Great expectations

What do Millennials want from the hospitality industry?

  • Born between 1982 and 2004, Millennials represent more than 25 percent of the nation’s population.
  • Brands need to woo this new generation of travelers—without alienating anyone else. Food choices, technology
  • options, communal spaces: we ask two Millennial travelers what they really want.

Millennials.

Few words inspire such a visceral reaction as this one. We all know the negative stereotypes: Millennials are self-centered. Millennials are lazy. Millennials use emojis instead of words and invented the fishface selfie. Millennials hurt the breakfast cereal industry because they can’t be bothered to wash a bowl and spoon.

Well. Haters gonna hate.

For the hospitality industry, however, Millennials cannot be so easily dismissed. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Millennials number 83 million and represent more than one-quarter of the nation’s population. They are also more diverse than any preceding generation. And though they have not all come of age just yet, they are inspiring something altogether different: a renaissance of sorts, and an opportunity for reimagining.

After all, Forbes estimates their annual buying power as $200 billion.

And they travel. So, the 200-billion-dollar question is: What do Millennials want?

 

Rethinking accommodations with an eye on the next generation

Brands like Hilton, Marriott, and Best Western have already started rolling out new concepts geared specifically toward what is referred to as the “Millennial mindset.” This broadly means such things as smaller rooms with greater focus on communal spaces for eating, working, and playing. Innovative food options. Oh, and technology. These new brands have no shortage of free wifi, charging and USB ports, and smart TVs. Some other similarities amongst all of these properties include grab-and-go food options and attention to gracious bathroom amenities.

Global brand leader Benoit Racle says that Marriott introduced AC Hotels with the understanding that next generation travelers are looking for “personalized experiences, which at the same time feature the latest technology and plenty of social spaces that blend work and play.” Because so many of this younger generation have “schedules overflowing with work and social responsibilities,” the brand strives to offer these travelers “a welcome reprieve from the day-to-day hustle—those moments of pause that remind them why they’re pushing themselves, both in and out of the office.”

Hotelier Antonio Catalan (AC) founded the brand in Spain in 1998, and in 2011 Marriott International and AC Hotels formed a joint global venture. Racle expects that next generation travelers, who “prize nonconformity, open-mindedness and originality above all,” will account for more than 60 percent of Marriott International's business within the next four years. However, the company’s stated commitment to “creativity, innovation, and technology” applies to guests of all ages. And for younger travelers who may be unfamiliar with the ins and outs of hotels, Racle recommends the app for an easier and more personalized experience, with such options as mobile check in/check out, keyless entry and customized travel content.

Tru by Hilton is a new midscale franchise-only brand offering public spaces for lounging, eating, playing, working, and working out. While being aligned with the Millennial mindset, when conceptualizing the brand, Hilton “sought to appeal to a variety of age ranges, as travelers’ tastes change as they mature.” Therefore, given the potential for large scale, they wanted to ensure mass appeal. The Tru by Hilton team expects their design to attract a broad spectrum of travelers who share a common “zest for life” mindset, whether they are Millennials, Gen Xers, or Boomers. Intended to be “more than just a place to sleep” Hilton intends its Tru brand to be “a true travel experience” in and of itself.

And Best Western has their own entry, Vīb, which is also dedicated to the traveler seeking “social engagement and technology integration.” With features such as grab-and-go retail outlets, combined multi-functional lobby space, lobby bars, virtual concierge, and gaming pods, the boutique design is “aimed to connect with today’s traveler.”  According to Ron Pohl, senior vice president and COO, Best Western Hotels & Resorts understands that, when traveling,

“Millennial travelers want a local experience.” This is what draws so many young people to hostels or online marketplace rentals. Therefore, it is no accident that Vīb “encompasses local experiences within the hotel… and may attract travelers considering Airbnb or other options.”

Since many next generation travelers are seeking social engagement and technology integration, while spending minimal time in the guest room, open lobby spaces and complimentary Wi-Fi are a major focus. When conceiving of the Vīb brand, multi-functional lobby space, a lobby or rooftop bar, café area, and stylish design were key aspects. Pohl says it was also important to have a “minimal footprint, be cost-effective to build and efficient to operate, and create a highly profitable business model.” 

 

Millennials Speak

Bailey Ethridge, 22, is a student in Asheville, NC, studying mathematics, anthropology, and German. During the school year she travels domestically about once every two months, mostly for events such as sports, concerts, and conferences. She is also an avid backpacker who has visited 21 countries since graduating from high school, and even here in the U.S. she tends to choose hostels or Airbnb for about 90 percent of her stays.

Ethridge says she likes the “cozy atmosphere and lower price” of those options. She also believes that, with Airbnb, “it’s just easier to find because you only have to go to one website.” However, she has stayed in hotels when attending conferences where the accommodations are paid for and says, “I might prefer a hotel over other lodging for a business trip because amenities are more convenient and there's a more formal atmosphere.”

When asked what hotels can offer that might make them a more natural choice for her, Ethridge said, “A pool, late night food options, and free breakfast.” When we explained the concept of a “Millennial mindset” with regard to traveling and asked if she agreed with the theory, she responded:

I think communal spaces are attractive to Millennials who are traveling for pleasure in an area where they don't know many people, or who are traveling alone. Hostels will often also provide organized excursions during the day and pub crawls at night, which allow people to socialize.

Millennials also like diverse food options (healthy options, vegetarian and vegan options, etc.) as well as trendy food—like anything with sriracha or avocados—and, again, late night options!

 A MILLENNIAL WISHLIST

  • Late-night food options
  • Healthy food options
  • Trendy food options
  • Later checkout times
  • Swimming pool
  • Free breakfast
  • Larger rooms to accommodate groups of friends ding planned events

Today’s student is tomorrow’s salaried citizen. What advice would she offer to hoteliers wanting her and her peers to choose their establishments first? “Everything stated above, as well as prime location, larger room options (to sleep five or more people for group trips), and later checkout times.”

Erica Virvo, 29, is from Stamford, Connecticut. The director of global operations at www.nomadicmatt.com, a travel tips website, she spends at least three months traveling each year, working, visiting friends, and attending conferences. She also lived abroad, for almost five years, in a number of countries, including Qatar, Thailand, South Korea, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Zambia, and Costa Rica. When traveling, Virvo says, “I prefer to stay with friends, if not with friends then in hostels, if not in hostels then in Airbnbs.”

She does stay in hotels once or twice a year. They are not her first choice because, she says, I love to talk to people when I travel. I like meeting travelers and locals.” She believes that hotels are “great for couples and families who want to travel and be with each other.” Virvo says she finds it more difficult to talk to people or make friends with guests or workers in hotels. By comparison, she finds making friends with travelers and hospitality workers “super easy” at hostels.

Virvo is a seasoned budget traveler. Saving money is important, she says, so she can stay in a place longer. Hotels tend to be much more expensive, she says, because of the conveniences they offer, not all of which she makes use of. There are times, however, when she specifically prefers to stay in hotel accommodations:

If I'm attending a conference in a hotel, I like to stay there. It's also nice when traveling with my boyfriend or family. Or if I'm going to a place like Jordan, where I wouldn't want to stay in a hostel or Airbnb.

When asked what hotels can offer that might make them a more natural choice for her, Virvo says that lower prices would be important, but she would also like to see more events for guests, reiterating her initial declaration that she “loves meeting people.”

As far as the move towards branding for a Millennial mindset, Virvo declares that such things as more creative (and free) breakfast options, greater communal spaces for work and play, lower rates, and free wifi “all sound like awesome offerings!”

After all, at some point, she says, she will “value comfort over friend-making.” But for now she’s “happy with fancy hostels.”

Conclusion

It certainly seems like these brands are on the right track in their reimagined food offerings, attention to technology, and, in particular, greater spaces for guests to interact with each other—or even just sip a coffee and work on a laptop without feeling locked away from the world. After all, social isolation can be a real issue even in our modern age of electronic integration. And what makes travel most memorable, aside from those coveted cloudlike duvets, are the personal interactions and connections made along the way.

By Ashley Atkins