Photo: Leo Patrizi, Getty Images.
Anthony Melchiorri has been around the block. Make that the globe. He travels 300,000 miles per year as the host of the Travel Channel series Hotel Impossible and as the founder of hotel consulting service Argeo Hospitality. For over 20 years, Melchiorri has used a no-bullshit approach to hospitality as he helps hoteliers resurrect their businesses.
We asked Melchiorri about 2017 travel trends, hot destinations, and how to book the best deals.
Crave: What are the travel trends for 2017? What’s different? What’s new?
Anthony Melchiorri: There are two major things that are happening in the industry: one is the Marriott-Starwood merger. Now they have 30 brands. They’re the biggest company out there. They’re really the 800-pound gorilla in the room.
I think you will see Airbnb grow into something along the lines of what Amazon did with books. Amazon started with books and all of a sudden you can buy a helicopter and get it by three o’clock today. Airbnb started with a guy who was trying to make some money selling a bed and now you’re going to be able to basically get your own concierge in town. For extra money, you can hire your own host to bring you around town. I think Airbnb is going to become a major player in several different markets, not just the hotel market.
Obviously technology has been big for the last 25 years and it continues to be big, with millennials making up a very big part of the travel market. They’re 23 percent more likely to travel than any other demographic. They are demanding more Wi-Fi access, more technology, but not technology for the sake of technology. iPads in rooms? Okay, that’s great, but people don’t like putting down their own phones, their own iPads. As several brands are doing it now, you’re able to check-in online and find your room online before you get to your hotel and you just literally walk up to the door and you put your phone five feet away from the door and boom, the door opens.
What destinations are particularly popular right now?
It seems like everybody and my mother is going to Iceland. I think you’re going to start seeing places like Iceland, Sweden, Finland, Norway, places that haven’t been in the news about terrorism. I think people get nervous when they think about some of the big cities. I won’t mention them, but we know what they are.
Alaska seems to be growing and growing every single year. Americans, more than any other country, like their country for travel. More Americans travel in their country than any other country in the world. I think you’re going to start seeing a lot of that. The state parks, year over year, are starting to see major growth.
How do you get a great deal when booking your travel?
I’ve been saying it for years: the lowest price is typically on the hotel website. People continuously tell me on a daily basis that I’m wrong, that you don’t find the best price on the hotel website. The answer is you do, and if you don’t, it’s because they made a mistake. Always call the hotel. Always make a friend at the front desk. Always make a friend of the manager. See if you can get a better rate. See if you can get an upgrade. Let’s not hide behind technology.
You mentioned what hotels are doing to attract millennials, but as an experienced traveler, what do you think makes a great hotel? What do you look for?
I look for the basics, what everybody looks for. When you’re buying a used car, you want it to be clean, you want it to be running, you want it to smell good. A hotel is a used product. Somebody used that room the night before. When you walk into a hotel, you want it to look brand new, you want it to feel brand new, you want it to smell good. As far as amenities, what we want is comfort. We don’t want diamonds and chandeliers and marble like we used to. We want comfort. People are going back to wanting to hang out, socialize, and meet friends on the road, but also just really be comfortable. Comfortable bed, hot water, no hassle. Millennials have no attention span for hassle. They will immediately book a trip to a different hotel the next time they’re in town if there’s hassle.
People are going back to basics. You’re seeing that in the three-star hotels whether it’s Holiday Inn Express, the Marriott Courtyards, or the Hampton Inns. They’re giving you a decent breakfast, free Wi-Fi in the lobby, ample room to sit, ample parking. And that’s it. They’re not giving you bells and whistles. They’re giving you basic, good foundation for travel so it doesn’t get in your way. I think for 2017, the tagline is “Travel should not get in your way.”
When you travel, do you stick to the same brand of hotel or do you like to experiment with new places?
When I travel for business, I am fiercely loyal—and not because of points—to a three-star express brand. They’ve been on point for six years and they have never once failed me. So I am fiercely loyal to them. When I’m traveling for business, I want to know my water’s going to be hot, my bed is going to be comfortable.
I am a pretty easy traveler, I thought, until my brand wasn’t available and I went to a different brand, and I got real pissed off real quick because things weren’t happening that were supposed to be happening. I thought I was a good traveler, but I realized I’m a good traveler because my brand has always been good.
When I travel for leisure, I’m willing to take a risk. I want to go to boutique hotels, I want to go to historic hotels, I want to go to a beautiful five-star hotel. I want to be pampered.
If a hotel turns out to be different in real life than it appeared online, do you approach the front desk or do you go elsewhere?
Eighty percent of people go elsewhere.
What you [should] do is go to the front desk. If the front desk can’t help you, go to the supervisor. If the supervisor can’t help you, go to the manager. If the manager can’t help you, you go online and tell everyone in the world about that hotel, about how you didn’t get satisfaction.
A lot of hotel managers I know shy away in thinking that the internet is a scary place and don’t want to be transparent and they’re afraid of guest comment cards. And I’m the opposite. I’m like, “Bring it on. Show the world my best qualities. Show the world my worst qualities.” As a hotelier, you can’t be afraid to make a mistake. You have to continually try to improve and use those comments that guests post online as a training school. Too many times in the hotel business, we fix mistakes. I don’t fix mistakes. I prevent them. That’s my business. My job is to prevent problems. My job is not to fix problems. Anybody can fix a problem. Preventing a problem takes creativity, takes a really good team, takes a lot of energy and passion.
What are your three top travel tips for millennials?
One: Smile. Two: Make sure you’re going to a hotel you checked out clearly online. Make sure it meets your Wi-Fi needs because that’s the number one pet peeve [of millennials]. And three: Experiment. Experiment with different brands. Find what’s right for you. Right now, so many brands are marketing to millennials that you might find one brand that suits you but there are ten others that, in the last 24 months, have upgraded and updated. Be loyal to a certain brand because you’re comfortable but I would also try to stretch outside my comfort zone and try different brands. Don’t be loyal just because of points. Experiment. Experience.