Forget Gen X, Y, and Z... It's Now Gen C

By Bonnie Knutson Professor, The School of Hospitality Business/MSU | July 24, 2011

There are ten of us in our immediate family – me, my husband, our two daughters, two sons-in-law, and four grandchildren, who range from age 9 to 20. When we all get together at a hotel or resort for our annual sojourn, it seems as if we fill every electrical outlet in site. PCs, Macs, iPods, e-readers, Mobile Phones, multiplied by ten, equals at least 30 chargers that might need plugging in at any one time. That's because we are all – repeat, all - members of Generation C.

We are no longer Baby Boomers or Gen Xers or Gen Yers. Those monikers defined us by the year in which we were born. We had no option in to which cohort we were place. We were described by our age. But no longer. Now, thanks to a myriad of converging forces, we can all become members of the same generation – one that is defined by choice. We can choose to be members of Generation C. And we have done so

The Gen C nickname had its genesis around 2004 when trend watchers began noticing a new type of consumer emerging – one that crossed age boundaries and defied traditional segmentation strategies. These individuals were not necessarily similar in age, but were in their attitudes, values, interests, and certain personality traits. And they all were digitally connected. In other words, they formed a psychographic or psychological cohort that required a totally different approach to thinking about consumers – one that could include every one of every age and could, in essence, stretch to every corner of the market.

To begin thinking about how your hotel can embrace the opportunities emerging from the Gen C trend, it is important to understand its five basic drivers:

  1. Longevity. Simply put, there are more people living longer. By 2030, when all surviving baby Boomers will be over 65, there will be 72 million
    seniors, about 20 percent of the population. As this is being written, the
    U.S. population clock reads 311,332,287, while the world population is
    nearing the seven billion mark.
  2. Mobility. There are dozens of statistics about how many people move every year, ranging from 10 to 25 percent. No matter what the actual
    number, however, even a small percentage represents a large group of people
    who leave friends and family behind to live in unfamiliar surroundings.
  3. Resurgence of Family and Friends. The iconic Normal Rockwell images of families and friends have always been part of the American lexicon. But it
    seems that, since the tragic images of 9/11 were seared into our hearts and
    minds, there has been a renaissance in our need to stay in touch with those
    who are important in our lives.
  4. Celebrity. Andy Warhol pointed out, "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes." If you ever doubt the truth of his statement,
    just look at the proliferation of TV reality shows and video clips on You
    Tube. I recently read somewhere that everybody has creative inclinations,
    but until now, we haven't had the guts or the means to go all out.
  5. Technology. Hardware and software companies have given us the technological and content-creating tools to leash this pent-up creativity
    with cheaper, yet ever more powerful technologies. We now have the ability
    to create, produce, and participate.

So what does all this mean for you and your hotel? First, if means that you have to rethink how you segment your markets. Gone will be the days when hotels just categorize by leisure, business, and group. As any traveler knows, the line between work and leisure time has been virtually erased; it's just home-away-from-home time now. Gone, too, will be the days when age is the defining market element. Your 60-year old Boomer guest belongs to Gen C because she is heavily into Facebook and YouTube. Your Millenial guest is a member of the same generation because he constantly Tweets and is a mayor on FourSquare. Both of them Skype, look for their Groupon offer on their mobile phone, search travel options online, and use word-of-finger instead of word-of-mouth as their way of telling family and friends about your hotel. Remember when you thought that a happy guest would tell six to ten others while a disgruntled one would tell twice that many? In the Gen C world, that reach grows exponentially and it goes worldwide. Gen C also believes that connectivity is a basic human right; they want to be securely connected anywhere and anytime and at no extra cost to them. So having complimentary WiFi service throughout your property is considered a necessary, not a luxury.

As important as these elements are, however, Gen C is looking for a compelling hotel experience. Compelling experiences are memorable, they are what excite guests, and they are about which they tell others. But compelling is also the gestalt of the whole hotel experience – every guest touch point, from the decor to the service, melt into its totality. Therefore, if you ask guests about their dinner experience, and they say "the whole evening was wonderful", they had a compelling experience. If they say, "the food was great," or "the service was good," they just had an experience. There is a big difference.

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Mobile Technology: The Future is Now

Mobile Technology continues to advance at a relentless pace and the hotel industry continues to adapt. Hotel guests have shown a strong preference for mobile self-service - from checking-in/out at a hotel kiosk, to ordering room service, making dinner reservations, booking spa treatments, and managing laundry/dry cleaning services. And they also enjoy the convenience of paying for these services with smart phone mobile payments. In addition, some hotels have adopted a “concierge in your pocket” concept. Through a proprietary hotel app, guests can access useful information such as local entertainment venues, tourist attractions, event calendars, and medical facilities and services. In-room entertainment continues to be a key factor, as guests insist on the capacity to plug in their own mobile devices to customize their entertainment choices. Mobile technology also allows for greater marketing opportunities. For example, many hotels have adopted the use of “push notifications” - sending promotions, discounts and special event messages to guests based on their property location, purchase history, profiles, etc. Near field communication (NFC) technology is also being utilized to support applications such as opening room doors, earning loyalty points, renting a bike, accessing a rental car, and more. Finally, some hotels have adopted more futuristic technology. Robots are in use that have the ability to move between floors to deliver room service requests for all kinds of items - food, beverages, towels, toothbrushes, chargers and snacks. And infrared scanners are being used by housekeeping staff that can detect body heat within a room, alerting staff that the room is occupied and they should come back at a later time. The January Hotel Business Review will report on what some hotels are doing to maximize their opportunities in this exciting mobile technology space.