Millennials staying on hotel radar

Mobile check-in at Courtyard by Marriott - Lake Norman

Mobile check-in at Courtyard by Marriott – Lake Norman

By Donald White. Innovation and cutting-edge technology are the name of the game in travel and tourism as millennials make their needs and preferences known when they stay in hotels in the Golden Crescent and beyond.

“Hotel amenities such as robust Wi-Fi and social spaces are very important to millennials,” said Doug Stafford, principal at Griffin Stafford Hospitality. Area hotels are working hard to keep up with the high-tech demands of younger guests.

Hotels such as the Charlotte Marriott City Center are upgrading their customer experience to keep up with the way younger guests live, work and play. The Marriott has been named an Innovation Lab hotel, a move it touts as a total reinvention.

The reimagined Marriott includes new options for guests when they arrive, such as a mobile key and a feature that allows travelers to check in via an app. It also includes features like tap-to-order room service, flexible meeting spaces featuring shared-screen technology, and streaming services such as Netflix and Pandora.

All of these amenities are very much in line with what travel and tourism professionals say millennials — the age cohort demographers generally agree was born between the late 1970s and mid-’90s — are looking for when they travel. People in the industry say millennials want different things from their hotel stays than older generations.

Millennials’ habits

A recent survey by the travel booking website Expedia found that millennials had very distinct tastes and habits.

  • They are much more likely to embrace hotel chains’ loyalty programs when booking a room than travelers aged 46-65.
  • They report spending their company’s money more freely when traveling for business — on flight upgrades, for example — than older travelers.
  • They are more likely than older hotel guests to post a negative review online when they are dissatisfied with the level of service they receive.

Reshaping the industry

These findings come as no surprise to hospitality professionals in the Golden Crescent, who say millennials are dramatically reshaping the travel industry.

Technology is a huge driver of that change, and wireless technology has become an integral part of millennials’ hotel stays. Reliable connectivity and complimentary Wi-Fi are absolute musts for millennial guests, said Sally Ashworth, executive director of Visit Lake Norman.

“Well-equipped business centers, smart TVs, bedside charging stations, internet bars and modern gathering spaces would be at the top of their lists,” Ashworth said.

Millennials’ changing technology consumption and social interaction habits are strong drivers of these trends.

“More often than not, they will have a tablet in lieu of a laptop, and that is in addition to their smartphone,” Stafford said. “Millennials use far more internet bandwidth because they get most of their information and entertainment online.”

‘Self-service generation’

Stafford also cites millennials’ desire for a do-it-yourself kind of travel experience.

“They are much more of a ‘self-service’ generation, not wanting to be tied down by waiting for service,” he said.

Technology enables that kind of DIY ethos for millennial hotel guests. Check-in apps such as Marriott’s that give young travelers more flexibility upon arrival are also being well-received, Ashworth said.

“Hilton, Marriott and Starwood are offering check-in apps where you use your smartphone to access your reservation without needing to use the guest services upon arrival,” she added.

The Expedia survey’s finding that millennials are more likely to mix business and pleasure when they travel also matches what Ashworth has observed in the Golden Crescent.

“The fact that many millennials are not yet married and without families, they are much more inclined to tack on vacation days or stay for the weekend before or after a planned business trip,” she said. “For the greater Charlotte region in 2015, only 9.1 percent of millennials stayed overnight for the primary purpose of business, which is lower than any older demographic group.”

More likely to travel

Ashworth said technological trends such as the growth of social media, which gives millennials “a more cultured global perspective compared to prior generations,” are a positive sign for the hospitality industry. An increasingly diverse, cosmopolitan generation is more likely to want to travel and explore the world, she added.

The tendency of millennials to be flexible and mobile in their living arrangements — more likely to rent an apartment than to buy a home, for example — also gives them greater opportunities to travel, both inside the U.S. and abroad, Stafford said.

“Millennials do seem to travel more than other generations because they are into experiences,” he said. “…I have a millennial nephew who, with his wife, is constantly traveling to Africa, Asia and Europe. For them, travel experiences are more important than purchasing a home.”

Mix of hotels, rentals

But technology could also change the face of lodging in the future, remaking the hotel industry in ways few could have predicted. Ashworth said online vacation rental tools are already having an effect on how young people are making travel arrangements. The trend is toward travelers opting for a mixture of traditional hotels and DIY rental options such as Airbnb.

“Many (travelers) want alternative accommodation options to hotels, and we need to work collaboratively with these outlets to drive visitation,” Ashworth said. “Specifically for us, we are seeing many family reunion groups take this route and it’s complementary to driving hotel demand.”

And in some ways, Stafford said, the hotel industry is already being affected by millennials’ tastes in the same way the restaurant and bar industries are.

“We do see permanent shifts in our business in the areas of … amenities such as food and beverage service,” he said. “At upscale hotels and above, we see an increasing trend toward food and beverage service outlets that serve craft beers and small plate menu items that have some local flavor.”


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