Millennials shift the hotel design landscape
08 OCTOBER 2014 7:58 AM
By adjusting to the needs and desires of millennials, hotel designers have the opportunity to refine standards and create properties that cater to travelers of all ages.
Millennials range in birth years from the early 1980s to the early 2000s with a population estimated at about 70 to 80 million. Millennial adults range in age from about 18 to 33 and are the fastest-growing segment of today’s workforce and business travelers.
On track to be the largest consumer group in the United States, this demographic cohort is different from its predecessors in travel habits and the way it interacts with brands.
What are the common traits and values of millennials? How can we modify our hotel designs and offerings to meet the needs of this new wave of travelers?
Let’s first take a look at a few of the defining characteristics of this driven and diverse group.
Technology is in their DNA
Millennials have grown up with technology and most can’t imagine life without a smartphone, often viewing it as an extension of them. Digital natives, they are the most avid users of technology and the only generation that has not had to adapt to new technologies. This group primarily communicates via emails texts, and social media accounts. Nine out of 10 millennial adults across the world get dressed, brush their teeth and check their smartphones as part of their morning routine, according to the Connected World Technology Report.
They want to be heard
Millennials have higher expectations for brands than their boomer parents or Generation X siblings. They place value on a brand’s willingness to adapt to consumer opinions and feedback. Remember, this generation was raised in an environment where they were encouraged to engage. Their boomer parents taught them that their opinions were important.
In an Adroit Digital study of 2,000 American millennial adults, 52% said for brands to maintain relevance they have to be willing to change based on consumer opinion.
Connected and networked
This group has high standards for service. They are also usually the ones complaining the loudest, which could include an audience of 300-plus Facebook friends. Beware. Millennials also are more likely than older generations to buy or switch brand preferences based on peer recommendations whether that be through word of mouth, Yelp, Twitter or Facebook.
Masters of self-expression and information gathering, this is a highly networked and connected group—both with friends and with brands. Forty-four percent of millennials expect brands to have an open dialogue with consumers through social channels, according to findings from the Adroit Digital study.
They want an experience
One of the last major traits of millennials is their emotional component. Whether at home, work, travel or play, they have a desire to be connected to their surroundings and what they are doing.
Unlike the generations before them, millennials have been overly scheduled since they’ve been able to walk, making them high-performance and sometimes high-maintenance. This is a confident group that values work-life balance, flexibility and personal fulfillment. They work to live, not live to work. And this trickles down to their brand preferences and needs.
Although many of these characteristics can be seen in other travelers today, millennials are unique. The most-studied generation in history, this group is known for their openness to try new brands but is not always the most loyal or easiest to please.
So how can you attract this fickle demographic and make them a brand advocate?
Easy (and free) access to technology
An instant-gratification generation, having access to free Wi-Fi and technology is a must. When unable to check their smartphones, two out of five adult millennials say they “would feel anxious, like a part of me was missing,” according to the Connected World Technology Report.
Make it easy for them to connect, charge, and use all of their technological devices. In one of our recent hotels, we redesigned the “standard” nightstands in our guestrooms to include extra outlets for charging and created overhead bed lighting as more and more travelers use their smartphones and other devices in bed.
Interactive and social common areas
Born collaborators, this generation grew up with an emphasis on team sports and a packed social calendar. They are extraordinary multitaskers who process information extremely quickly and complete multiple tasks in rapid succession. As hotel designers it is critical to provide millennials with highly interactive and social common areas for the complete eat/work/play experience. This is the space for collaboration, social networking and work away from the office.
Connect them to their surroundings
Today’s youngest travelers want to have an “experience.” We’ve seen the industry adapt to these needs with the evolution of soft branded hotels such as Autograph, as well as Aloft, Andaz and DoubleTree, which take on the culture and energy of their locations and are flexible with their standards. It is our role as hotel designers and architects to give guests increased interaction in our spaces by adding in community areas, outdoor spaces, bars and lounges while using stronger design themes that incorporate the property’s geographic location.
This group doesn’t know what it’s like to live without technology, so make sure to give them virtual options. They’d much rather check-in or order roomservice online than talk to a person. And give them an outlet to share feedback and opinions. Remember, they are not shy about sharing thoughts about their experiences—positive or negative. We need to ask ourselves at every step of the process—design, implementation, check-in and roomservice—how well we are connecting with and servicing our guests. And then make adjustments accordingly.
Despite being commonly viewed as a challenging group, millennials are optimistic and open to new experiences. What’s more, they are genuinely interested in interacting, engaging and building relationships with brands. By considering and adjusting to the specific needs and desires of this vast cohort, we have the unique opportunity to refine our standard way of thinking and create properties that cater to travelers of all ages.
Harry Wheeler AIA, NCARB, LEED is a principal at Group One Partners, Inc., an award-winning hospitality design firm based in Boston that specializes in architectural, interior design, and purchasing services for hospitality properties. Wheeler is a registered architect in 10 states and a member of numerous architectural, lodging, and marketing associations. For more information visit www.grouponeinc.com or email Wheeler at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Hotel News Now or its parent company, STR and its affiliated companies. Columnists published on this site are given the freedom to express views that may be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.