When the U.S. was treated to a solar eclipse in August 2017, everybody was talking about it. The social-media channels sizzled with anticipation; conversations everywhere rumbled about plans and parties; and, the opportunities for social congregation abounded. It was an event crying out for someone to swoop in and organize a celebration.
Enter Marriott and the quick-thinking digital specialists it employs to stay engaged with millennials — currently the most important segment of the hotel-patronizing public.
As it happened, Marriott was lucky enough to house some of its 6,700 hotels inside the shadow the phenomenon promised to cast across the country, a burst of serendipity the company’s M Live-division took full advantage of. The lively on-property eclipse parties, to which guests at these well-placed hotels were invited that afternoon, took over courtyards, terraces, rooftops and, eventually, social media.
It was thanks to modern technology that these hotels were able to conceive of these events. And, it’s via modern technology that the people who largely benefitted from it — millennials — live their lives. The coincidence is lost on no one.
THE BIG BULGE
At 27.5 per cent of the population, millennials are now the largest generation in Canada. As with all the best social phenomena, there’s some discrepancy around the particulars that define this cohort. But demographers William Straus and Neil Howe — widely credited with coining the term — declare it to be made up of people born from 1982 to 2004. That would makee them between 14 and 36 years old today — a significant, important group.
Consider: they’re the fastest-growing travel segment and one of the largest and most influential categories of travellers in the world. Each millennial’s average annual 3.1 trips are more than other generations (Gen-Xers are closest, with 2.8), according to Expedia Group’s study, Canadian Multi-Generational Travel Trends. They travel for 26 days annually — by plane more than any other generation and by car less than any other — to visit family, relax and sight-see, in that order.
In 2010, millennials generated US$165 billion in tourism receipts and made 187 million visits around the world, accounting for 20 per cent of total global travel. Canadian millennials travel outside of Canada more than any other cohort (65 per cent of their trips are international) and, as a cohort, their international trips are set to hit 300 million a year by 2020.
According to research associated with Destination Canada’s Millennial Travel Program, this group often spends more in destinations than other tourists because they travel for longer periods. They also travel more frequently and to less-conventional destinations. The campaign, which focused on inspiring Canadian millennials to explore their own country during Canada 150, featured more than 150 uniquely-Canadian travel encounters and enlisted a number of social influencers to share their real-time experiences — ultimately increasing millennial travel within Canada by 16 per cent in 2017.
Like all cohorts, millennials prefer hotel stays to any other accommodation (56 per cent of them stay in hotels and they spend 26 per cent of their travel budget on it).
In other words, millennials are a cohort hotels ignore at their peril.
Marriott unveiled M Live three years ago. These always-on, youth-powered nerve centres — with hubs in South Florida, Hong Kong, Dubai, London and the company’s Bethesda, Md.-based global headquarters — look to engage millennial travellers by way of their trending social stories from around the globe.
The glass-enclosed banks of M Live’s screens hum with incoming feeds overseen by teams of digital-content experts — millennials themselves. They scour the web for the conversations that are lighting up social platforms, then respond on a dime with Marriott-centric content that authentically integrates pop-culture distractions into real-time, two-way initiatives with the mostly-millennial audience.
When M Live caught the buzz about the eclipse a year-and-a-half ago, digital-content producers sprang into action to create meteorological parties with operators. Marriott also feasted on the social-media frenzy that was the Yanny-Laurel debate this past spring, creating playful content around this ambiguous audio clip that had the world comparing notes and pushing it onto the social channels of its Moxy brand.
And, with geofencing — utilizing GPS or other digital markers to create a virtual boundary around a physical space (typically to facilitate location-based engagement/marketing) — hotels that are paying attention monitor content on Instagram and Twitter any time a next-gen traveller makes a public post from one of their properties.
As much as the millennial cohort likes experiences, says Matthew Glick, vice-president of Content Marketing for Marriott International, they also like to document them. “They get back to their rooms at night and take to Instagram to post a story. We see those.” And they acknowledge them, connecting through their loyalty handle and then “surprising and delighting” (a Marriott pledge) those guests in real time — perhaps by sending over poolside appetizers to the guests who just posted a swooning photo of the beautiful pool. When the guests express their pleasure and post more Marriott-based shots, says Glick, “then they’ve really become a brand ambassador.”
Hotel Arts Group, which operates two Calgary-based boutique hotels, follows millennials on social media to find out what’s important to them and exploits every opportunity to enter into digital conversations. “We also spend a lot of time attending social-media conferences, talking to them and asking them questions,” says Fraser Abbott, the company’s director of Business Development.
But, for all the research and formal outreach, marketers at Toronto’s Drake Hotel regard content that originates in the opposite direction as the Holy Grail. “There’s no marketing that’s more authentic than a real guest posting a personal story about their fabulous experience,” says Stephanie Jarvis, The Drake’s Marketing director. “We love to share user-generated content to showcase what The Drake is all about to our millennial audience because of how much they value authenticity.”
The property, which Vogue magazine declared “at the heart of Toronto’s hip transformation,” offers millennials sharing fodder by, among other things, accommodating their taste for customization. “We find that when we’re creating hotel and event packages for this group, the more personally customizable the offering can be, the more these guests enjoy it,” explains Jarvis.
For example, The Drake’s Tailgate Package invites guests to select from custom hotel-party features, such as a barbecue pit, taco stand, DJ, ping pong games and a premium bar.
“As curious culture-seekers ourselves, we love to create quirky, outside-the-box experiences for people that blend culinary and art and music,” says Jarvis. “We highly identify with our millennial-guests’ appetites for trying new things and ensure we deliver the really unique, multi-facetted experiences we know they’re wanting from us.”
THE HOTEL SERVICE
As for what matters to millennials during their hotel stay, wireless Internet tops the list, says Abbott. “You’ve got to make sure they can access it. That’s number-1.”
Design elements are also important and if interiors broadcast relationships with local suppliers, so much the better. “Millennials want to see their community doing well and [for hotels] to be economic pollinators, spending locally and reinvesting their dollars,” Abbot adds.
The local piece is key, agrees Maria Antonopoulus, Marketing director at Hotel William Gray, a boutique property in Old Montreal; that’s why the art in its 127 rooms is created by local artists — a fact the hotel promotes through its website and social media, as well as in the rooms.
The learning curve for speaking to millennials isn’t so steep, says Abbott, especially if it’s people from the same generation doing the speaking. “It’s easier for millennials to reach millennials. They know you’ve got to spend the time listening first — not just weigh in right away. That’s always the secret in social media: finding out who the voices are what they’re interested in. If you come in like a bull in a china shop, it’s not going to ring true.”
Written by Laura Pratt