Millennials redefine hotel luxury
13 FEBRUARY 2014 10:05 AM
Largely fueled by the millennial generation, a new breed of traveler seeks authenticity and experiences in their hotel stays.
GLOBAL REPORT—Hotel luxury is no longer a thing, such as a white tablecloth restaurant, but rather an experience, such as the opportunity to soak in local culture or cuisine, said Veronica Waldthausen, an associate in the London office of HVS.
“The new generation of travelers isn’t looking for a rich type of luxury,” said Waldthausen, who recently co-authored a report on the new generation of hotel guests with Arlett Oehmichen, director of HVS’ London office. “People may come in ripped jeans and arrive on public transportation. They’ll wear Converses and a simple t-shirt, but they’ll go to the bar and drink champagne and spend their money on nice dinners with friends.”
Like Waldthausen, who is 25, many but not everyone in this new breed of traveler are millennials or part of Generation X. What they have in common is a desire for experiences that are authentic, she said.
“They want to feel part of the local culture. They want to try the local cuisine. They want to meet local people,” she said. “They just don’t want to go to Shanghai and stay in the same kind of hotel they could stay in New York.”
According to Waldthausen, the lobby is the new living room for the new generation of hotel guests. While many hotels and brands have redesigned their lobby concepts, not all of them have done it to meet the needs of the new breed of traveler.
“It needs to be a place where people can interact with each other, an open place where people can have meetings, eat something, sit on the couch, read a book,” she said. “The new type of traveler doesn’t mind being alone, but they want to be alone together. They will sit in the lobby by themselves, but they want to be surrounded by other people.”
Millennials like Waldthausen don’t require a desk and desk chair in hotel guestrooms. Instead, they prefer a comfortable chair or cushion or even bean bag on which they can sit while using their laptop or tablet computer.
“Baby boomer travelers still prefer a desk, but most of us in the younger generation are paperless so we don’t need one,” she said.
And while lobbies in many full-service and select-service hotels offer food and beverage service, millennials often prefer to visit restaurants in the communities in which they stay.
“In some cases, food and beverage facilities within hotels are becoming less important and less visited,” Waldthausen said. Millennials “want to feel they’re part of the community so … they want to go outside to restaurants where they can meet local people and interact.”
She said this is part of the phenomenon of an increasingly flatter world in which many travelers have friends, colleagues or acquaintances in the cities they visit.
Loyalty of a different sort
There’s a difference of opinion in the travel industry as to whether millennials are generally as loyal to brands as are baby boomers. According to Waldthausen, they’re not.
“Millennials are generally not loyal to brands,” she said. “They look for value for money, and service is a key element, but it must be done in a casual way.
“When people go to hotels, they expect good service. Part of that is hardware, but the software—the service aspect—is the most important.”
She said she doesn’t want “scripted service” at the hotels she visits. “When I check into a hotel, I would much rather have someone be personal, perhaps tell me a joke, rather than say something that is fake.”
Some 5-star hotels are lagging behind, she said, because they find it hard to marry the services expected from a luxury property with the informality some guests want.