Millennial Guests and Unconventional Experiences
By John Tess President & CEO, Heritage Consulting Group | September 30, 2018
Millennials are defined as young adults born between 1981-1996. Seventy-four million strong, they represent 25% of the total US population and will soon surpass Baby Boomers as the largest demographic in the country. As this generation has moved up the ladder and gained discretionary income, it has become a driving force in the hospitality industry. Hoteliers are working mightily to capture this market segment. And particularly for historic hotels, the market is ripe for an audience that places a premium on authenticity, uniqueness, and value.
Based on a 2015 study by international branding and marketing firm Resonance Consultancy, compared to general travelers, millennials are less likely to own their own home, have lower household incomes, and lower net worth. Two-thirds have at least a bachelor's degree and are working full time. More than half have children in the household. Top activities include dining, fun attractions, shopping, and sightseeing. On the latter, the quality of sightseeing is distinguished; the most desired activity is "participating in a once in a life-time activity." And millennials have a preference for participatory activities. These range from nightlife, music, health and fitness, watching, but also participating, in sports, and volunteering.
When it comes to overnight stays, staying with friends and Airbnb-like rentals are significantly more popular to millennials than to the general traveler, but so are small hotels, B&Bs, and notable full service hotels. The 2015 Resonance study further segments millennials into five groups: "sophisticated explorers," "all-in enthusiasts," "active adventurers," "occasional convenience travelers," and "family-oriented frugals." Distinctive among millennial travelers is the particular rise in solo traveling; 37% of millennials have expressed a likelihood of vacationing alone. Also notable is an emphasis on value. The millennial travel community wants better value for the price they pay; the issue is not so much about cost as what they get for their dollar. For reference, millennials spent only slightly less money when traveling than older travelers; millennials spent $3,317 per trip compared to $3,381 for older travelers.
When it comes to hotel properties, millennials have demonstrated a preference for unique locations, memorable buildings, and a local vibe. Roughly translated, it goes back to the "water cooler" syndrome; staying somewhere that when you tell friends and colleagues, they are impressed by what you found and even more impressed by the stories of your adventures. And more so than ever before, the story is about an authentic experience and having it validated by others following their Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook accounts.
Certainly, chains such as Hilton, Marriott and Hyatt have rolled out their millennial products. Curio by Hilton is an upscale brand within the larger Hilton family. Hotels are independent and imbue a local flavor. Canopy by Hilton follows a similar path. Marriott's Moxy Hotels are individual in design and aggressively marketed to the millennial market. Hyatt Centric, Radisson Red, and Starwood's Element among others presents a modern, boutique, lifestyle, urban hotel catering to the desires of the millennial market.
The challenge facing many hotel developers is the quality of authenticity and uniqueness. There is one Pacific Northwest company that was millennial-friendly before millennials were born. McMenamins is a family-owned collection of brewpubs, breweries, music venues, historic hotels, and theater pubs located in Oregon and Washingto. With roots going back to 1974, the McMenamin Brothers – Mike and Brian – started their ever expanding businesses with the simple notion that it should be fun and cool. Their first enterprise was a bar called the "Produce Row Cafe" which was on the wrong side of the river in an artist-occupied industrial area of Portland. Long before the era of craft beer, the McMenamins wanted a place where they and their friends could get "good" beers. According to co-founder Mike McMenamin, "our initial idea was to make our pubs into community centers, places for people in the neighborhood to gather and have a good time."