The Hottest Hotel Design Elements for Baby Boomers, Millennials and Gen Z
By David Ashen Principal and Founder, dash design
This article was published originally on Hotel Executive December 23, 2018
As a hotelier, which generation do you cater to? Boomers, who favor luxurious rooms, along with prime amenities and service? Millennials, who live through mobile technology and ultra-connectivity? Or Gen Z, the high-tech group concerned with global diversity and social justice?
Or maybe you've managed to meet the needs and preferences of all three generations?
Keeping Current with Millennials and Gen Z
Most of the attention by today's hoteliers has been on making the millennial and younger generations comfortable, including a heightened emphasis on spaces with digital connectivity and opportunities for social interaction, like bar areas that do double-duty at check-in points. Also popular are gathering areas located at high altitudes, like rooftop bars and exclusive penthouse lounges, with some seeing lines forming at their entries at 5 p.m. Adding to the scenes are rock-star-status mixologists and cocktail menus.
By creating spaces that make it easy for the younger guest to stay connected through digital and personal interactions-absolutes craved by millennials and the up-and-coming generation, Gen Z-hoteliers are satisfying the groups' lifestyle preferences, giving them good reason to book a room or two at their properties during the travelers' business and pleasure trips.
Many hotel brands are paying attention to the younger set's vibe, giving patrons plenty of option for gathering and socializing, like the Freehand New York that features a cool retro 80's era game room, and five food and beverage outlets-yes, there are five. When most hoteliers cringe at operating one full-service restaurant, the Freehand has taken on multiple outlets to make this a multi-level bar and restaurant destination that happens to have hotel rooms. From the ground floor to the roof, there are quiet getaways, like the George Washington Bar on the second floor, where the guest can cozy up with friends in an intimate atmosphere infused with history, to the boisterous rooftop Broken Shaker which mixes a tropical tiki bar with the New York City skyline. There is nothing but choice in this hotel, which, while aimed at younger generations, also-surprisingly-attracts GenXers and Boomers.
Consider, also, Arlo Hotels and citizenM properties, where smaller rooms are featured, and everything has its place. To appeal to millennials and younger Gen Z's, the lobbies are designed as a sense of place, which encourages socialization through the focal bars, library/lounges and more residential "tricked out" zones. The Moxy goes so far as to making check-in a part of the bar experience, which violates every taboo in hotel design by crossing transactional and experiential zones. The result, however, is that the guest is welcomed and encouraged to socialize upon arrival. It's anything but impersonal and a direct result of people spending too much time buried in the digital world and not connecting with humanity. What's interesting about these hotels is their focus on a younger demographic (at least in New York City) appeals to an older GenX European clientele as well.
Socializing at Bars on Rooftops, in Lobbies
Many brands have designed rooftop bars in response to the changing demographics and needs of younger generation. Andre Balazs of The Standard Hotels, for instance, has created notable public spaces in his properties, such as The Standard Hotel, High Line's New York penthouse bar where guests can enjoy the music of renowned DJs, a state-of-the-art sound system and awesome views.
As well, Marriott's Moxy brand recognizes that millennials have grown up with more alternative work situations. The properties now have more public spaces throughout the properties, even while the communal areas and private rooms have gotten smaller. Look, too, at our recently completed Freepoint Hotel West Cambridge, a former Best Western property that was reconfiguredinto an independent hotel targeted for the younger guest, including redefined public spaces that, like the Moxy, allow for much more social interactivity. A pool table, and "secret internal garden", and a bar with small plates, wide-reaching food offerings and all.
At the Ace Hotel New York and Ace Hotel Shoreditch London, during the day, the locations' lounges are dotted with people sitting in proximity of each other while they dig into their work. The same spaces, however, transform from work hubs into social lounges at night, with guests mixing evening fun with off-hour business dealings, as is the prevailing lifestyle of younger generations. Incorporating design elements in lounge and other public areas, like expansive bars, conversations areas and table-and-chair nooks, allows the guest to combine work and play as desired, which is why the spaces work so well. For the younger set, at least.
Leaning Toward Luxury and High-Touch Service
Rather than fixating on connectedness, however, the boomer generation tends to value brands that put luxury front-and-center. These guests prefer large overnight rooms with comfort-directed amenities, like quality beds with high end linens, spa-like bathrooms and a high-level of personal service for food, laundry, salon care and transportation, something of little interest to their younger counterparts.
While the younger guest is happy to check-in electronically, order meals through television sets and otherwise independently get what they want, when they want it, guests of the boomer generation look forward to concierge attention, personal check-ins and direct calls for room service versus those made via a tablet. Their stays are meant to transport them to an environment that inspires the way they'd like to live, that is, an aspirational escape. Boomers also look for great restaurants to sit in and have a meal, and welcoming bars although not necessarily noisy ones that double as lobby and reception areas. Often, they're less interested in multi-purpose areas than they are in public spaces designed for social interaction and more remote areas to accommodate isolated attention to work.
Autograph's The Draftsman in Charlottesville caters to the area's boomer population, including staff, visitors and alumni of the nearby University of Virginia. The brand's smaller lobby, bigger overnight rooms, luxurious amenities-including textured, rather than bare-bones furnishings-and full-service restaurant appeal the sensibility of an older demographic.
The Crosby Hotel in New York City (London's Firmdale Hotels' first venture in the United States) is an example of approachable luxury and full amenities aimed squarely at the moneyed Boomer population. A luxe oasis in the middle of the frenetic metropolis, the Crosby is layered in an eclectic mix of textures, patterns and colors, making this hotel an aspirational residential palace. I have one friend who stays here from South America and has no interest in leaving her room. She feels totally pampered and transported to a "better place". Unlike the millennial hotels mentioned above, the Crosby is about privacy, pampering and indulgence.
Designing Across Generations
While there will always be brands that cater directly to specific groups of people, designs for one group of people sometimes attract others. W Hotels & Resorts has found a way to invigorate its bar areas with sky-high locations, chic designs, piano entertainment and other features to appeal to both GenXers and Boomers. As well, not every preference for overnight accommodations is divided among the generations. An overall interest in games from the past has taken hold among younger and mid-range populations, including cornhole and Jenga. With so many people spending so much time immersed in technology, many crave activities that combine a balance of high and low technology. In some ways, what's old has become new, again.
Around the corner are guests from Gen Z, the younger population to the millennial crowd. These people were born into a digital society and, as digital natives, move with ease from one electronic platform to another. Many of the group's members are go-getters with a global, multi-cultural perspective and high sense of social justice. Theirs is a generation characterized by the rebelliousness and idealism of youth combined with a worldly vision, and hoteliers would do well to keep a steady watch on them and their preferred lifestyle habits, especially as the group's members make their way into their work and career destinations, near and far.
Hoteliers might look at how they can connect more with this generation by tying into social causes in a meaningful way. Retail companies like Warby Parker have led the way by tying their brands to causes that are relevant and impactful the planet in a positive way. These initiatives have to be genuine and not contrived. This generation can sniff out anything that is not authentic. Hoteliers must consider how their brands can impact the guest beyond the night's stay and create a meaningful impact on our lives.
With most younger guests living through high technology and craving social interaction, while those of the boomer generation appreciate high-touch personal service and moderate public interaction, hotel brands that offer flexible designs will be better able to accommodate people across generations by allowing each guest to engage in personally appealing ways.
Hospitality brands also would do well to realize that although public areas designed for maximum socializing at hotels are driving many of today's trends, no matter how potentially short-lived those ideals will be-given the younger populations' impatience for new scenes and different experiences-hospitality brands should prepare themselves for the reinvention of their spaces through fluid and adjustable design elements to meet the needs and wants of the guest of future generations.