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Hotels cater to millennials’ need for free-WiFi, personalized travel

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 28/10/2015 Andrea Sachs

“Seventy-five percent of millennials use mobile devices to research their travel plans,” says Gautam Lulla, president of Travel Tripper. © doram/iStock/doram/iStock “Seventy-five percent of millennials use mobile devices to research their travel plans,” says Gautam Lulla, president of Travel Tripper.

Remember when . . . hotel guests were over-the-moon to find fresh baked cookies at check-in and a Keurig coffeemaker in their hotel room? Today’s generation of travelers — Meet the Millennials — have their own set of standards and priorities. Sure, they still want their cookie (gluten-free, please) and morning cup of coffee (preferably fair-trade beans roasted by a bearded guy and his dog in Portland), but they also demand those Instagram moments — and the technology to quickly post them. For insights into this industry-altering group and how properties are wooing them, we spoke (via e-mail) with Gautam Lulla, president of Travel Tripper, which provides technology to hotels worldwide.

How are millennials different from other generations of travelers?

Their dependence on connectivity. Seventy-five percent of millennials use mobile devices to research their travel plans. They expect to have these amenities immediately and easily accessible wherever they go.

What are the challenges of attracting this generation?

The challenge is their short attention span. Hotels need to ramp up their marketing efforts but also be strategic, authentic, and personalize all aspects of their efforts. The millennial generation can smell an unauthentic product and service from a mile away. More than any other generation, millennials care about unique, personalized travel experiences. They’re less willing to stay in hotels that feel too corporate or chain-like. They prefer hotels that reflect the character of the destination.

What are their priorities?

Millennials absolutely need WiFi, and they want it to be fast and free. In this connected age, hotels are doing themselves a disservice charging for WiFi. Millennials don’t have a strong need for a business center in the traditional sense. They prefer to work on their own devices, and with information like boarding passes readily available on mobile, they don’t need to print as much.

Millennials also want a knowledgeable staff who can provide advice on the neighborhood — being able to try local cuisine and have off-the-beaten-path experiences is important to them. Hotels are also starting to integrate more unique and local experiences. For example, some properties [such as Denver’s Brown Palace] are implementing farm-to-table menus, brewing local beers on-site [Fairmont San Francisco] and organizing local excursions and activities for travelers.

Are hotels rethinking design and furniture, as well?

There is a trend toward more open spaces. Younger travelers generally want to spend less time in the room and are more interested in meeting other travelers in social settings within the hotel. So you’re seeing things like lobby bars and open works paces that are not just for hotel guests but welcome locals as well. Think Ace Hotel New York.

What role does social media play in attracting millennials?

More companies are utilizing social media to promote and market their hotel. Instagram has become one of the most popular tools to engage fans, and Twitter has become a customer-service tool to help younger travelers publicly voice their questions, concerns and complaints.

Can a hotel appeal to multiple generations without marginalizing one group?

It is never good to cater to just one generation — even generations change over time. What millennials want now isn’t what they will necessarily want later. The most important thing for hotels is to remain true to timeless principles of hospitality while staying in tune with the times. For example, in-person service will never go out of style. You may be able to order in-room service via an app instead of calling the front desk, but if something goes wrong, you still want to be able to speak with a human.

It’s also myth to think that Gen X and baby boomers want vastly different things than millennials. They’re not so different as you might think. About 60 to 70 percent of baby boomers own smartphones, so technology is already a big part of their daily life.

Are millennials reshaping the hotel industry?

It’s not just millennials driving the changes in the hotel industry; the digital age has reshaped trends in travel. Across all generations, we’re seeing a greater desire for amenities like free WiFi, as well as more connectivity and seamlessness within the guest experience, such as mobile check-in, keyless entry, streaming services in the hotel, etc. These trends will stay for the future. However, the loaner selfie stick that some hotels are offering to guests — that is definitely a millennial thing.

Any final words on millennials before the next generation takes command of the travel industry?

Millennials might be the most talked-about generation of modern times, but it won’t be long before their successors — the so-called Generation Z, born in the late 1990s — take over. Looking forward, we can expect Generation Z travelers to be digitally immersed and for everything to begin and end on their phones. Hotels and airlines will need to adopt the same mindset to capture this group of travelers. “Mobile-friendly” will no longer be enough; “mobile-centric” will be the standard.

Generation Z may rebel against the new modes of transportation and amplify the “slow travel” movement. Much like the slow food movement, slow travel celebrates the journey rather than the destination. Expect to see more bicycling tours and old-school railroad journeys in the future.

Correction: An earlier version stated Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia brewed local beers on-site. The Four Seasons is no longer open in Philadelphia. The story has been updated.

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