Millennial travelers want authentic, local experiences—something independent hotels have always done well.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Independent hotels and millennials just may be a match made in heaven, thanks to the popularity of authentic, local experiences among today’s travelers.
And while unique experiences aren’t reserved for millennials alone, independent hoteliers are noticing that this valuable cohort is more and more tuned in to experiential travel, so they’re offering specialized marketing in the form of themed promotions and other content designed to attract them.
The Little River Inn in Mendocino, California, had millennials specifically in mind when it launched its “Meet Mendocino” website last summer to showcase what GM Cally Dym calls “truly, our ‘favorites’ list around the region.”
Meetmendocino.com developed out of Dym and her team’s desire to share curated itineraries with younger, newer guests who might not know the area.
“We’ve been around a very long time, and one of the happier challenges we have is figuring out how to keep evolving and updating and keeping current, while still not appearing to change,” she said. “Millennials are the upcoming travel group and we want to capture them now, so they build memories here.”
The itineraries and recommendations on the site include things like hiking trails, wine bars, sports. Many of the recommendations are destinations at the hotel, like the Little River Inn Bar, but they’re not limited only to the hotel’s venues and activities, nor are they limited only to partners the hotel has relationships with.
That’s on purpose, Dym said. CVB and DMO sites often include content limited to paid partners, for example, which isn’t always the most helpful to the traveler.
“On this site, we included exactly what we think is best,” she said.
That might mean it includes a bar the chef likes or a hiking trail a team member recommends.
The site makes no overt mentions of the Little River Inn, and it also lists other hotels as well.
“We purposefully haven’t put SEM behind this,” Dym said. “The soul of the site really isn’t about marketing; it’s about what’s cool here. We wanted to grow it organically.”
With a growing number of young people traveling to the area, she said the site has been a success in reinforcing local experiences—something the hotel has always considered part of its DNA.
Around the area
Often, content attractive to millennial travelers is right in a hotel’s backyard.
That was the case for New Mexico’s Heritage Hotels & Resorts, which operates nine independent hotels in the state. Maresa Thompson, Heritage’s marketing and creative director, developed promotions around the TV shows “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul,” which just so happen to appeal to millennial travelers, she said.
“Because the shows were filmed here, we thought it would be fun to put together some unique packages to target people interested in the shows, and we sell a lot of them,” she said.
Authenticity is the backbone of all the company’s promotions and PR campaigns at its hotels, and Thompson said that resonates particularly well with millennials.
“We focus on psychographics and interests (when creating promotions and packages), but where we’re moving, particularly with technology and the way we’re marketing, is hitting more of that millennial traveler,” she said. “It’s a way to make that person more of our audience and that’s only going to grow.”
The “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul” packages gain traction among millennials in part because Heritage is pushing them out through social channels rather than more traditional paid marketing, she said.
Knowing what area attractions will bring millennials to town helps with content, too.
Ingrid Summerfield, president of Filament Hospitality, which operates more than 15 independent hotels mostly located in California, Utah, Wyoming and Hawaii, said the company will target promotions to specific age groups when the situation warrants it.
“In Palm Springs, California, for example, there are reasons why a younger age group may come to our property (the V Palm Springs) at certain times, like during the Coachella (music festival),” she said. “So we’ll create very specific packages that speak to that age group.”
Around the hotel
A hotel’s price point is another factor that influences traveler profile, and independent hoteliers are developing content targeted to millennials at hotels that may be friendlier on their wallets.
“Price does factor in, along with general mood of the property,” Summerfield said. “Millennials aren’t going to go to a stuffy hotel.”
She cited Filament’s Basecamp hotels (with locations in Lake Tahoe and Tahoe City, with a Boulder, Colorado, location opening soon), which offer bunk-style rooms and a cozy-cabin vibe, which attracts younger people to the area.
Thompson said Heritage also matches programming with a hotel’s price point.
“We see our millennial travelers are staying at our economy properties and they may be more price-conscious than our non-millennial travelers, so that factors in to our programming,” she said.
Summerfield also said that across the board, encouraging community space at independent hotels is another way to attract millennial—and millennial-minded—travelers.
“We create public spaces and programming that allows for engagement and for people to hang out,” she said. “It might be s’mores by the fire or ping pong by the breakfast room. Our properties are designed to encourage social interaction.”
Appealing to the millennial mindset
All three sources stressed that while certain hotel properties and promotions may have inherent appeal for younger millennial travelers, independent hotels are designed to appeal to the millennial mindset, whatever the traveler’s age.
“It’s just what we do in our segment,” Summerfield said. “Yes, millennials want local, they want unique, they want authentic and they want social. But by design, independents create experiences for all our guests—it’s an entire psychographics that likes to travel and have experiences and memories that are different.”
What often sets the younger-aged travelers apart, though, is not that they like authentic travel experiences more than older travelers do, but they’re more social about it, she said.
“It’s now socially acceptable to share and constantly be engaged with your circle of friends, and it’s allowed people to be more vocal about what they’re doing,” she said. “In hotels, restaurants and spas, you want to be able to offer that age group—that grew up doing this—a place to express themselves and experience the property. This social element is what has brought the love and art of travel to the forefront for this millennial generation.”