Blurred Lines: How E-commerce and Banking Innovations are Transforming Travel and Hospitality

Blurred Lines: How E-commerce and Banking Innovations are Transforming Travel and Hospitality

The travel and hospitality landscape is rapidly evolving. This dynamic shift was the focus of a recent webinar titled "The Blurring of Travel, Hospitality and Retail," featuring industry leaders like Ashley Ching from Inhaven, Paul Stevens from Short Term Rentalz, and Natalie Conners from Capital One. They gathered on May 7th, 2024, to discuss how e-commerce platforms and financial institutions are reshaping the way we think about travel and accommodations. The session, sponsored by PriceLabs and Hospitable, delved into the integration of retail strategies into travel experiences, highlighting innovations that promise to enhance customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Natalie Conners leads Capital One’s luxury travel department’s strategy product team. Her team develops the premium product experiences and benefits Capital One offers their premium credit card holders, including their Venture and Venture X franchises. Conners’ team has launched two luxury hotel programs, the Premiere Collection and the Lifestyle Collection. Her team recently announced that it will also be adding vacation rental inventory to those programs in an attempt to expand the variety of offerings it provides its clients through Capital One Travel.

In addition to being the Founder and CEO of Inhaven, Ashley Ching has a rich background in retail. Ching spent many years at Tiffany and Co. and Home Depot, primarily focusing on capitalizing on the Experience Economy.

The Convergence of Travel, Hospitality, and Retail

The hour-long webinar explored the growth of E-commerce platforms, such as Inhaven, and the entrance of banks and credit card companies into the travel sector. The discussion highlighted their efforts to engage with customers through an increasing number of touchpoints throughout the travel experience. As part of this endeavor, Capital One and American Express are both offering curated travel experiences while JP Morgan plans to offer a full-service travel agency. Additionally, there is a significant push by fintechs and neobanks to expand their influence in the travel sector, exemplified by the Brazilian bank Nubank and its recent partnership with Hopper.

Capital One's Strategic Innovations in Luxury Travel

Capital One has a long-standing presence in the travel sector, but, as of late, has intensified its focus with their own partnership with Hopper. This renewed emphasis has helped Capital One to redefine its relationship with the travel industry through its incorporation of new rewards programs for its cardholders. Capital One’s travel portal allows its customers to book flights, hotel stays, and now short-term vacation rentals. Capital One customers can earn and redeem points through their participation in these programs, thereby earning in some cases what amounts to a free vacation experience.

Through Capital One’s Premier and Lifestyle Collections, customers can easily navigate the often overwhelming array of vacation rental offerings to find stays that meet their vacation expectations. In other words, Capital One provides a curated list of properties from which customers may confidently choose a reliable stay. The subtext of this value proposition closely mirrors that of Inhaven, as both organizations enhance clarity regarding quality of stay. They achieve this by implementing a framework of standardization and professionalization that ultimately leads to increased customer satisfaction. As an E-commerce platform, Inhaven is focused on empowering hosts and professional property managers to provide quality guest experiences by bringing hospitality-grade essentials into the vacation rental industry.

Ashley Ching: Blending Retail Expertise with E-commerce in Hospitality

Inhaven is a professional procurement solution platform. In other words, vacation rental owners and professional property managers can purchase hospitality products and supplies for their vacation rentals through Inhaven. Inhaven focuses on the quality of comfort experienced by guests. Ashley Ching referenced Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a useful heuristic for understanding the goal of Inhaven’s efforts to ensure that guests' fundamental needs are not just met, but exceeded during their stay. This is achieved by standardizing the essentials of the bed, bath and kitchen. This process of standardization also extends to the property management team’s cleaning protocols, which Inhaven’s approach also supports. Ching views Inhaven's role in the travel industry as bringing the consistency traditionally provided by hotels into the vacation rental space. Ching put it simply: “If you book a Westin, you know you’re going to get a great night’s sleep. That’s what Inhaven is doing for the vacation rental industry.” Inhaven also provides four distinct quality tiers that help hosts and guests to clearly define their offerings and expectations respectively. By productizing these tiers, Inhaven helps professional property managers to offer reliably satisfying stays.

When asked what she hopes property managers will achieve by partnering with Inhaven, Ashley Ching stated, “We really are in the Experience Economy today, and at the end of the day, guests are looking to book stays where they’re going to have a great experience and their going to be able to walk into the stay and know what they’re supposed to expect.” Ching further explained that Inhaven assists property managers in setting up and meeting guest expectations. She credits her experiences at Tiffany and Co. and Home Depot as instrumental in shaping her focus on the customer journey, which she views as essential for truly understanding their wants and needs.

Host Paul Stevens tentatively suggested that the vacation rental industry has been slow to embrace up-sale and retail opportunities inherent in retail ventures like Inhaven and posed the question: “Why now are we seeing more platforms like Inhaven popping up?” Ashley explained that the vacation rental industry has evolved into a $250 billion industry, accounting for 21% of global lodging expenditures, and has thus moved beyond its cottage industry roots. This growth necessitates professionalization, creating the demand that Inhaven addresses.

Challenges and Opportunities in Vacation Rental Loyalty Programs

Underscoring some of the hurdles of Capital One’s nascent vacation rental travel program, Natalie Conners emphasizes that while researching the reach of their program, they discovered that travelers do not yet exhibit the same level of loyalty to vacation rental brands as they do for already well-established hotel brands. This has everything to do with the fact that there has yet to be a successful national property management system on which brand loyalty might be built. To overcome this gap in loyalty, Capital One customers receive 5 times the rewards for booking a vacation rental. Capital One has further incentivized vacation rental bookings by offering unique perks tailored to these experiences, such as concierge services that include pre-arrival grocery stocking or the services of a private chef, especially within their Premier Collection.

Ashley Ching explained that with over 25,000 property managers in the U.S., it is unreasonable to expect that a guest can meaningfully distinguish the value propositions of so many offerings. As such, the standardization that Inhaven offers brings clarity to the field. In other words, although there may be a myriad of property managers across the U.S., if they all adhere to a clear system of standards, this system can give the vacation rental industry the same opportunity to foster loyalty among its guests. Ching goes on to point out that Inhaven is distinct from retailers like Walmart or Target as it offers hospitality-grade products and focuses more on the B2B aspect of the market rather than the B2C elements that are typically the domain of traditional retailers. Though Ching also believes that, “the future of retail is definitely being shaped by hospitality.”

Setting New Standards in the Hospitality Industry

The webinar outlined the current state and future direction of the travel and hospitality industry. The commentary of both guests underscored the critical role of innovation in meeting evolving consumer expectations. As the industry continues to grow and adapt, the insights shared by experts like Ashley Ching and Natalie Conners illustrate the importance of standardization, professionalization, and a deep understanding of customer needs. With the integration of retail concepts into travel experiences, companies like Inhaven and Capital One are setting new standards that could define the future of hospitality. Their efforts highlight a transformative period where travel meets retail, promising a more cohesive and satisfying customer journey.