Hilton Hotels has dropped a few hints at a new lifestyle brand of their own, but for the most part are keeping mum on details. One thing is clear: While the company is interested in appealing to the Millennial traveler, they're also taking aim at a broader range of customers. "It's misguided to think there is a silver bullet and there is a Millennial brand that will solve any of a company's problems," Chris Nassetta, president and CEO of Hilton told Hotel News Now in March. "The lifestyle brand, when we eventually do it, will have a different perspective. It will be a perspective that will try to capture a broader base of demand."
Part of that decision comes from the understanding that what Millennials may want now, can be very different down the road. "We understand that needs change, not only with time but also with each vacation or trip you take," says Andrew Flack, vice president, product marketing solutions, for the chain. "While some Millennial customers may be looking for a brand with incredible Wi-Fi bandwidth now, another 10 years down the road they may be seeking a high-end experience with luxury amenities, or a beach resort that caters to the needs of a family with kids." -- M.C.L.
There's no denying it: The Millennials are coming. Those born between the early 1980s and 1999, known as Millennials or Generation Y, already account for some 30 percent of U.S. business travelers today, but by 2020 that number could increase to 50 percent, according to several research reports.
Major hotel brands are ready for the shift in demographics, anticipating an influx of future guests who are characterized as creative, tech-savvy, fiercely independent and highly social. The following hospitality brands specifically target the coveted Millennial market. And more, you can be sure, are on the way.
Launched in 2007 and since growing to nearly a dozen properties around the world, Hyatt's Andaz brand, above, generally is grouped in with those that appeal to Millennials because it targets what it calls the "creative class." This is "a rapidly growing group of professionals who are interested in getting to know the places they travel to more intimately and are motivated and inspired by the surrounding culture," says Megan Eakins, senior brand manager for Andaz Hotels.
To that end, each property is designed to reflect the spirit of its locale. At the Andaz 5th Avenue in New York City, a muted palette and exposed-pipe ceilings channel an industrial Big Apple, while dining outlets at the Andaz Napa take inspiration and source products from surrounding Northern California ranches, orchards, mills and farms. "We live and breathe to deliver to our guests a local, transformative and inspired experience," says Eakins.
Programs are available for both travelers and area residents that showcase emerging local talent in areas such as music, fashion, food and film. The events are known as Andaz Salons, a nod to the Paris Salons from the 18th and 19th centuries, where the social elite gathered to discuss art and culture.
"The goal is to provide a way for like-minded individuals to share their passions, become inspired and connect with up-and-coming cultural insiders," says Eakins. At one recent event at the Andaz 5th Avenue, guests watched a local graffiti artist spray-paint a door in appropriately gaudy street-style, followed by drinks and a discussion.
Meeting spaces and guest rooms also take inspiration from their destinations. The Chancery at the Andaz Liverpool Street in London features ornate chandeliers and classical-style cornices and fireplaces to delight guests at receptions for up to 100, while Apartment 2E at the Andaz 5th Avenue channels a swanky downtown loft apartment with an open kitchen and modern living room-style lounge areas.
Other Andaz elements that appeal to the Millennial mindset include a roaming, iPad-armed check-in staff that offers guests wine or other beverages upon arrival.
Starwood Hotels & Resorts launched Aloft Hotels in 2008, one of the earliest chains created specifically with the new generation of traveler in mind. The brand is growing fast and will have more than 100 properties in 14 countries by the end of this year, with new hotels in Atlanta; Oklahoma; and Calgary, Alberta, debuting just last month.
The Aloft experience begins with the lobby, a decked-out social space optimal for mixing and mingling or hunkering down and doing work. With an open loft-style layout, a typical Aloft lobby is furnished with bright, swanky furniture, pool tables, board games and big windows for lots of natural light to draw guests from their rooms and into the communal hub.
"Travel can be lonely, so we designed the lobby to be an energetic space where you can socialize and meet people, or sit back and just people-watch," says Brian McGuinness, senior vice president of Starwood's specialty select brands, which include Aloft, Element and Four Points by Sheraton.
Aloft's signature W XYZ bars are an extension of the lobby, adding their own hip, lounge-like ambience, with neon lights, seasonal cocktails and live music from local up-and-coming artists.
The type of guests Aloft attracts "are not wallflowers," says McGuinness. "They're accustomed to being connected all the time and being out there." Indeed, they're a generation that grew up hanging out at a Starbucks in a caf• culture, so doing their thing among other people is comforting.
Guest rooms are efficient and airy, with big windows to maximize natural light, high ceilings and contemporary furniture.
Although the brand puts a premium on social interaction, Aloft also caters to the highly independent guest. "This crowd has wheels on their luggage and a smartphone in their hand," notes •McGuinness. "They're mobile, on-the-move and prefer high-tech solutions over hand-holding."
In 2011, Aloft launched Smart Check-In in five of its U.S. hotels, which eliminates the check-in process and allows guests to enter the property and head straight to their rooms. Starwood Preferred Guest members who opt in are given an Aloft-branded RFID keycard that serves as their room key. On the first day of a planned stay, the hotel sends a text with the guest's room number. Aloft is now piloting a program that lets a smartphone serve as the room key, doing away with the keycard altogether.
Such seamless simplicity carries over to the meeting room. Typical Aloft meeting spaces are pre-outfitted with chairs, tables, a TV and a DVD player. The goal is to create spaces that allow guests to roll in and connect their laptops or tablets and broadcast presentations with ease. According to McGuinness, "We wanted to create a space that was ready to go."