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Hotels are trying to compete with Airbnb by making travelers feel like locals

Hilton is partnering with Foursquare to help you find employee recommendations at the push of a button.

The Victoria Melbourne East Wellington Parade Hilton in Australia.
Jeff Greenberg/UIG via Getty Images

Today’s travelers are expecting a lot from their vacations, and even more from their vacation hosts. The luxurious anonymity of a hotel is being traded in for directions to the hole-in-the wall arepa spot or a rarely traveled hiking trail — information that only a local could possess.

Consumer expectations for recommendations have increased thanks to companies like Airbnb offering local residences and, more recently, local experiences through their platform. To keep up with the shifting desires of travelers, hotels are attempting to integrate more personalized and localized expertise into their services.

This week, Hilton announced it has partnered with Foursquare to create a new feature on its existing app Hilton Honors. Tapping Foursquare might seem out of left field, but this is what the app that made you mayor of your favorite bar does now; the company pivoted from consumer app to a location-aware platform that sells data to companies, such as Hilton.

The new feature, Explore, will allow guests to see a feed of recommendations from Hilton employees who live in the area. Recommendations will include food, nightlife, shopping, and activities. The suggestions will be curated based on the type of trip a traveler is on, be it a business trip, family vacation, or couple’s getaway. Essentially, whatever information you expected out of a concierge will now be on your phone.

Joshua Sloser, a Hilton senior vice president, said that this addition to the app will make it easy for guests to plan their trip, as they no longer have to use “multiple apps to gain an insider’s perspective.”

He added that suggestions are hyper-localized. “If a guest is staying in Manhattan, they’ll see different local recommendations, based on proximity, from a guest staying in Brooklyn,” he said. Guests will also be able to “favorite” or save places on the app, and the next time they return to the city, the marked places will resurface.

The Explore feature is meant to combine the best of the “local” and “expert” world: a database with millions of user-reviewed local spots and recommendations from the Hilton team. Expertise from Hilton team members is presumably going to provide a different level of knowledge from the average Airbnb host. At least that’s what Hilton is selling.

According to a report by Skift, more than 50 percent of luxury consumers in the US are more interested in connecting with local people and culture today than they were just three years ago. And 60 percent of luxury travelers said they want travel experiences that their friends may not have thought of. Advice from a local is one of the most appealing benefits of staying in a rental home as opposed to a hotel, according to One-quarter of travelers said it’s important to them that their host have a strong knowledge of the local places to visit and eat.

The pressure comes not only from consumer demand, but also competitors such as Airbnb Experiences, a feature where anyone can sign up for a tour, class, or activity with a local. According to Airbnb’s CEO Brian Chesky, the Experiences service is growing at a much faster rate than Airbnb Homes did initially, with 1.5 million bookings on an annualized basis and about 1,200 host applications coming in per week.

Hilton is not the only hotel responding to this trend. The Marriott invested in PlacePass, an activity booking service which provides “behind-the-scenes” tours and classes with local crafters and artists. In Barcelona, four-star hotel Casa Bonay is trying a new strategy; making locals come to them. The luxury hotel created a coffee shop, coworking space, lounge and restaurant where both Barcelona natives and guests are welcome. Their monthly calendar features events including film festivals, album listening parties, and rooftop movies.

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