Hotel Design: Engaging Millennials Throughout Their Stay

By Cristine Henderson Associate, Hoefer Wysocki | March 24, 2019

Millennials are quickly becoming known as disruptors when it comes to particular areas of business that otherwise have been relatively predictable up until now. Architecture, and hotels especially, are no exception to a shift in paradigm. From the integration of technology, to the creation of open-concept floorplans, what millennials crave is transforming how hotels approach design concepts in order to better attract and serve their guests.

Technology and Hospitality Industry Design

Technology-based design elements are the primary way that the millennial shift is occurring. Amenities like TVs and Wi-Fi have not always been as ubiquitous as they are now. In fact, providing a flat-screen TV in a hotel room is now becoming an industry baseline for even the cheapest accommodations. A strong Wi-Fi connection is now more coveted than parking or even complimentary breakfast at hotels. Readily available Wi-Fi access has proven to be a necessity for both business and leisure travelers.

As the millennial generation continues to age and have children of their own, even more will be expected of hotel design, such as the addition of Amazon's Alexa and smart control panels for lighting, room temperature. Hotels have even begun media partnerships with a variety of streaming services that be offered for free to hotel guests like the Showtime Hotel App. Several hotels including the Hyatt Regency San Francisco, Caesar's Palace and Dream Downtown NYC also just recently announced partnerships with Google's New Google Assistant Interpreter Mode, in which users are able to receive translations for dozens of languages and conduct conversations in real- time.

Because technology moves at such a fast pace, hotels have no choice but to update. The consumer demand for more technology in travel accommodations is driving a plethora of innovation within hotel design and function. In addition to utilizing technology for hotel guests, smart hotels brands are also seeking ways in which technology can help improve work for its employees.

While housekeeping isn't the first thing you think of as it relates to a hotel's design and when it comes to making a hotel millennial friendly and high tech, there are some surprising new technologies that help the staff with cleaning tasks, therefore making the housekeeping easier, and ultimately, providing better guest satisfaction. Some hotel properties have begun utilizing sensors on room service trays which sends out alerts to pick it up after the sensor has passed through the guest's doorway into the hall.

Another aspect of advanced housekeeping is the use of an iPad Touch to notify maids when a guest has checked out or left the room for a period of time. This enables the staff to come in and clean without disturbing guests during their stay. It also creates a more time efficient schedule for hotel personnel. Millennials may have the chance to engage with this technology as some hotels are moving towards app-based innovations for guests to request housekeeping to better align with their schedules or even receive notifications from housekeeping when the room is being serviced.

The Influence of Airbnb

The changing landscape of hospitality cannot be discussed without the mention of Airbnb. This service has swept the globe, and while it makes travel accommodations more affordable, it also threatens the classic model for hotels and their design. However, 53% of millennials are still choosing hotels as their first choice of accommodations, with only 23% saying a short-term rental service was their go-to. Instead of wiping out the traditional hotel industry, Airbnb has simply inspired hoteliers to utilize architects as a resource for innovative ideas.

Tapping into an architect's skillset in order to design for new consumer tastes, as well as for the future, has given new life to the hotel industry. This desire and willingness to compete with short-term rental services has renewed the competitive nature of business among hotel brands across the nation. Unique amenities are what truly differentiate hotels and Airbnb. Hotels can take advantage of these points of differentiation because the architect can plan for more experiences and additional services, unlike an Airbnb. RoomKey PMS refers to some of these key amenities as access to a pool or outdoor lounge, a gym, in-room dining and, housekeeping.

The Power of Authenticity & Experience-Based Travel

Since millennials crave authentic and experience-based travel, the locations they stay in must reflect these qualities as well. In order for the hotels to compete, certain design elements must be changed or updated to attract millennial clientele. One particular change architects have been implementing for hoteliers is the trend of designing smaller rooms. This creates more capacity to house guests and increases budget to focus on plush amenities, such as a premium mattress and luxurious bath fixtures. This resonates with this demographic given that the Millennial guests prefers more key amenities to the size of the room.

Additionally, Millennials crave connection and as such, the lobby needs to feel comfortable and social, as it has become a central "hub" for guests to hang out, enjoy curated F&B menus and enjoy local entertainment or even beer flight tastings from a local brewery, for example. Beyond the social aspect of the lobby, another reason Millennials are attracted to this space is their penchant for social media. Having an aesthetically appealing lobby provides great "share-worthy" material.

70% of American travelers are on social media at least once a day, spending an average of 82 minutes perusing and posting. When examining this data more closely related to Millennial travelers, research has shown that this demographic spends significantly more time on social media during travel, at 113 minutes and accessing their social accounts at least once a day.

Feels like Home

Rather than creating a formal, business-like atmosphere that many hotels have strived to uphold in the past, Millennial travelers are searching for a home-like feel when they walk in the door. One way to achieve this in the hotel's design is by giving guests the choice to dine in, or out. More recently, hotels have begun adding kitchenettes to their properties as a key amenity, providing the option for guests to cook for themselves if desired.

Additional ways designers have helped create this "at home" feel is through the use of select materials and lighting. For example, natural and locally-sourced materials such as wood and warm tones can make a space feel cozier without being boring. And environmentally conscious materials, especially native to the area, make a difference for the guests and the eco-system. Natural light has countless health benefits for guests including stress management, and even promoting natural production of melatonin, to aid guests in a more restful sleep.

Seeing as Millennials tend to be very eco-friendly, these types of touches can make all the difference in attracting the Millennial guest to the property.

Components like skylights and floor-to-ceiling windows in hotel can make a huge difference in the look and feel of the hotel, in addition to aiding in natural light benefits. As an alternative, more hotels have begun designing with LED lighting since this is a big energy saver, and is relatively easy to incorporate into a space without a full re-design or renovation. LED lights have been shown to be a good investment as while they are often more expensive up front, they last longer than traditional incandescent bulbs and consume less energy. From a design perspective, LEDs are also great for use in hard-to-reach or unconventional places since the bulbs so rarely have to be changed.

All in all, designing for millennials is essentially designing for the future. According to a study by the Cornell Center for Hospitality Research, Millennials already make up more than one-third of the world's hotel guests and are expected to represent half of all travelers to the United States by the year 2025. Seeing as Millenials are largely driving the travel economy and have many choices including Airbnb and other services that continue to remain popular, hotels need to continue to innovate through design.

By embracing and incorporating the latest in technology, adding and maximizing key amenities, keeping a focus on authentic and experience-based travel, and making guests feel at home, hotels will keep their guests coming back time and time again. Ultimately, it comes down to what hospitality is known for in the first place: understanding, implementing and delivering five-star service based on what hotel guests want and need in every aspect of their stay.

Ms. Henderson Cristine Henderson has nearly 20 years of experience managing projects in the commercial, hospitality, healthcare and civic sectors. She combines her passion for process and efficiency with her love of design to deliver high-performing buildings that enable her clients to achieve their goals. Based in Kansas City, Ms. Henderson is currently working with major hospitality brands across the country to design new hotels that better articulate the client's brand vision. Seamless integration of her client's brand into the design is among the hallmarks of her portfolio. As a project manager at Hoefer Wysocki, her responsibilities include direct involvement in project design during the schematic design phase through construction document production, submittal review and coordinating with contractors during construction administration, interior finish selection, detailing and coordination, and furniture selection and specification. Cristine Henderson can be contacted at 913-307-3700 or Please visit for more information. Extended Biography

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