The millennial generation’s impact on the world is growing and its needs, values and spending habits are impacting every aspect of the hospitality industry, causing it to reinvent itself to more effectively accommodate the 21st-century guest. Despite the media’s sometimes ambiguous classification, demographers generally point to those born between 1980 and the early 2000s as the millennial generation. This cohort now accounts for more than one-third of the world’s hotel guests and is expected to become the majority by 2020.
Common millennial characteristics relevant to the hotel industry include a strong penchant for modern design and contemporary living spaces; a high demand for the latest smart technologies, with an emphasis on social media; and an insatiable appetite for information. Given these characteristics, today’s designers and hotel operators are focused on providing guests with personalized modern spaces, the latest digital amenities and around-the-clock connectivity to social media.
“The impact of millennial travellers on hotel design is profound,” says Lionel Ohayon, founder and CEO of New York-based Icrave design studio. “Previously, hotel design was focused on creating dreamscapes that promote escapism, placing the traveller in an environment that often required him or her to fit into the designer’s vision.” This approach to hotel design failed to provide millennials with personalized experiences, Ohayon explains. “Hotels are now designed to serve as public houses where people are encouraged to spend entire days, become citizens of the brand and make it their own. We are designing spaces that can easily change to become reading rooms, nightclubs or lecture halls without losing their sense of place.”
When Montreal-based Camdi Design Firm was commissioned to redesign the Residence Inn by Marriott at Mont-Tremblant, it set its sights on the millennial traveller — creating a space that would blend the cohort’s interests with the ambiance of Mont-Tremblant. Using the resort itself as inspiration and the starting point for the design, the firm incorporated contemporary elements with the rustic feel of the ski resort. The approach ensured the property would remain relevant to its current and future clientele without sacrificing the integrity of its geographically unique identity.
Social-media integration is absolutely integral to luring millennial guests. As The New York Times reported in April, when it comes to leisure travel, millennials take photos of everything — including their hotel’s lobby, the view from the room, all elements of the room itself and bathrooms and fixtures. This content is then shared with friends, family and co-workers and the impact is exponential. “I post almost everything on social media,” says Sherelle Banks, a communications analyst for Fidelity Investments who recently stayed at a Marriott International hotel in Costa Rica. “People who saw pictures of my trip to Costa Rica on Facebook said they want to go with me next time.”
Kellie Sirna, principal and co-founder of Studio 11 Design, utilizes social media in the hotels her firm designs to create buzz among millennials. “My team places a huge emphasis on creating social-media moments in the hotels and this is clearly reflected in the social-media accounts of guests who post about and tag the hotels,” Sirna explains. “After every project, we monitor social-media posts created by guests to see what design elements are most photographed — we even use these images in proposals to new clients since they clearly show the value art and carefully designed details can bring to a space.”
At the Sheraton Austin Hotel, for example, Studio 11 Design created a custom book installation in a small nook below the lobby staircase, adjacent to the bar, which Sirna’s team discovered has become one of its most photographed design elements on social media. “We’re [currently] finalizing more ‘social-media moment’ elements,” Sirna says. “And we’re excited to see how guests react to these as well.”
With the undeniably important role social media plays in millennials’ lives, the technology required for accessing it becomes even more important. Therefore, design in hotels is as much function as form; it’s not just how a space looks and feels but what technological conveniences it can provide, so designers are looking at how millennials travel in order to anticipate their specific digital needs.
“Millennials often travel with a group of friends and share rooms, so they expect a large amount of outlets integrated within each room so everyone’s devices can easily be charged,” says Lesley Hughes Wyman, principal and co-founder of MatchLine Design Group, based in Texas. “We seamlessly integrate outlets in just about every piece to ensure flexibility for any traveller, including the public-area pieces,” she explains. “Everyone works and plays differently and we must over-plan for these locations early-on. Despite the constant evolution of technology, millennials still expect the latest-and-greatest in each room, so we’ve also been adding USB ports along with the outlets. We’ve recently been looking at wireless charging stations to hopefully mitigate the [challenges caused by] port types and ever-changing technology.”
In other areas of hotel design, technology plays a role in combining both form and function; the use of smart technology to control interior lighting — popularized by Philips Hue products — has blown up in the consumer market and, more recently, in hotels. Lighting is key to setting the mood and ambiance of a space, making it increasingly important for hotels to offer customization options. For example, using smart lightbulbs with accompanying apps, guests can adjust a lightbulb to shine in any hue, as well as control its brightness level.
LumiFi — a recent contender in wireless lighting-control software, designed by German-trained architect and lighting designer Beatrice Witzgall — seeks to automate and personalize hotels’ interior lighting on a large scale. LumiFi is the first software of its kind, boasting the ability to control and unify LED bulbs from a variety of manufacturers; saving hoteliers the added cost of having to purchase specific lightbulbs that work with only one manufacturer’s software.
With millennials recently surpassing Baby Boomers as North America’s largest generation, it’s impossible to deny the significance of this group’s impact on the hospitality industry; the many ways in which designers are transforming hotel properties and accompanying amenities stands as stark proof. Some designers, however, are looking even further into the future and designing with Generation Z (also known as iGen) in mind. “We are looking past the millennials to the next generation — deemed iGen,” says David Shove Brown, principal and co-founder of Washington, D.C.-based design firm, //3877. “This generation, under 19 years old and born after 9/11, accounts for approximately 25 per cent of the U.S. population. Because they were mostly seven to 11 years old during the recession, they place high value on the dollar as well as on hard work. They want to follow their dreams, and are greatly concerned about humanity and the planet. Thus, their social-media sharing is going to be more substantive,” he notes. “Instead of simply Snapchatting a photo of a lobby, they will be more likely to share a picture of a sustainable shower that is tiled with recycled glass in a room that they got a great deal on while travelling with their family. This group is more loyal to doing good in the world than loyal to specific brands. For hotels to appeal to this demographic, they need to shift the focus from USB outlets and WiFi to ways they can change the world through sustainable design.”
Written By Eric Alister