Go to a hospitality conference or forum these days and the topic of millennials travel trends is likely to crop up. At the heart of the issue is a fundamental question for hoteliers:
Should hospitality businesses be thinking of changing their offering substantially to cater for this digitally-savvy generation? If so, what are they looking for? Are luxury hotels too stuffy and will they need to have a major re-think?
Senior executives from Four Seasons, Dorchester Collection, Belmond and Edition discuss millennials travel trends at length.
Who is the millennial traveler?
As Associate Director at Deloitte's Travel, Hospitality and Leisure practice David Samson sets the scene:
It’s a hugely attractive market - two billion millennials globally, 60% of them living in Asia, with more than 400 million in India alone. They now have the highest spending power, and are now the largest group of corporate travelers in absolute terms
But he cautioned: they are notoriously disloyal and like to try new things, booking last-minute via online travel agents or OTAs. They prioritize experiences over the hotel component of a trip and deeply care about meaningfulness and shared values of the companies they engage with.
For Rami Sayess, Regional Vice President and General Manager with Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, what sets this generation apart is really about the mindset they represent and how they influence other generations. To set yourself apart from millennial wannabes, businesses should truly embrace the influential power of the generation, and not treat millennials as if they are coming from a different planet.
What can hospitality businesses do to successfully tap into the Millennial market?
“From a behavioral perspective I think I’m a millennial myself,” said Jurgen Ammerstorfer, General Manager of Edition London, as he feels he’s ‘super-curious.’ Edition is one of the Marriott’s stable of 30 brands but its designer differentiation stems from Ian Schrager, the ‘godfather’ of nightclubs, discos and boutique hotels.
As Ammerstorfer puts it:
Hotels can’t be, and shouldn’t be, something for everybody. You should be everything for a small group and really cater to the needs of this particular group. Traditional, luxury hotels are ‘more predictable’ in their offerings, and Edition’s focus is to tap into the experiential part of their stay. When the guests walk in (to the hotel), it’s like “wow, this is awesome, fantastic. The music, the smell, the food. They interact with people and see people around them that they can relate to.
François Delahaye, Chief Operating Officer of Dorchester Collection, which boasts hotels such as the Plaza Athénée and Le Meurice in Paris, says the group is focusing on creating trendy bars and introducing the latest technology.
We have iconic hotels in iconic cities but we want to (attract) all the generations.
The Dochester Collection is aiming to win over the hearts of the sons and daughters of the existing clientele. Delahaye muses that perhaps the 10-year old girl using the Athénée’s ice-skating rink will come back to the hotel one day for her honeymoon. Innovation “will become tradition afterwards and then we will need again to reinvent ourselves. So modernity within the tradition is part of life.”
The Belmond group is also aiming to win over the hearts of the sons and daughters of their well-heeled clientele.
Klaus Kabelitz, Belmond Cadogan General Manager, cites the example of the Belmond El Encanto in Santa Barbara, California.
Everyone in Los Angeles thought that’s for my grandparents. But through highlighting a glitzy wedding on social media, they were able to change perceptions. So it’s just changing the tone of your marketing, branding to say ‘you know, you should come and try (the hotel).
Le Meurice in Paris is also trying to change perceptions.
It hired a young pastry chef, Cédric Grolet, who has become something of a celebrity with some 880,000 followers on Instagram.
We’re hiring millennials to help bring us innovation and ‘seduce’ the new generation, said Delahaye of the Dorchester Collection. So we’re surrounding ourselves with, and welcoming, millennials in order to evolve.
The Four Seasons group, which set up a design studio a few years ago to explore how its guestrooms should evolve, has engaged a consultancy to map out its strategy to attract millennials.
It has formed a partnership with CGK, the Center for Generational Kinetics in the US, to find out what millennials are looking for and how the hotel chain can best cater for them.
CGK had already been involved in auditing their social media channels and online presence “and they understood the Four Seasons culture which was critical for us,” said Sayess.
Each of its hotels will have internal and external review teams, “because then millennials of New York may be looking for something different from a millennial in the Maldives. The objective is to eventually come up with a playbook for every single hotel and resort,” Sayess said.
And there’s the rub. There may be some two billion millennials around the globe, but as a group they are very diverse. Millennials in the emerging markets will have different behavioral and spending patterns to those in more affluent cities such as New York and London.
“We need to totally re-think how we approach this generation, how we facilitate their journey with us,” Edition’s Ammerstorfer said. Patience is no longer a virtue as speed and convenience have become all important. “I suppose we need to find a way of working around this. Some companies have done this very well already, while some others need to learn.”