The Millennial Gold Rush

By David Kong

Thursday July 23, 2015
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The big buzz in the travel industry nowadays is Millennials, the generation of young Americans between 18 and 34 that comprise one quarter of the U.S. population and spend $1.3 trillion annually. Everyone is talking about the promises and challenges of reaching this notoriously fickle demographic. And, who can blame them? Millennials love to travel, more than any other generation in fact.

According to recent reports, more than 70 percent of all Millennials took at least one leisure trip in 2013, and some take up to four or five trips each year. By 2020, young travelers will take an estimated 320 million international trips, making them the dominant travel segment around the world. According to the Pew Research Center, Millennials will swell to include over 79 million Americans by mid-century, while Baby Boomers will dwindle to just over 16 million.

Of course, to market successfully to any demographic you must understand your target audience. And, therein lies the challenge — unlike Baby Boomers or Generation X, Millennials reflect a broad spectrum of lifestyles. Some are in college or graduate school, while others jump right into the workforce and skip secondary education altogether. A large group still live at home with their parents, while others are married and focused on career, family and student loans. Their needs and wants truly vary.

While this generation is diverse, they do hold a number of attributes in common, as indicated by numerous studies conducted in recent years. For example, they use technology liberally, especially mobile, and crave automated travel amenities, such as online check-in and electronic boarding passes. They prefer streamlined, functional design and communal spaces for interactions with other travelers. And they covet value ─ they want more for less ─ and take full advantage of loyalty programs that bring them back again and again to their favorite hotels.

While the Millennial Gold Rush is enticing some travel and hotel companies to completely reinvent themselves, Best Western is taking a markedly different approach and this can be seen in Vīb, an exciting, new boutique hotel brand we unveiled in October 2014.

To launch Vīb, we spent a long time visiting hotel brands that target Millennials around the world, where we learned ‘what to do’ and ‘what not to do’. It was an enlightening experience. For example, we discovered lobbies should offer social interaction zones, as well as other zones for working and relaxation. We also learned that some hotels tried too hard to be different and could alienate many guests. Some properties I visited had such dim lighting that I almost needed the flashlight on my iPhone to find my way. Others had a dizzying array of guest room gadgetry ─ such as touch-screen virtual butlers, tablet-controlled light switches or robotic suitcase handlers ─ that was confusing and intimidating to many.

It seems to me that any hotel company that focuses its brand purely around Millennials will have a narrow niche. They will be on an endless treadmill to keep up with another newer, hipper hotel or must-have feature. It seems the sensible approach, and the one we took in creating Vīb, is to build a brand that speaks to Millennials, Gen X-ers and Baby Boomers too. We zeroed in on the attributes that each of these segments value and hold in common. And many of them, we believe, want a different experience than the traditional cookie cutter box ─ a contemporary and fresh experience for today’s connected traveler that is affordable and stylish at the same time.

Our boutique Vīb concept features a vibrant and modern design with a focus on convenience, simplicity and social engagement. Guests will discover large, interactive lobbies and chic, affordable rooms brimming with innovation in technology and design, whether it’s smart phone enabled check-in and door-opening, rainforest showerheads with LED mood lighting, or smart TVs that can stream content from any device. And of course, we tapped the cultural zeitgeist and created several furniture pieces that provide for one-of-a-kind ‘selfie moments’.

In the end, we concluded that the most important attribute today’s travelers value has nothing to do with technology and design. It has everything to do with the name of our industry ─ hospitality. Taking superior care of our guests is what makes a stay truly special and memorable for any generation.

Please join the conversation by connecting with me on LinkedIn. Or you can send thoughts directly to itspersonal@bestwestern.com