Hypothesis: Hospitality as the New Age Patron of Local Culture

Direct Create
7 min readAug 7, 2023
Design by DirectCreate for a Luxury Resort in Paro, Bhutan

With Global hotel chains having approximately 18 million rooms or Airbnb boasting over 7 million listings worldwide, the sheer scale of the hospitality industry illustrates an untapped potential to bolster local cultures and artists. In a world where tourists increasingly seek authentic experiences, it’s time to transform the hospitality industry from mere rooms provider into a ‘Patron of Culture’. While it is an industry practice, especially for Luxury category hotels, to pay homage to Art, they rarely go deeper than once to commissions and installations or go Local. Airbnb, on the other hand, has built its entire experience vertical and core business on the idea of Local Cultures.

Over the past several decades, hotel brands have emphasised standardisation, burying the essence of local cultures under layers of corporate designs, contracts, and globally accepted norms. This trend has inadvertently diluted the unique character of destinations, reducing the ‘local’ to mere artwork in the lobby or a quirky tradition mentioned in a brochure or an awkward puppetry performance to an un-resonating audience.

However, the narrative can change. The future of the hospitality industry lies not merely in its capacity to offer generic experiences worldwide but in its potential to serve as a dynamic platform for cultural innovation and preservation. Hotels can evolve beyond being mere accommodations or places that offer cursory nods to local arts. They can become vibrant incubators and enablers of cultural innovation, where traditional art forms get reinvigorated through modern perspectives and techniques.

Imagine each hotel as a thriving hub for the evolution of local culture, a place where tradition meets innovation.

These establishments could host local talents, from artists, musicians, and artisans, to poets, providing a stage for them to showcase traditional art forms reinvented through contemporary sensibilities.

Visualise a JW Marriott in Florence, where guests don’t just witness but actively engage with master artisans from the Scuola del Cuoio, experiencing how traditional leather crafting techniques fuse with modern design principles. Or consider a JW Marriott in Rajasthan, India, becoming a pulsating centre for traditional folk music, puppetry, and block-printing workshops, each element infused with a unique, modern twist, keeping these art forms relevant and engaging to the new generation.

Incorporating and Innovating Traditional Crafts for a Resort Concept by DirectCreate. Paro Bhutan

Incorporating and Innovating Traditional Crafts for a Resort Concept by DirectCreate. Paro Bhutan

These engagements should be deeply rooted in authenticity and respect for local culture, serving as a living, breathing bridge between tradition and innovation. This approach could include artist residencies, workshops that blend traditional crafts with contemporary techniques, and local music festivals that present a fusion of heritage and modernity.

Under this model, hotels would not only provide an immersive and unique cultural experience for guests, but they would also play a significant role in preserving and evolving local art forms and local cultural tourism potential. Artists would be given a platform to showcase their skills, be reinterpreted for the 21st century, and gain a sustainable source of income.

This new narrative would create a positive rivalry among global hotels, each striving to curate the most authentic and innovative cultural experiences. It’s a transformative step towards an industry standard where commitment to cultural innovation and sustainability is as valued as comfort and convenience.

Concept typology for creating Cultural experiences within Hospitalty Framework. Paro Bhutan

Concept typology for creating Cultural experiences within Hospitalty Framework. Paro Bhutan

In this vision, hotels emerge as the new-age patrons of the arts, providing spaces where traditional practices are not just preserved but also reinvented, keeping them alive and relevant. This innovative approach would not only enhance the guest experience but also help preserve and reinvigorate local traditions, promoting cultural sustainability. It’s not just about transforming the guest experience; it’s about revolutionising the role of hospitality in cultural patronage and preservation.

Yet, there are key limitations that need addressing:

Cultural Comprehension — A lack of deep understanding of local cultures often results in superficial adoption or misrepresentation.

Brand Rigidity — Uniform brand guidelines often restrict creativity and local adaptations.

Short-term Profitability Focus — Hotels are typically driven by short-term financial goals, which can hinder long-term cultural investments.

Limited Local Networks — Hotels may lack strong networks within the local art and culture scene.

Space Constraints — Limited space in urban hotels might limit the potential for hosting cultural events.

Marketing Challenges — Communicating the uniqueness of each location without diluting the global brand image can be challenging.

Corporate Hesitancy — Corporate leadership may resist innovation, viewing it as risky.

Mitigation strategies could include

Cultural Partnerships — Collaborating with local cultural bodies, anthropologists, or historians can enhance understanding and respect for local cultures.

Flexible Brand Guidelines — Implementing flexibility in brand guidelines can create room for local cultural expressions.

Long-term Value Creation — Recognising that integrating culture can enhance long-term profitability by creating distinctive, compelling experiences.

Local Collaborations — Developing partnerships with local artists and cultural institutions.

Utilising Space Creatively — Small spaces can host art displays, local craft sales, and poetry readings.

Navigating Regulations — Working closely with authorities can help navigate potential regulatory hurdles.

Narrative Marketing — Incorporating culture into the brand’s narrative can help market the unique offerings.

Promoting Innovation — Demonstrating the potential benefits of cultural integration can help persuade corporate leadership.

Last decade, we’ve seen a growing shift towards sustainable and socially responsible business practices across industries globally. With its multinational reach and immense financial capability, the hospitality industry is ideally placed to become a key player in this movement, particularly in cultural patronage if we choose to see beyond the energy paradigm of sustainability and consider ‘sustainable livelihoods as a key contributor to sustainability.

The economic magnitude of the global hotel industry is staggering. With an estimated value of around $1.52 trillion in 2019 [pre-Covid], it far outpaces organisations like UNESCO in terms of financial capacity. To put it in perspective, UNESCO’s budget for the biennium 2021–2022 was approximately $1.5 billion USD, and not all of this is allocated towards preserving cultural heritage.

If the hospitality industry redirected even just 1% of its annual revenue towards cultural innovation and integration, it would mean an injection of around $15+ billion into the sector. This figure is nearly ten times UNESCO’s total annual budget.

However, it’s not just about the potential financial contribution. Hotels and hospitality brands are directly tied to specific geographical locations and communities. It is a symbiotic relationship. This connection provides a unique opportunity for these entities to become deeply involved in preserving, promoting, and reviving the cultures in which they operate.

Imagine each hotel not just as a place to sleep but as a vibrant showcase of the local arts, crafts, music, and traditions. Such an approach would not only enrich the guest experience but provide much-needed support to local artists and cultural institutions, offering authentic, locally-rooted experiences that today’s travellers increasingly seek.

This is a win-win situation. On the one hand, local cultures receive consistent, substantial patronage, which can help preserve and revitalise traditional arts and practices. On the other hand, hospitality brands can enhance their reputation, differentiate their offerings, and create deeper connections with their guests, thereby driving customer loyalty and potentially even revenue.

In conclusion, the potential for the hospitality industry to become a leading patron of culture is immense. With its financial might and local connections, the industry is uniquely positioned to foster a more sustainable, culturally vibrant future. We recognise that the transition is not a straightforward task; some interconnected constraints and complexities would need careful navigation.

However, the core idea is simple and compelling. With strategic planning and collaboration, this concept could be crafted into a fully scalable solution, aligning perfectly with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the global aspirations of the new generation. This is a generation that doesn’t merely want sustainability to be an afterthought or a cherry on the pudding. They seek business models where sustainability is intrinsically woven into the fabric, where businesses are stakeholders in societal and cultural progress.

The vision we propose is not a departure from profitability; instead, it’s a path that intertwines profitability with purpose and guest satisfaction with cultural sustainability. The hospitality industry, by embracing this role of cultural patronage, has the opportunity to redefine its contribution to society and set a benchmark for other sectors to follow. This isn’t merely an opportunity; in a world striving for sustainability, it’s an imperative we cannot ignore.

Interesting Reads:

Cultural Tourism Market by Type, Service, and Geography — Forecast ad Analysis 2023–2027

10 Hotels Where You Can Learn a New Skill and Expand Your Cultural Horizons

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