Change Gen­er­a­tion

What Mil­len­ni­als want from ho­tels may be a boon for all trav­el­ers

Business Traveler (USA) - - CONTENT - By Har­vey Chip­kin

Is the work desk miss­ing from your ho­tel room? Blame it on Mil­len­ni­als. Did you search in vain for a checkin desk on your ar­rival? Blame it on Mil­len­ni­als. In fact, you can blame (or praise) Mil­len­ni­als for just about any change in your ho­tel ex­pe­ri­ence, from book­ing to post-stay – or at least on how hote­liers per­ceive the way Mil­len­ni­als be­have.

As the hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try scram­bles to adapt to up­com­ing gen­er­a­tions of trav­el­ers, the ho­tel is be­com­ing a new kind of prod­uct – geared to a high-tech, low per­sonal con­tact, com­mu­nal style gain­ing fa­vor among trav­el­ers of all age groups.

The dis­ap­pear­ing room desks and checkin coun­ters are merely symp­to­matic of the seismic shifts. “There is much less em­pha­sis on the work­ing corner in the gue­stroom,” says An­thony Ing­ham, global brand leader for W Ho­tels. “We moved away from desks a long time ago. At our Lon­don ho­tel we have a com­mu­nal ta­ble which serves as a makeup ta­ble in the morn­ing and a work­sta­tion or cock­tail bar later. Peo­ple work in the bed or on the sofa – any­where but the desk.”

At the tech-cen­tric Ax­iom Ho­tel in San Fran­cisco, gue­strooms have Task Desks (desks on wheels) that can be moved around the room to al­low guests to work where they like. And at Hil­ton’s re­cently an­nounced Tru brand, ac­cord­ing to Phil Cordell, global head of fo­cused ser­vice for Hil­ton, “Tru does not have a desk in the gue­stroom. In­stead, there is a ver­sa­tile and com­fort­able lounge and task chair, with an

in­te­grated work sur­face with great light­ing and ac­cess to power.”

Of course the check-in desk is also fad­ing in many ho­tels. Rus­sell Ge­orge, gen­eral man­ager of the Hy­att Re­gency Trinidad, says the ho­tel’s iPad So­lu­tion of­fers quick and easy check-in with­out lines. The sys­tem al­lows staff to search reser­va­tions and send “room ready” no­ti­fi­ca­tions through e-mail or text, make room keys and pro­vide dig­i­tal re­ceipts.

And check this out: at Mar­riott’s youth­ful Moxy Ho­tels – check-in takes place at the bar.Yes, Mar­riott.

While the changes are cred­ited to the in­flu­ence of Mil­len­ni­als, it’s ac­tu­ally much broader than that. “It’s about the chang­ing be­hav­ior of mul­ti­ple pop­u­la­tions,” says Bashar Wali, pres­i­dent of Prove­nance Ho­tels. “The Mil­len­ni­als have been a driv­ing force be­cause of their adapt­abil­ity to tech­nol­ogy and their lack of de­sire for hu­man in­ter­ac­tion.”

That same multi-gen­er­a­tional out­look was be­hind the de­sign of Hil­ton’s Tru brand, ac­cord­ing to Cordell. “We wanted to cre­ate a brand that ap­pealed to trav­el­ers across gen­er­a­tions that share a com­mon, youth­ful mind­set rather than for one nar­row de­mo­graphic. We made choices that would res­onate with Mil­len­ni­als, Gen Xers, Gen Yers and Boomers, and th­ese are ev­i­dent in the fi­nal de­sign.”

Sim­i­larly, Toni Stoeckl, vice pres­i­dent of life­style brands for Mar­riott, says, “Our life­style port­fo­lio is po­si­tioned to cap­ture the loy­al­ties of Gen­er­a­tions X (born just af­ter Boomers) and Y (the pre-Mil­len­ni­als), which are ex­pected to ac­count for 90 per­cent of the work­ing age pop­u­la­tion within a decade and more than 60 per­cent of Mar­riott In­ter­na­tional’s busi­ness within the next four years. The num­bers alone de­mand change in how ho­tels do busi­ness and treat their guests.”

And even the re­lent­less con­sol­i­da­tion in the lodg­ing in­dus­try is seen as part of this de­mo­graphic earth­quake. Daniel Marre, a lawyer who spe­cial­izes in hos­pi­tal­ity is­sues and fi­nance, notes, “One of the rea­sons for Mar­riott ac­quir­ing Star­wood is to ac­quire their life­style brands that ap­peal to Mil­len­ni­als.”

Of course, Airbnb and other shar­ing op­tions are also a force driv­ing some of th­ese changes, since the op­por­tu­nity to ex­pe­ri­ence a des­ti­na­tion like some­one who

lives there ap­peals to younger trav­el­ers. While there is a per­cep­tion that Airbnb trends younger, a spokesper­son for the com­pany says it does not com­pile age de­mo­graphic data.

Blur­ring Work and Play

Many of the gen­er­a­tional-driven changes emerge from what is per­ceived as a blur­ring of work and play. “Ac­cord­ing to a 2014 re­port by Pew Re­search Cen­ter, only 26 per­cent of Mil­len­ni­als are mar­ried,” says Ge­orge, at the Hy­att Re­gency Trinidad. “And given the greater free­dom from fam­ily obli­ga­tions, we in­fer that more of them are likely to ap­proach busi­ness travel as a life­style ex­pe­ri­ence.”

The work/play meld­ing even ex­tends to cor­po­rate hous­ing, which had pre­vi­ously been a fairly anony­mous form of lodg­ing. “Mil­len­ni­als look to long-term stays as an op­por­tu­nity to have more ro­bust cul­tural ex­pe­ri­ences,” says T.J. Spencer, vice pres­i­dent, sales for Oak­wood World­wide. “As a re­sult, we’re see­ing a big­ger em­pha­sis on com­mu­nal work and lounge spa­ces where trav­el­ers can so­cial­ize, bond and work pro­duc­tively in an open, col­lab­o­ra­tive area,” Spencer adds.

Pub­lic and pri­vate ho­tel spa­ces are un­der­go­ing dra­matic change to ac­com­mo­date that work/play dy­namic. Moxy Ho­tels’ liv­ing rooms (what lob­bies are called th­ese days) “be­come the cen­ter of ac­tiv­ity, giv­ing guests fun ways to work and play hard,” ac­cord­ing to Stoeckl. “The liv­ing room at each ho­tel is ig­nited with games, books and other ways to amp up the fun.You may even find a clas­sic ar­cade game some­where.”

Pod 39 in New York has de­signed its com­mon ar­eas around the idea that play and fun are things that guests need to look for out­side the ho­tel. “We don’t be­lieve that the ho­tel bar and the fit­ness cen­ter should be your only sources of en­joy­ment in a ho­tel,” says gen­eral man­ager Scott Yo. “One of our fa­vorite re­peat guests who is a di­rec­tor level man­ager at a very well know phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pany will only stay at Pod Ho­tels since dis­cov­er­ing us ac­ci­den­tally af­ter be­ing in­vited to play ping pong at one of our ho­tels.”

And Cordell says, “The lobby space at Tru by Hil­ton is called The Hive and fea­tures four dis­tinct zones for loung­ing, work­ing, eat­ing or play­ing. Guests can choose to in­ter­act with oth­ers, or en­joy quiet time in one of the pri­vate al­coves lo­cated in the space,” he ex­plains.

With all that pub­lic space ac­tion, the room has taken on a dif­fer­ent sta­tus as well. Says Wali, “The room is now the place you sleep and shower be­cause you are no longer teth­ered to a desk. Be­fore, you had to be in the room to get an In­ter­net con­nec­tion but now the room just has to be com­fort­able and es­thet­i­cally pleas­ing. I’m not a Mil­len­nial but I would rather sit in the lobby, work, or­der a beer and watch peo­ple. Hu­mans are so­cial an­i­mals – and we are now re­al­lo­cat­ing re­sources ac­cord­ingly.”

Ac­cord­ing to Marisa Aranha, vice pres­i­dent of sales and mar­ket­ing for Ho­tel Jen, the Mil­len­nial-tar­geted brand op­er­ated by Shangri-La Ho­tels, “At the Ho­tel Jen Tan­glin Sin­ga­pore, the room light­ing can be set for dif­fer­ent moods; the cof­fee ta­ble can be moved around to be­come a work­table; the work desk and high

chair are de­signed to en­able you to work com­fort­ably in front of a lap­top or mo­bile de­vice; and the iron­ing board is lo­cated in the drawer un­der the sofa.”

Even staff uni­forms are evolv­ing. Based on feed­back from young trav­el­ers, the male as­so­ci­ates at the JW Mar­riott Grand Rapids wear fash­ion­able suits with col­ored pocket squares. At Hil­ton West Palm Beach valet staff wear all-black Shell Top Adi­das sneak­ers, known as Su­per­stars; bar­tenders flaunt leather vests and baris­tas wear flat caps - even house­keep­ing staff wear non­tra­di­tional hos­pi­tal­ity uni­forms.

The para­dox of the new ho­tel is that with all the clamor for com­mu­nal pub­lic spa­ces, many trav­el­ers do not want to in­ter­act with ho­tel staff – ex­cept elec­tron­i­cally. So, as Wali says, “We now do ev­ery­thing by text. When a guest ar­rives we give them a num­ber that al­lows them to text us and we can text back. If you want some­one to clean the room or de­liver an iron, you just text. Ro­man­tic older gen­er­a­tions may think we are re­mov­ing hu­man con­tact but this is so much more quick and ef­fi­cient for ev­ery­body.”

Says Ing­ham, “We are mov­ing to­ward a choice of com­mu­ni­cat­ing face to face or through the phone; we rolled out a phone app where you can com­mu­ni­cate via SMS when­ever about what­ever. Rather than the old sys­tem of hav­ing a com­puter sys­tem that checks phone calls, this tracks all in­quiries and keeps records.”

Karen Magee, co-founder of Young Travel Pro­fes­sion­als and di­rec­tor of cor­po­rate sales, North Amer­ica for The Doyle Col­lec­tion, an Ir­ish-owned group of ho­tels (mostly in the UK and one in Wash­ing­ton, DC) says, “The key thing that Mil­len­ni­als want is con­ve­nience. They are used to in­stant grat­i­fi­ca­tion and the ex­pe­ri­ence they have when trav­el­ing is cer­tainly no ex­cep­tion. That’s why mo­bile check-in and the abil­ity to text re­quests to the front desk or room ser­vice have been hugely pop­u­lar.”

Tech­nol­ogy, es­pe­cially a strong and free WiFi con­nec­tion, is at the cen­ter of the ap­peal of many ho­tels to the chang­ing be­hav­ior of trav­el­ers. The Ax­iom has made tech cen­tral to its ap­peal with an abun­dance of plug-in out­lets in pub­lic spa­ces and gue­strooms.

Patty Kang, di­rec­tor of sales and mar­ket­ing for the Ax­iom, notes the ho­tel does not re­strict the num­ber of de­vices guests can con­nect to their WiFi. “Guests now travel with sev­eral de­vices and many places put a re­stric­tion on the num­ber of de­vices that can con­nect, or charge an ad­di­tional fee. An­other great WiFi fea­ture is that guests only need to con­nect once to their room’s In­ter­net dur­ing their stay.”

Kimp­ton guest rooms are equipped with plenty of eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble power out­lets and charg­ing sta­tions. “In our newer ho­tels and restau­rants, we also have com­mu­nal ta­bles in the liv­ing room lob­bies with mul­ti­ple power out­lets and out­lets un­der­neath the bar counter,” says Chris­tine Law­son, se­nior vice pres­i­dent-sales and cater­ing for Kimp­ton. “That means a guest can power up and stay con­nected any­where through­out our prop­erty.”

While bou­tique ho­tels and hip brands are clearly tar­get­ing a new gen­er­a­tion of trav­el­ers, lux­ury op­er­a­tors are re­spond­ing in their own ways. Ana Brand, di­rec­tor for global guest ex­pe­ri­ence and in­no­va­tion for the Dorch­ester Col­lec­tion, known for such prop­er­ties as the Bev­erly Hills Ho­tel, says, “Mil­len­ni­als have the same pref­er­ences as other gen­er­a­tions, how­ever th­ese pref­er­ences are now de­liv­ered through dif­fer­ent chan­nels. A tra­di­tional guest may ask the concierge for choices and con­ve­nience, while a Mil­len­nial trav­eler will seek th­ese at­tributes dig­i­tally.”

The trend to­day is away from tra­di­tional in-per­son recog­ni­tion and ser­vice in fa­vor of dig­i­tal recog­ni­tion, Brand says. “Some of our Mil­len­nial trav­el­ers pre­fer not to be rec­og­nized through name usage dur­ing the stay, and they don’t pre­fer at­ten­tive ser­vice or in­ter­ac­tion with staff,” she ex­plains. “What they want is recog­ni­tion and en­gage­ment via so­cial me­dia – hav­ing ho­tels like their photos on In­sta­gram or re-tweet their tweets on Twit­ter.”

Top page: Kimp­ton Ho­tel, Moxy Ho­tel bar check-in, Ax­iom Ho­tel Task Desk Bot­tom row: Pod 39, Hil­ton’s Tru brand

Op­po­site page: Kimp­ton Palo­mar liv­ing room, Ho­tel mo­bile check-in,

This page: Pod 39 rooftop bar, Moxy Ho­tel liv­ing room

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