How Gen Y Chooses Hotels
Mining Millennial minds with Eve Turow Paul.
Hotels have been in hot pursuit of Millennial customers for much of the past decade, even creating entire brands around that generation’s supposed likes and dislikes. Yet, to a certain extent, the mystery of the Millennial continues. Few in the industry seem to have nailed what that demographic—approximately 25% of the population—actually desires in a restaurant, bar, and lodging experience.
To help solve that mystery, we spoke with Eve Turow Paul, noted author and expert on Gen Y (and a Millennial herself) for some insight on what hotels are getting right, where they miss the mark, and what resources properties already have that are attractive to Millennial guests.
Hotel F&B: It seems that the people and organizations who actively try to define what a Millennial is often happen to be older than Millennials. How would you describe a Millennial, being one yourself?
Turow Paul: A Millennial is anyone born between 1980 and 1996. There are distinct behavioral changes with those born after 1996, mostly because the iPhone was introduced in 2007, and just before that there were flip phones and texting, so that technology really changed the behavior of the next generation.
I think Millennials are unfairly characterized as narcissistic, lazy, entitled, and distracted. I’ve had people say things to me like, “You Millennials don’t want to work; you just want everything handed to you.”
We’re obsessed with food and travel, and statistically speaking, Millennials are spending their money on food and travel more than other generations were spending in that same age bracket. We’re not identifying ourselves by our rock bands or a drug we’re taking. We’re using food and travel as a symbol of our value systems, and we’re using social media as an outlet for that.
I’ve researched this topic for seven years now, and my biggest finding is that we are the most depressed and anxious generation on record, and we’re searching for something we have control over. There’s very little in our lives these days that we really can control, but we do have control over what we’re eating, and we have control over where we decide to spend our time, especially on vacation.
How would you describe the marketing approach that hotels have taken to attract Millennial guests?
It’s often inauthentic. When you walk into some of these hotels, you can almost see the checklist of what people have been told Millennials like, and they kind of just build around whatever that checklist states. Things like: We only want to eat on the go; we all want hip rock ‘n’ roll music in the background; we all want to be surrounded by a rainbow of vibrant colors; we want a dorm-room vibe; and we constantly crave Sriracha and avocado toast.
There’s a problem with that message. It’s not addressing our emotional driver; it’s focused on the artifice. One of the reasons Airbnb is so successful is because they’re delivering exactly on the idea of community and adventure in travel. It’s almost like Millennial-focused hotels were being built around the idea that we’re just a static, one-dimensional unit, and that we aren’t people whose behaviors, wants, and needs are without a doubt going to shift over time. They weren’t focused enough on the core base needs of community, love, and control.
What I see out there is brands already have a lot of those core elements that Millennials are looking for when they travel, but they haven’t traditionally leveraged those areas before. They’re changing more than they need to, and they must realize what assets they already have, and bring those to the forefront instead of trying to remake everything to fit the Millennial archetype they have in mind.
What are some of those assets that hotels already have?
Public spaces like the lobby and a good coffee shop. I think they might be more important to Millennials since we’re a generation spending hours upon hours in front of screens communicating with people digitally, so there’s a lack of eye contact that people are experiencing throughout the day. There is a deep, innate desire to connect with other people in person and a greater desire for the kind of sensory stimulation that can come in the form of an amazing cold brew coffee or a matcha latte, for example. These are spaces where young people can connect with others.
People might say they want a hotel where they can sit with their computer in solitude, but at the end of the day they’re not going to remember sitting in a hotel room answering email and creating a PowerPoint presentation. However, they might remember a hotel experience where they sat in an amazing lobby and did their work and maybe started a conversation with somebody sitting next to them. Or, they were able to call their friends and say, “Hey! Come on over. There’s a great coffee shop here. We’ll grab some coffee and then I’ll get my work done afterwards.” It provides an opportunity to make a memory and a connection.
From an F&B standpoint, what’s the fastest way to turn off a Millennial?
Menus that haven’t changed since the 1990s—big, heavy plates of food that aren’t using seasonal ingredients and that you could probably find on menus in a number of other places. Maybe I want to try a bunch of different things on the menu, so I’m looking for smaller plates and something sharable.
That formal white tablecloth separation between people is a turnoff. This generation wants to connect with others in person, even when they’re sitting down to dinner. Maybe I want to share something with my neighbor next to me who I met during the meal. You can’t do that in a formal setting. Also, servers who are robotic are a turnoff. We want to talk to them, get to know them, and hear their opinions about the menu.
What hotels have you visited that have an authentic appeal for Millennials?
When I travel I often feel like I’m wasting a meal by eating in the hotel, so when I visit one that has genuine appeal, it’s exciting. Ace Hotel New York does a great job in terms of their lobby providing a space for locals. They have a Stumptown Coffee, plus locals-focused restaurants in The Breslin and John Dory. They’re servicing not just those who are staying at the hotel but also the surrounding community.
The Line Hotel in Los Angeles is another one. They have yoga and running clubs that hotel guests can join, but are really for locals. Chef Roy Choi oversees the restaurants there, and they had plenty of locals dining when I visited. It’s authentic, and we could get interesting food that wasn’t from a run-of-the-mill hotel menu. It’s unique, and you felt like you were having a special dining experience even though you’re eating in a hotel.
The Chicago Athletic Club is notable too. They didn’t need to renovate the building and paint it in neon colors and put a bunch of photos of young people everywhere in order to make it appropriate for Millennials. Instead, they added a great rooftop bar, created community-centric spaces, and updated their menu, and suddenly they became one of the beacons of Millennial hangouts in Chicago. It’s a classic, old-school building too—just gorgeous.
What advice would you have for our readers who want to authentically appeal to Millennials?
The biggest thing is to stop thinking of Millennials as a single group of one-dimensional aliens, and start thinking of Millennials as people. Really ask what needs are not being met elsewhere, and how you can satisfy those needs in a way nobody else can. There are certain things hotel chains can do that companies like Airbnb cannot. So how can you scale them in your favor? How can size be in your favor? First, though, you need to identify what the core needs are of your customers and how the world today is not satisfying those needs, and how you can step in and be there for them to offer an extra moment of comfort and joy in their day—and provide a memorable experience for them.