Hotels are in the business of giving consumers what they want. However, as one generation of consumers is replaced by another, it stands to reason that a new set of travel and lodging preferences comes to the forefront as well. Now that millennials are quickly becoming the dominant force in retail spending in more verticals than simply hospitality, hotels are suddenly finding themselves faced with a whole new crop of travelers that aren’t willing to book their grandmothers’ hotel rooms.
That’s the issue facing Marriott International and Tina Edmundson, global officer of luxury and lifestyle brands. In an interview with The New York Times, Edmundson admitted that the hotel industry is experiencing more than its fair share of disruption from millennials who aren’t satisfied with the hotels that wowed their parents and grandparents.
“The role of the hotel in the past had been very functional,” Edmundson said. “The hotel was a haven. You were reassured. You were looking for this reassurance or good-housekeeping stance. You were traveling to places you potentially hadn’t been before and needed that haven or comfort. More and more, as the mindset has changed, hotels have adapted to what guests want today. The guest has always wanted the hotel to be a little bit better than home.”
In essence, Edmundson believes, Marriott and other longstanding hotel chains are being pressured to transform the experience of lodging from a concrete one to an ephemeral one. As a test case, Edmundson spearheaded the effort to introduce the millennial-inspired (or millennial-targeted) AC Hotel chain that emphasizes modernist floor plans and chooses locations suited for exploration of nearby urban centers — instead of, for example, suburban or rural hotels that serve more as depositories of beds than any kind of “experience.” Marriott even partnered with Slow Watches, the millennial favorite alternative watch brand, to showcase its products in a pop-up shop at a Miami AC location.
“Slow Watches is about taking your time and enjoying the present, which is very much the ethos of the AC brand,” Edmundson told NYT. “It’s about the notion of removing all distractions. We want to remove the friction of travel so you are free to enjoy the present and be in the moment. Purposeful design can improve your life.”
Purposeful design is one thing, but blindly following millennials’ whims may not be exactly as purposeful as Marriott intends. In a 2014 interview with The Wall Street Journal, Chairman Bill Marriott explained that his company had started an aggressive campaign to remove the majority of desks from its rooms, citing facts that millennials prefer to spend more waking time outside their rooms than in them. Alongside what Slate called the “Great Marriott Deskodus,” the chain has also enlarged TVs, eliminated excess closet space and added revamped, luxuriant bathrooms.
Even Marriott himself, the 82-year-old head of the world’s fourth-largest hotel chain, according to Statista, senses the changes that his hotels must make to stay current.
“Today is a whole new ballgame for me,” Marriott told WSJ. “When I went to hotels when I was young, you went into the lobby, you checked in at the desk, and if you were hungry, you went to the restaurant and sat at the counter and had a hamburger. Now, you check into your room, drop your luggage and go back to the lobby to use your computer or meet your friends.”
By his own estimations, Marriott’s clientele will be almost 60 percent millennials by 2018, and for hotels to adjust to that kind of generational shift in consumers, advance planning is certainly necessary. Especially in the face of Airbnb’s advent that offers millennials a no-frills lodging situation that enables them to save more money for actual experiences at their destination, a radical re-imagining of the high-class experiences traditional hotels can deliver seems, ironically, reasonable.