Seizing the future of millennial travel

Millennials know how to carpe diem and have less brand loyalty, so how do hotels capture their custom? Hotelier goes in-depth to study three hotels that have got it right

A room in Media One Hotel, Dubai
A room in Media One Hotel, Dubai

Capturing the millennial market has been on hoteliers’ agendas for a while now, and lifestyle-branded properties are springing up on every corner.

Hotelier speaks to some of the GMs heading properties that have managed to get a slice of the Gen Y cake to find out what really works

Millennials, also known as Generation Y, are a puzzling bunch. While they can be loosely defined as young adults born after the early 1980s, they desire a seemingly paradoxical mix of experiences. They want international standards, along with cosy authenticity; the most seamless technological connectivity, combined with a personal touch. Getting to grips with these preferences is key, since everyone agrees that millennials are, of course, the future of the travel industry.

“Millennials will represent 50% of travellers by 2025, and will probably spend 80% of the total income coming from the tourism industry,” comments Safak Guvenc, general manager, W Doha Hotel & Residences.

“We really need to understand what they require, their demographics, their expectations, and make immediate changes in our operations to accommodate them,” he adds.

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There is no denying that millennials are becoming a force to be reckoned with, as more young people travel.
Vida Hotels and Resorts general manager Stefan Viard says: “In the past, millennials didn’t make up a large portion of our hotel guests; however, we are slowly seeing a shift in these numbers, observing a growth from the millennial segment in our customer base.

“Keeping this in mind, it is imperative to instigate a relationship with this segment and to start to attract and retain these millennial travellers from now on by aligning our strategies with their travel requirements.

“Once they are captured, these increasingly powerful travellers will no doubt substantially contribute to the overall profitability of the property.”

Creating New Roles
Anticipating the growing power of this segment, W Doha created a special role four years ago to capture, serve and make loyal customers out of Generation Y.

“We realised the importance of millennials about four years ago, and created an e-insider role. We do have an insider role as a brand standard but we were the first hotel to create an e-insider role.

“This person is in charge of social media and offers personalised service to our guests through these mediums.

“They post what is new and happening at W Doha, and also follow feedback on TripAdvisor, and Twitter, etc,” says Guvenc.

This practice is now much more common, and Hotelier is seeing dedicated social media and community managers in hotels leading the conversation. Their objectives go beyond social media posts and promotions and involve creating relationships with existing and prospective guests.

Monitoring is an important function of a community manager, Viard explains: “We know that the younger generation looks at each other for opinions and travel advice, whether it is through Facebook, TripAdvisor, Yelp, travel blogs, etc.

“Having recognised the importance of social media, we have a specialised ecommerce manager at the property who is dedicated to monitoring all social media activity related to the hotel, which allows us to be as proactive as possible when dealing with reviews, regardless of whether they are negative or positive.

“For example, we have seen that the travel forums, TripAdvisor and Yelp are two of the most visited hotel/restaurant review sites, which to our benefit, provides us with the option to respond to any negative feedback.

“We are able to track these through the findings of our ecommerce manager,” says Viard.

Media One Hotel general manager Mark Lee, adds that hiring a millennial for this role adds to the objective, as they can communicate successfully.

“Appointing a community manager enables us to reach out to millennials in a format that they feel most comfortable with, and aspire to be communicated in.

“We are putting a lot of emphasis on both manpower and marketing spend to further develop these channels,” says Lee.

Getting Social
It is no secret that millennials are a tech-savvy and social media-dependent generation. Therefore, hoteliers need to embrace technological innovation not just to communicate, but to influence choices. Word of mouth and feedback are major deciding factors for Generation Y, confirms Viard.

“This group of tech-savvy people love to travel and due to the nature of their upbringing, prefer to spend money on experiences, and not just on a luxurious product. Because they are “social” creatures by nature, millennials have a powerful word of mouth, wanting to constantly share their experiences. “This group is looking for tailored technology, streamlined hotel design and unique authentic experiences. They are always looking for social interaction.”

The social experiences of millennials are not limited to the web, however. Lifestyle brands often have common living areas where people can interact with other guests and relax with their iPads or phones.

For example, during the transition of Manzil Downtown, which underwent a refurbishment last year and opened early this year under Vida Hotels & Resorts, a key design change was in the lobby area, which was revamped to become a ‘living room’. “They want to leave their rooms and be with people,” says Viard.

“When we re-designed the space of our new lobby, at Manzil Downtown Dubai, it was important for us to eliminate the traditional lobby concept and create a multi-use lobby that encourages guests to socialise together.”

In addition, Lee says that millennials look for a different “vibe” in the hotel ambience.

“I think millennials are looking for a dynamic atmosphere; places that have a vibe and energy about them. Yes they want top internet speed, to have all the gadgets inside the room, but so do many non-millennials as well. It’s very much the vibe and energy inside the property they are looking for. It’s fast-paced, lively, and a style of service that really reaches out to them; talking to them on the same level, as opposed to talking up to them,” Lee adds.

Collaborations
Influencing guests using social media personalities, travel bloggers, and lifestyle enthusiasts is another useful tactic for attracting millennials, according to Viard and Guvenc.

“We at W Doha host ‘Tweet Meet’ parties where we invite the most influential Twitter-using millennials and show them what’s new and what’s next in culinary experiences, in our rooms and in our hotel, so that they share these with their Twitter and Instagram followers,” Guvenc says.

Viard welcomes a regular stream of bloggers to his property to review and share their experiences with their followers.

“We need to tap into these very important avenues at an early stage in order to make an impact. Since the hotel opened, we have placed more effort on digital and social media marketing, and PR activities,” Viard says.

“From our experience, this has worked really well, especially in our targeted markets. This has been monitored by increased website traffic and booking patterns based on the reviews received,” he adds.

A direct benefit of such collaborations is increased website traffic, which can be converted into sales through
room and restaurant bookings.

Lee comments that he has seen a shift in marketing spend from traditional and print mediums to digital and social channels. “About a year ago, we looked at our website and overhauled it; we looked at our booking engine and changed it. We invested a lot of time and effort in streamlining our new website, booking engine, in SEO and pay-per-click campaigns,” Lee says.

“We have monitored the progress, and since August 2014, we have consistently beaten year-on-year figures.
“In March 2015, we had a 40% year-on-year increase in direct bookings through our website.”

Instant Feedback
Guvenc, Viard and Lee agree on one underlying consideration that must be taken into account when targeting millennials; they want instant gratification, and are quick to express their opinions when things don’t go their way — often on social media to hundreds of friends and followers. “They are much more impatient — they give immediate feedback, and they want an answer right away,” says Guvenc.

“They are extremely active and they share their opinions on social media, so their story literally becomes everyone else’s story.”

Technological innovations go some way to sating this generational thirst for instant results, and one measure W Doha has implemented is Starwood’s SPG Keyless programme, an initiative to be rolled out at W Hotels around the world.

The hotel now facilitates guests to enter their rooms without stopping at the welcome desk, using the W-App, confirmation code and their smart phones.

Viard adds that website functionality must also be top-notch to keep up with changing millennial demands.

“The ‘social’ generation as I describe them, have higher expectations in terms of accessing information ‘on the spot’ as they demand immediate gratification with whatever it is they are looking for.

“Therefore, if a hotel website doesn’t provide them with real-time hotel rates, or comprehensive information on the hotel’s facilities, they will automatically lose out on capturing the business from the millennial traveller,” says Viard.

Guvenc also emphasises the need to revamp loyalty programmes to keep in line with the need for instant rewards, and adapt to changing perspectives.

“They don’t want a loyal status after a year or two; they want immediate recognition and to see their rewards immediately. Their brand loyalty is very different to our generation,” Guvenc says.

“Brand loyalty is much less among millennials — if they are travelling to Dubai, they will look at different hotels, read the feedback, and check the pricing, look at the loyalty programme, the personality and identity of the hotel, and then choose a hotel that matches their personality.

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CASE STUDY 1

W Doha’s Stay Connected Programme

Objective
W Doha wanted to implement a seamless system for communication between guests and the hotel. They wanted to automate it, serve with a faster turnaround time and minimise any possibilities of errors.

Strategy
The hotel introduced a programme called ‘Stay Connected’, which allows the hotel to connect with the customer through WhatsApp or BBM. The only requirement is an internet connection and a smartphone. Guests are connected to the hotel even before their arrival — for example, they can communicate any special requests before check-in or arrange for pick-up from the airport. After checking-in, they can communicate their requests via a text message on WhatsApp or BBM, and they are served as soon as possible. This omits the need to dial the operator, avoid language barriers, and allows for connectivity, no matter where the guest is.

Results
According to W Doha’s Guvenc, the response had been extremely positive. He believes that this will be a game changing initiative because it is instant, doesn’t leave room for human error, and allows guests to connect with the hotel regardless of their location.

CASE STUDY 2
Media One Hotel’s website overhaul

Objective
As millennials are tech-savvy and spend a lot of time on their mobiles, Media One wanted to build on its online booking mediums to capture the market and get as many direct bookings as possible.

Process
About a year ago, Media One overhauled its website and booking engine completely. It strengthened the back-end processes and then created a faster, more efficient and user- friendly website and booking engine. It revamped the channels that drive direct traffic to the business, including the search engine optimisation and pay-per-click campaigns.

Result
According to Media One general manager Mark Lee, the results have been great. Since August 2014, it has beaten year-on-year direct booking figures. Also, in March 2015, Media One recorded a 40% year-on-year increase in direct bookings through the website.

CASE STUDY 3
Vida Hotels & Resorts recruitment strategy

Objective
Manzil Downtown wanted to recruit the kind of employees who understand the growing segment of millennials. The task was to assess the candidates thoroughly to ensure that they will be able to align themselves with the company’s strategy.

STRATEGY
Vida Hotels & Resorts established a system that allowed management to assess the candidates as individuals and as team players. The initial recruitment process starts with a group interview to see how the individuals interact with one another.

This is followed by an X-Factor style audition, which requires candidates to showcase their individual talents in front of potential employees and the management team. The aim is to identify personalities that are comfortable entertaining. Using this process, the management team are able to find individuals with a positive vibe, who have a story to tell.

RESULTS
The employee workforce at Manzil is made up of more than 60 nationalities who speak a variety of languages. The process has identified individuals who have the ability to make quick decisions on the spot and provide personalised service to guests.

5 things to know about millennial travellers
1. 93.2% of millennials use Facebook daily and a big chunk of them use it several times per day.
2. 76% get more of their news from Facebook than from newspapers, radio or TV.
3. 93% of millennials value experiences over possessions.
4. Travel is the number one experience desired by young people.
5. 50% of the world’s travellers by 2025 will be millennials and they will contribute about 80% to the world’s total tourism revenue.

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