Mature guests expecting more from their travel dollar
As a nation, we are aging, becoming increasingly affluent and technologically aware. How then, are these factors fundamentally changing expectations from travellers demanding experiences that are more enriching, meaningful and memorable?
Dr Julia Charity, a New Zealand scientist-turned-entrepreneur, who has taken a very futurist look at what she thinks are inevitable changes and speaks with clarity about the contributions she hopes to make to the way we travel around New Zealand.
The needs of travelling New Zealanders are changing, driven largely off changing demographics and increasing sophistication in expectations. The only traveller market that is growing is those aged between 50 – 59. “It’s pretty typical for Ma and Pa Jones to want quality accommodation, but have the expectation of something really special – but identifying what that ‘something’ is, isn’t well defined.” says Julia.
To meet the needs of the burgeoning mature and discerning guest market, Julia’s answer was to trial a simple on-line concept. Launched in 2011, the Look After Me Homestay Network, acts like a ‘Virtual Hotel, and is first for New Zealand. Guest rooms are typically spare rooms, or guest wings in the family homes of mature couples or women living alone. The website works like a Bed and Breakfast version of TradeMe, where guests can browse for suitable accommodation. With a focus on the personal touch, Look After Me also has their own merchandise, including a ‘pillow programme’, similar to hotels.
Solidifying a new concept in the market place is gruelling work, but taking that concept into a conservative market (Baby Boomers) at the bottom of a recession heralds its own set of challenges. Like most great ideas, ‘Look After Me’ has humble beginnings - kick-started from a dream Julia describes as “bigger than Africa” and her personal savings.
Despite the challenges, typical of any new business venture, Look After Me is now the fastest growing Homestay Network nationwide, with Homestays in every major city centre and guest bookings up 550% over last year.
Tto Julia, the payback has been in making a difference to her hosts, ordinary New Zealanders, earning an extra income and meeting wonderful people, some of whom have remained friends. “It’s the hosts that make this business. I reckon they’re the jewels in New Zealand’s gently aging crown. It’s their lovely homes and genuine hospitality that makes Look After Me Homestays special.”
That the concept was tailored for mature guests, appealed to Win Macmillan, travel broker and recent guest of Ngahuia Lodge, near Tauranga. Win, a frequent traveller, has stayed in B&Bs in England, but admitted to being reluctant to try a Homestay in New Zealand - mainly because of husband’s deep-seated preference for 4-5 star hotels. “We’re pretty typical kiwis, we like having our privacy when we travel. But once we were there, it became more about having a good time, than protecting our patch.”
Also along for the retreat at Ngahuia Lodge were long-time friends Carol and Ash Mansil. “Ash was blown away,” says Carol. “We arrived and the smell of the meal cooking made you feel at home straight away. You just don’t get that at a hotel. Everyone should try this at least once a year, as a special treat. It’s probably better with two couples, but I reckon we’d have had a great time anyway. It’s the only way to go, I’ve been raving about it ever since.”
Ngahuia Lodge host, Deby Sowter’s philosophy is insightful. “People are looking for the intimacy, yet somehow we’ve all got a bit clever by shutting ourselves away in clinical hotels. But as soon as you come into someone’s home, there’s an intimacy there. I know there’s a risk with that - but if you can create a connection with your guests, then all of sudden that intimacy goes deeper.”
In going forward, Julia’s vision is simple – she wants New Zealand to be the homestay capital of the world. “New Zealand has changed right under our feet – we’ve grieved together, we’ve celebrated together (the Rugby World Cup) and I think we’re more alike than we think. There’s a realisation, as we’re getting older, that it’s really the people that matter. You only need to look at what is happening in the rest of the world to see that homestays are revolutionising the way guests travel, with websites like AirBnB in the US. I want ‘Look After Me’ to lead the charge in New Zealand and for older kiwis to get more out of their travel dollar.”
To New Zealand she says “of course it’s a matter of trust, but we’ve grown up with TradeMe and the transparency it offers. It’s time to open your heart, open your homes and offer memorable experiences to those seeking it. Now it’s started, it’ll only get bigger.”