology, technology, marketing and design to tap into higher-level needs like a sense of belonging, local engagement and personal fulfillment. In a way, our goals have become simpler but deeper – we’re trying to create a transformative emotional connection rather than just educate guests about breakfast or quickly check them in and out. The tools and channels we use to break through -- from service training to social media to digital campaigns – are becoming more sophisticated and nuanced to ensure that these interactions feel highly personal.

What does this new guest experience approach mean for boutique hotels and luxury brands?

Revenue in luxury hospitality is largely driven by loyalty, recommendations and aspirations, which means that our core product is the creation of memorable, highly personal, transformative experiences. It doesn’t matter if you check all the boxes for a five-star stay if the guest doesn’t notice; the experience has to connect on a human level. And I’m not talking about scripts or SOPs here – I’m talking about real moments of hospitality, where guests feel seen, understood and cared for in a highly personal way, either through a kind word, an unexpected design element, or an artfully made cocktail. It’s important to remember that hospitality at its best is both comforting and eye-opening, but it’s always deeply personal.

How can brands create these emotional, intuitive experiences?

First, you have to honestly decode the heart and soul of the brand. A lot of companies think their brands are highly differentiated when they really aren’t – if an average guest can’t remember what makes you special, then your brand hasn’t connected. Once you know who you are, it is essential to build a guest journey around emotional checkpoints: elements like creating a sense of welcome, rather than delivering a dozen points on a robotic check-in script. Finally, you have to invest in building a culture and creating intuitive training programs to engineer experiences in a way that feels personal. I’m energized by both the difficulty and the importance of this challenge, and I’m excited to share more of the thinking and tools to build an emotionally intelligent guest journey at INSPIRE’19 this December