Checking-In with GenNext: How the hospitality industry is being transformed
With increasing competition and an industry that took a hit during the recession, higher-end hotels and resorts are under constant pressure to offer guests an experience they not only remember, but one they feel caters to their every need. As economic forecasts strengthen, management has begun to focus on a group of travelers it sees as crucial to its near and long term growth– 18 to early 30-year-olds who are at the pulse of technology, social media and the “next big thing.”
According to American Express Business Insights, travel spending by this younger demographic rose 20 percent in 2010, making them the fastest-growing age segment, representing more than 200 billion in spending and roughly 25% of the U.S. population. Surpassing Baby Boomers, there are around 80 million GenNexters, comprising not only your future customers, but your current ones as well. With this next generation already a spending force, tourism, hotels and resorts that ignore these young travelers will be at a severe disadvantage.
So what is it, you may ask, that appeals to this group and what can you be doing to attract them? While the generation before was loyal to brands that were reliable and comfortable, today GenNext (also referred to as Generation Y or Millennials) are more attracted to what’s interesting and different. The more innovative your brand can be, the better.
An obvious fact about this group is their obsession with technology and the need to stay connected, anywhere, anytime. Free Wi-Fi is as necessary as the air they breathe. GenNext respects brands that know how they like to communicate, so help them connect with others, and in return they will spread the word about your brand. Knowing this, some hotels, such as The Plaza in New York, have gone as far as providing iPads in every hotel room, allowing guests to control the lighting, adjust the air-conditioning, order room service and read the morning paper.
And their need to stay connected doesn’t stop there. Unlike older travelers who often prefer solitude at the end of the day, their younger counterparts want to socialize, meet others like themselves and have variety in their entertainment. Offering hip hangouts or meet-up events will not only attract guests, but also city dwellers and other curious customers. The same goes for activities, restaurants and amenities offered. Millennials seek adventure in life and food. Branching out from the norm to include interesting dining options or offering services that fulfill their need for excitement will help appeal to this audience.
Healthy living is also a focus for these GenNexters, more so than older generations. But to this health-conscious group, healthy living takes on a broader meaning. Eating well is more than a diet; it’s a lifestyle. Therefore, having food options that align with how this generation views health, such as a juice and smoothie bar with all natural ingredients or offering local and raw foods choices is attractive to a crowd that values the origin of the ingredients when evaluating health foods, while older peers tend to focus on the nutrition label.
Furthermore, Millennials are 23% more likely to be committed to working out more than twice week, so making available new fitness classes and/or programs that promote balance and wellness can set your brand ahead of the curve. Nonetheless, if you are going to make a commitment to health, make sure this permeates throughout other aspects of your property, make it work well and own it before your competitors can.
While some may think this is all a passing fad, this generation has changed the way we think, do business and live our lives. They want to be social at night and wake up to an organic breakfast and hour long yoga session in the morning. As they get older, while the late evening socializing may die down, there will always be another group on their heels, eager and willing to find the next hot spot. The younger generation is beginning to shape how the older generation lives. They were the first to adopt iPods, iPads, Facebook, Twitter, etc. and now those unfamiliar scramble to catch up. In the hospitality industry, there is no time to play catch up. Be the first to know about the trends and most importantly, the first to own them – don’t wait until your competitor does something to implement it in your organization. Trends do come and go and you need to make sure you keep up with them.
Take a lesson from Kevin Costner on this one – “If you build it, they will come.” Provide a unique experience and these travelers will want to be there. But be warned, there is one caveat: it’s important to know what makes them tick. If you can’t think like them, find someone who can, before you threaten the reputation of your brand.