The Millennial Generation has entered its prime spending years. A cohort of this size, roughly 27% of the US population with over 80 million people, will inevitably impact trends across all industries, and the hospitality market is no exception. How can we best design hotels to meet the unique expectations of this generation? An emphasis on the local experience is a great place to start.

Like every preceding generation, Millennials have overarching tendencies which can be traced back to experiences during childhood. Born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, the Millennials’ emotional backdrop has been flooded with social change, such as the impeachment of President Clinton, the economic upturn of the 90s followed by the recession, 9/11, and increased LGBT rights. Generally speaking, Millennials are digital natives whose values are deeply rooted in diversity, equality and tolerance. A few prevailing preferences are impacting their consumer choices, including:

Purchases with impact. This generation is buying less, but Millennials are focusing purchasing power on things with an emotional connection. Millennial consumers tend to look for goods that are sustainable, and they appear to be willing to pay a slight premium for goods that deliver a community benefit. Some are willing to pay a premium to companies with a high community involvement, reflected both in profits and in consumer loyalty. Millennial travelers care more about corporate social responsibility than their predecessors in years past.

Distaste for overt branding. Millennials prioritize authenticity. As a whole, this generation grew up with overt branding; high budget marketing campaigns featuring famous athletes and product placements in Friday night-television sitcoms have been a staple in their upbringing. In contrast to the Baby Boomer generation, Millennials are very skeptical of apparent marketing schemes, large corporations, and brands in general. Word of mouth and online reviews are have much more weight on their decision making process than a branding campaign.

Focus on individuality. Millennials have money to spend, but are fickle consumers because they place less emphasis on material possessions as a way to fit in. Instead, this generation is unified by a belief in the uniqueness of individuals, the first generation to emerge with this trait. Millennial consumers are likely to opt for more independent, local businesses such as bed and breakfasts or boutique hotels.  In order for hotel brands to reach this demographic, they must start with a blank slate and build the brand in a layered approach, heavily centered on creating a small-scale, local experience within a large-scale, global brand.

Desire for experiences. While Baby Boomers respond to achievement, status, and performance, Millennials respond to fun, interactivity, and experiences. Compared to their elders, Millennials enjoy exploring a new city, engulfing themselves in a local experience. This generation places less emphasis on amenities inside of the hotel because they prefer to have a local-centric experience with a more inquisitive overarching travel personality.

The hospitality industry can tap into these generational traits by maximizing the local experience. Instead of strict adherence to a standardized corporate visual brand identity, a hotel might celebrate local artists by implementing an art program linking ground-floor gallery spaces with opportunities to purchase a favorite piece. Rather than advertising the fitness center, a hotel might highlight connections to the surrounding area through large-scale graphics like maps with walking distances to local landmarks and educational tidbits about the city. Traditional three-meal hotel restaurants may be languishing, but concierge services directing guests to local hot spots for food and entertainment will help connect patrons to the community and give them a memorable local experience. While enclosed lounge areas tend to isolate guests, window seating in the lobby and café areas creates a sense of connection with sidewalk activity. Locally sourced products throughout the hotel from hand soaps to lobby snacks will help to reinforce a sense of place, and incorporating emotional elements such as one-of-a-kind scents or engaging artwork will help to distinguish a hotel as being singular, even under the umbrella of a larger brand.

While previous generations relied heavily on the idea of a trusted brand, Millennials are much more likely to choose a hotel which offers a unique local experience. Designing for this preference opens up exciting opportunities to create one-of-a-kind hospitality spaces which will delight guests of all generations and serve clients well for many years to come.

About Charlotte

Charlotte Blue is an Interior Designer in LS3P’s Greenville, SC office. Her portfolio includes work at all phases of design and construction for major national hotel and resort clients. Charlotte earned a Master of Fine Arts in Interior Design from Savannah College of Art and Design and a Bachelor of Science in Interior Design with a Minor in Studio Art from Meredith College; her graduate thesis focused on hospitality franchise models supporting the next generation of business travelers. She brings previous interior design experience at firms in GA, WA, and VA.