Addressing the Millennial Phenomenon: Please Them or Lose Them
By Fernando Salazar Vice President, Food & Beverage, Wyndham Hotel Group | August 03, 2014
Here we are in 2014: Baby Boomers are running hotels and restaurants around the world where they are facing an increasing number of guests from the Millennial generation. Yes, those twenty- and thirty-something, technology-savvy users of Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter and so many other social media channels. Yes, those who are ready to tell the world about their experiences at your hotel or restaurant - and not only verbally, but with pictures posted in forums where they can share their thoughts with hundreds – if not thousands – of people at once.
And let's not forget the myriad of forums where customers can write their own reviews of their recent visits to a restaurant or hotel – Yelp, Urban Spoon, TripAdvisor and many others. These are forums where experiences can be shared with the world immediately. In reality, nearly everyone with a mobile device of an internet connection has become, or has the power to become, an instant hotel reviewer or a food critic, while often lacking the credentials or training to write objectively about a recent hotel stay or dinner at a local restaurant.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are more than 80 million Millennials in the United States – 80 million! That is more than a quarter of the entire U.S. population – a group which is incredibly diverse and one with the highest percentage of people of any age segment with a four-year college degree.
According to a recent consumer survey conducted by Technomic Inc., their purchasing power reaches $200 billion, almost double that of Generation X (37-47 year-olds). And that purchasing power will grow to 40 percent of total transactions by year 2017 (it is currently at about nine percent).
So why are all these statistics so important? Well, simply put, Millennials are - right now and will be for the years to come - our customers in the hotel and food and beverage industries. And they are so different from Baby Boomers, who have traditionally been one our largest customer bases, that if we do not learn their habits, if we do not learn their likes and dislikes and if we do not please them, we will lose them to those hotels and restaurants that are willing to cater to them, to understand them and to please them.
Millennials are an informed bunch. They are in touch with the world more so than any other generation. They like to be counted on and they have opinions they want to share, which is a large part of why people in this age group they spend so much time posting their thoughts, experiences and feelings on Facebook and other social media sites; and they listen to their friends' recommendations, be this for a local shop or a bar or a hotel. And to be in touch with the world, they need to be connected at all times, so, if your business does not have reliable, high-speed Wi-Fi capabilities, then that will be one of the quickest ways to lose their business.
Another way to lose the business of Millennials? By serving a menu that lacks organic choices, gluten-free options, and vegetarian or vegan selections. Not offering these choices can contribute to losing this group as loyal customers. This is a group of consumers with specific tastes and requirements, and those businesses that do not understand or attempt to address such tastes are sure to lose out quickly. There are other ways to lose the purchasing power of this group, but let's talk about what needs to be done to please them.
First and foremost, we as hoteliers need to stop creating traditional hotel restaurants. I know, that sounds crazy, right? But let's think for a moment about this, which is something I've said and prescribed to over and over again: hotel restaurants are often boring, unimaginative spaces located in the most remote part of a property. Their menus often contain a compilation of the items that hotel restaurants have been serving for years: there is hardly a hotel restaurant that does not have on its menu a club or chicken sandwich, a Caesar salad, a burger and a soup of the day, in addition to pasta, a chicken, a beef and a fish option. That is what the majority of hotel restaurants offer. It cannot get any worse.