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W Hotels is generally credited with founding the boutique hotel movement. This movement helped kickstart personalization in hospitality by introducing smaller properties that could afford to be nimble and answer to the whims of their guests (the chain trademarked its “Whatever/Whenever” motto).
But W was the exception, not the rule. Even while it was refashioning itself in the “boutique” mindset, Westin — its sister Starwood brand — was touting consistency as a its strongpoint. If you walked into any Westin in the world in the early aughts, you’d encounter similar scents, botanicals, music and (of course) the same signature line of Heavenly products.
But flash forward to today — and things couldn’t be more different. What began at W Hotels is now happening worldwide. The industry started shaking itself out of age-old standards for Millennials, and that trend only continues to become more important as Gen Z comes of age.
Given their already-considerable spending power and their always-on love for travel (a recent global study by UNiDAYS and Ad Age found that 51 percent of Gen Z students travel more than 50 miles at least every three months), Gen Zers represent a seismic opportunity for hospitality brands if they know how to capitalize on attracting them. And to their credit, they seem to be: Evolutions in hotel personalization, hyperlocalization and transparency all match Gen Zers’ well-documented preference for services that cater to their distinct habits, likes and needs as consumers.
To learn more about Gen Z travelers, you can listen to our free Gen Z Insights travel podcast, where we discuss the results of a recent UNiDAYS travel survey — and interview Rafat Ali, Founder and CEO of Skift:
Hospitality is riding a wave of personalization permeating almost every industry on the planet. Hotels woo guests with pillow menus, regale them with celebrity chef partnerships and court their senses with exotic, highly personalized Instagram-worthy common spaces. Moreover, whereas only the luxury sector once prioritized service culture, most brands now tout the advantages of their “people factor” as a draw.
To those well-versed in the hospitality industry (and its growing courtship of Gen Z travellers), such developments shouldn’t come as a surprise. Gen Zers want to feel recognized by the hotel brands they frequent, and those brands are responding accordingly. Several years ago, W Hotels launched a SnapChat geofilter campaign that let younger travellers send SnapChat messages to their friends, formatted to resemble “tongue-in-cheek postcards” with messages like “Wish You Were Here” or “Current Situation.” Additionally, hotels have turned to technology to make everything from check-in to temperature control seamless and easy.
Airbnb is, without a doubt, responsible for blurring the line between hotel and community. Its mission of letting people “live in a place instead of just traveling to it” has encouraged hyperlocalization and prompted hotels to follow suit.
Brand standards now encourage uniqueness through “authenticity.” A hotel in Nashville embraces the country music scene while its counterpart in Brooklyn bills itself as being foodie-forward. Aesthetics and operations include local communities: Marriott’s Moxy hotels are “reflective of the culturally-rich neighborhoods” that surround them, while AccorHotels’ new “AccorLocal” initiative allows nearby service providers, like dry cleaners and florists, service both locals and hotel guests.
Again, this trend plays nicely into Gen Zers’ expectations of “authentic” experiences during the course of their travels.
Not only does that hotel in Nashville need to look unique, it also needs to be transparently photo-ready.
Social media has been a blessing and a curse: Every nook and cranny is proudly peacocked, so spaces need to be beautiful. And because reviews are posted in real time, hotel service and appearances need to have their best feet forward, 24/7.
The internet has upped the game for every hotel touchpoint. But that’s a good thing when it comes to Gen Z. A Cassandra Report study found that as many as 42 percent of Gen Zers see travel as “something they need to feel like their [lives are] complete.” Exploring the world is tantamount to their own self-exploration — and sharing their travel experiences on social media with friends and family equates to self-expression.
All of these trends were embraced by Millennials, the holy grail of customer segments for the last decade. But these trends are also music to the ears of Gen Z, for whom personalization, local authenticity and transparency are table stakes. The hospitality market has — some would argue consciously — evolved in perfect parallel to the way today’s early-twenty-somethings perceive the world.
The fact that we can order groceries through a tiny speaker sets a new bar for how companies and customers interact, and hotels are in the cross fire since they are selling an experience.
With Gen Z’s spending power growing year by year, hotels would do well to court them for three key reasons:
1) To capitalize on high lifetime value
2) To capitalize on the influence Gen Zers have on family travel
3) To migrate them to increasingly upscale brands as they grow older.
In the words of luxury travel network Virtuoso, “While Millennials previously held court as the leading force in the travel industry, ‘Gen Z’ is the new buzzword in tourism.” Indeed.
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