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THE CHANGING FACE OF THE HOTEL GUEST  You can’t play a new game by the old rules. The much studied Millennial generation is changing the game. All the games, across all industries. And, considering that approximately 50% of the workforce will be Millennials by 2020 (Forbes) this is a crucial time for hotels to be watching, listening, researching, and willing to let go of how things were done in the past. And, don’t forget, that Gen Z – the ones younger than Millennials, are even more determined and savvy and, at roughly 25% of the population, are a larger tribe than Baby Boomers or Millennials. 

While looking to book a hotel room recently, I saw a beautiful promotion for Marriott’s “redesigned guest room.” Knowing that Marriott, and its other large franchise friends such as IHG and Wyndham Hotel Group, have been working hard for many years to shed any same-everywhere-cookie-cutter hotel image perception, I was excited to see what changes they made to boost their appeal for today’s guests. Let’s take a look at the changing desires of these hotel guests and how Marriott and other hotels are trying to keep pace. 

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SPECIAL AND UNIQUE  Today’s and tomorrow’s guests are seeking an individualized experience that is more focused on meaningful interactions and customized care, and less about the low price quick sell. This shift can be attributed to a number of things. To start, we now have access to endless streams of information and consumers are learning and evolving at a pace that is challenging to keep up with. What has worked in the past, does not work now. Marriott has recognized this shift claiming that the redesigned rooms are “Inspired by you” and are “More chic. More you.” You, you, you for the me, me, me generation! They demonstrate how they are now decorating the rooms with “real art”  and Pinterest-worthy “hardwood floors with accent rugs.” They are also installing bike racks in the closets of select hotels. Personal care amenity brands are very carefully selected, as they are essential to a cohesive brand offering and are often one of the more memorable guest room experiences. Marietta strives to always have a well-rounded amenity collection offering so each property can find the best way to make their guests feel special. The days of the mass-produced vibe are gone. Hotels also had no choice but to take note of what was drawing guests towards the customized experiences the sharing economy (i.e. AirBnb, HomeAway) could offer and take a long, hard look at their current models. AirBnb filled a large void in the travel industry allowing guests to break out of the hotel box. 

LUXURY REDESIGNED The shift in the definition of hotel luxury seems to be running in parallel to the resurgence in popularity of mid-century modern furniture and design. Perhaps this is because the same mantra can be shared: form follows function. Once, hotels could throw money at shiny things, bigger things, fancy things and call it luxury. What resonates now is not conspicuous opulence, but smart, purposeful design that meets actual needs. These new thoughtful, savvy guests can spot cut-and-paste design from a mile away and won’t even come close to falling for traditional marketing tactics. Consumers are seeking businesses with a true, clear identity rooted in integrity, transparency and creativity…and details matter. While exploring my hotel room I want to notice something and think “well, that’s clever” because it means someone paid attention and designed a product, service or process to meet a need that I possibly didn’t even know I had. We are now exposed to incredible design on a daily basis through various social media platforms and with many more examples to draw on outside of our personal first-hand experiences, guests are much more attune to the impact of thoughtful design and how they feel in a space.

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THE POWER OF OPTIONS These modern hotel guests seek comfort in the form of options and hotels now understand that they can’t be a one-size-fits-all offering. In the past, hotels could cater to a specific group and attract that specific group. But with 4.8 Million average number of guests each night – and growing (The American Hotel and Lodging Association 2015 Survey) hotels should be seeking a wide variety of guests by creating opportunities for them to have choices/options. Millennials are serious about crafting their identity and they want to feel confident in the brands they choose. This choose-your-own-adventure type model can best be seen in recent changes to hotel lobbies. With lots of research to back the design choices, hotels have been re-configuring lobby spaces to be optimal gathering spots for all types. The level of interaction people desire with others will vary from person to person and day to day, so spaces are designed to accommodate both socializing and a bit of isolation with a thoughtfully placed chair or table. Be together, be alone, be whatever, but be it comfortably in the smartest hotels. Marriott also boasts “multi-purpose surfaces” in the redesigned rooms allowing for the various ways people work, live and multi-task. 

CONNECTION, PURPOSE, WELLNESS These new purpose-driven generations of hotel guests are, more than any other generation, looking for ways to align their spending with their values. They are less likely to accept offerings at face-value and are eager to form a more meaningful connection to the “why” behind the brand or offering. They want to feel strongly about their choices and want to discover special things to share with others. The wellness trend that spans multiple generations and touches nearly every industry has conditioned people to seek a comfortable and stress-free experience. And while the Baby Boomers have adapted to the wellness trends, the Millennials are again the focus here as they are are more willing to spend money on special self-care – nearly twice as much as the Boomers. Personal Care Brands have a very unique opportunity to design amenity programs with these detail-focused hotel guests in mind. These guests are paying attention to product quality more than any other generation and Marietta’s licensed brands such as Aveda, Pantene, Paul Mitchell, Beekman 1802, Matrix Total Results, and JR Watkins are made in the USA from natural ingredients and certainly will meet the needs of these health-conscious consumers while becoming natural extensions of hotels’ brands. 

While we are comfort seeking creatures, we are also seeking joy and memory-making experiences. Hotels must continue to evolve from purely “lodging” to “lifestyle” brands with greater purpose by considering branded experiences that extend outside the hotel’s walls. Think, perhaps, a super-powered concierge that provides classes or food tours for starters. Hotels should seek out opportunities to host events, foster a sense of community, and bring all these connection-craving individuals together in their space so those individuals forever associate those warm and fuzzy feelings of kinship and belonging with that property. 

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HIGH TECH, BUT NOT TOO MUCH Over 60% of hotel research begins on a mobile device, but the process has to transition to a human eventually or the experience will feel too cold. Not enough tech and the property could feel like Little Hotel on the Prairie. Sophisticated, modern guests need a balance of tech and face-to-face offerings and experiences. And it must be understood that this equation can be different for the same person depending on if they are on a leisurely vacation or an important business trip. Or the offering needs to make sense for a local or a guest hailing from a different country. There is an opportunity here for hotels to provide guests with options for the level of interaction they are craving. Since tech is widely available now, service and humanity can be a true differentiator between two otherwise very similar hotels. 

THE ABANDONED MINI BAR As discussed, guests want to interact and explore. They want to connect over a drink and an appetizer in a hotel common area instead of sequestered away in their room eating a $14 bag of Cheese Nips out of the mini bar. OK, truthfully a part of me will always want to be in a hotel room by myself surrounded by snacks I don’t have to share with anyone, but if I am traveling for leisure the prospect of being able to seamlessly transition into a space designed to bring people together in a shared experience is very attractive. Large contiguous communal spaces with more natural light and well-sourced materials are the hotel version of the popular “great room” house feature people look for while home shopping on Zillow. Similar to working on your laptop in a coffee shop, people are seeking the “together alone” experience in communal gathering spots. Driven by social media, guests also want to want to document and share unique experiences. I suspect that interior designers are factoring “Instagram backdrop-ability” into design concepts these days. 

Catering to these rapidly evolving consumer wants and needs is no small task. Authenticity, creativity and a true purpose seem to be safe bets with these new breeds of hotel guests. Hotels should start there.