Hotels have long been an integral part of travel, whether they're booked for business trips, family vacations or anything in between. In fact, the hotel industry generated $163 billion in revenue in 2013, up nearly 6 percent from 2012, according to the American Hotel & Lodging Association's 2014 Lodging Industry Profile. But with the rise of home-sharing and vacation rental businesses like Airbnb and HomeAway, the industry is being forced to improve upon the status quo and find new ways to appeal to travelers. So how are hotels managing to do that? Exceptional services and unique amenities. Here's a look at some of the hottest trends on the rise.
Being able to snag a single room or multiple accommodations from your smartphone has made hotel bookings that much easier. In the tech-loving culture of 2015, around 75 percent of U.S. travelers own a smartphone -- and those numbers are expected to increase, according to a 2014 study by travel market research company Phocuswright. Today, 80 percent of all mobile travel bookings are for hotel stays, said Scott Garner, chief commercial officer for travel data analysis company ADARA, adding he doesn't see that slowing down in the future.
"There's also a rapid rise in last-minute bookings," Garner said. "You could be at the airport heading to your destination and have not even booked a hotel yet, and you can do that on the fly pretty easily." Mobile booking and apps like HotelTonight enable travelers to grab a last-minute room and, in many cases, a great deal. A 2014 American Hotel & Lodging Association survey that polled more than 9,600 properties found that 33 percent of participating hotels offer mobile apps (up from 23 percent in 2012), so expect to see even more diving into the mobile market this year.
Tech-savvy amenities and features
Hotels are also appealing to tech-obsessed travelers by offering the latest and greatest amenities to make a stay more convenient for guests. A few examples include in-room touchscreen controls that operate everything from the television and lighting to the curtains and thermostat (seen in the St. Regis San Francisco and ARIA Resort & Casino) and complimentary iPads available for use in hotels like the Weekapaug Inn, XV Beacon and SLS South Beach, among others. Some properties (including some Hyatt and Starwood hotels) have even taken a cue from airports, offering check-in kiosks to streamline and simplify the process for travelers, while Starwood has gone even further by introducing SPG Keyless. This smartphone app allows Starwood Preferred Guest members to use their phone to unlock their room door. Just 10 of the brand's nearly 1,200 properties currently participate, though all W Hotels, Aloft Hotels and Element Hotels are expected to offer the program in 2015.
And here's something that will bring travelers a sense of relief: Those pesky fees for in-room Wi-Fi access are becoming a thing of the past. Hyatt announced that starting in February, all its properties will offer free in-room Wi-Fi access, joining the likes of Loews Hotels, Joie De Vivre and La Quinta properties, among others. Plus, several hotel brands, including Marriott, Omni, Kimpton and InterContinental, grant complimentary Wi-Fi access to guests who join their free loyalty programs. A recent American Hotel & Lodging Association survey confirmed the trend in its findings, noting that fewer hotels charge for Internet access, with only 11 percent of respondents saying they impose a fee (down from 23 percent in 2012).
Focus on health and wellness
Working out and eating well may not be on every globetrotter's agenda, but many business travelers and health nuts appreciate staying fit while on the go and being able to find a well-balanced meal -- and hotels are taking note. Some brands boast fitness-focused programs to help guests maintain their exercise regimen during their stays. A prime example is Westin, which touts the RunWESTIN program where running concierges lead guests on 3- to 5-mile routes through town (Westin even partnered with New Balance to lend shoes and workout gear to lodgers for $5), in addition to its WestinWORKOUT gyms stocked with weight-training equipment and cardio machines. Meanwhile, Kimpton hotels provide yoga mats in every room, along with workout routines accessible on the television, as well as complimentary bikes. Many hotels are using scheduled renovations to improve their fitness centers with additional machines and newer equipment. And still, some properties house sprawling gyms with not-just-your-average cardio and weight-lifting gear. The Houstonian Hotel, Club & Spa's private health club has more than 300 machines and offers daily exercise classes, while The Venetian Las Vegas is home to a 40-foot rock climbing wall and a cycling studio in addition to a Canyon Ranch SpaClub outpost.
When it comes to dining, properties are always aiming to impress guests with tasty dishes, but a number of hotels are introducing fresh cuisine options and health-specific venues like juice bars to appease travelers. Dining was another area examined by the AH&LA's 2014 survey, and a record 74 percent of respondents said they offer healthy menu choices for guests. For example, Fairmont's Lifestyle Cuisine program provides a wealth of healthy culinary options (and can even cater to specialized diets) to choose from in the chain's restaurants, room service and even for business meeting meals. Trump Hotels' Wellness Program, Westin's SuperFoodsRx program and IHG's wellness-focused EVEN Hotels brand provide further evidence of hotels embracing a renewed interest in health and wellness on the road.
Providing a pleasant stay for pets, too
Sure, plenty of hotels allow pets. But some properties have really upped the ante, welcoming pets as what they are -- an extension of the family -- and treating them to top-notch customer service. Loews Hotels' Loews Loves Pets, Kimpton Hotels' Very Important Pets and W Hotels' Pets Are Welcome (P.A.W.) programs are a few of the brand-backed offerings for travelers and their furry companions. These particular programs provide animals with everything from welcome treats, bowls, and beds, to specialized room service menus and pet massages. Pet stays at Kimpton hotels are free; Loews and W hotels charge an extra fee -- but the hotels' added amenities sweeten the deal.
Smaller hotels are even getting in on the action: New York City's Soho Grand welcomes pets free of charge, and with perks like toys, bedding and leashes, plus a park that features a dog run and small garden with fire hydrant water stations. Across the country, the Peninsula Beverly Hills pampers pets with special menus, walks, personalized towels and doggie beds. As for the future of animals joining their owners on vacation? The AH&LA's 2012 survey found that more hotels reported allowing pets than ever before (61 percent of respondents up from 52 percent in 2010), so it's likely Americans will continue traveling with their pets in 2015.
In Pictures: 50 Best Hotels in the USA 2015