Meeting Millennial traveler needs: Lessons from the sharing economy
If the headlines from leading financial and economic media outlets are to be believed, Millennials are a generational force of nature, disrupting the way the world does business on a daily basis.
And now, they’re driving the transformation of the travel and hospitality industry.
Experience-obsessed Millennials are traveling in record numbers, spending $50.4 billion on 36.9 million trips in the 12 months leading up to June 2017, according to a study by Portrait of American Travelers. The same report also noted Millennials travel more and spend more while traveling than any other generation.
Although home-sharing sites like Airbnb, HomeAway and VRBO have gained in popularity by promising a more authentic form of escape, conventional accommodations are still very relevant. In fact, a study just released by Resonance Consultancy called 2018 Future of U.S. Millennial Travel, notes that only 23 percent of Millennials preferred using the sharing economy over hotels.
Still, this generation’s unique travel and customer experience demands are pushing hospitality brands toward greater innovation and experimentation. There are several key customer service lessons to be learned from home-sharing services that can attract Millennials and earn their loyalty in the long term.
1. Personalization: Treat guests like humans, not room numbers
Today’s consumers expect personalized experiences from the businesses they frequent, and that doesn’t stop when they travel. Studies like Boston Consulting Group’s Profiting From Personalization have shown that when brands personalize customer experiences, they can achieve huge boosts in key performance indicators (KPIs) such as revenue and customer loyalty.
In 2016, Airbnb began offering tailored search results and custom guidebooks based on their users’ preferences. These bespoke touches enable travelers to take control of their travel experiences beyond simply the rental room or apartment they were booking.
Hotel chains, meanwhile, have the opportunity to provide their guests with luxurious, personalized experiences right in their rooms. Virgin Hotels is one chain that’s seizing this opportunity. Before even checking in, Virgin guests are invited to download its proprietary app, Lucy. Billed as a “personal comfort assistant,” Lucy goes well beyond the typical pre-arrival questionnaire. Guests can tell her how many extra pillows they need, their ideal overnight room temperature and what kind of food they’d like waiting for them when they arrive.
In addition to letting guests customize their rooms, hotels can also get personal in their communications with guests. The Four Seasons app simplifies how customers of the luxury hotel and resort chain contact their concierge team — immediately connecting them to real people who are onsite at the hotel — before, during and after their stay. From the palm of their hand, they can get personalized recommendations, spa bookings, flower delivery and other extras that would normally fall within the purview of a traditional concierge. Guests can even choose how to reach out, with options for Facebook Messenger, WeChat and more.
Mike Gozzo, chief technology officer and co-founder of Smooch, the company responsible for the Four Seasons messaging platform, believes the app lets guests and staff connect on a more personal level, aided by new approaches to service honed at the call center.
That includes the Millennial-driven idea that customer service reps should talk like real people. “They’ll have unique profiles, head shots, and details that show off their personalities, and they’re encouraged to be witty in written communications. This creates personalized customer service experiences because they’re speaking to Millennials the way Millennials speak to each other — they’re breaking down the formality that usually exists in these types of interactions,” says Gozzo.
2. Localization: Reflect the local culture in design, services and amenities
When Millennials travel, they seek off-the-beaten-path experiences that allow them to live like locals. According to Hospitality Net, 86 percent of Millennials say they travel to experience a new culture.
The desire for exploration has led many Millennials to home-sharing platforms, where they can find humble, lived-in lodgings in artsy hamlets at their destination. But grandiose hotels can take part in this trend toward localization. By training onsite staff and contact center agents to provide recommendations beyond the typical tourist attractions, hotels can create unique connections between neighborhoods and their guests.
Marriott’s Renaissance Hotels has rebranded the concierge role to showcase their employees as hip local experts. Now called Navigators, these local aficionados help guests (or Discoverers) “get plugged-in to the latest and greatest in the neighborhood”, including live local music, craft breweries and street food markets. To authenticate their credentials, Renaissance features in-depth online bios of Navigators in hotel locations across the globe. For instance, travelers staying in the Vitacura area of Santiago, Chile can seek out Navigator Natalia Vásquez for advice on “grabbing a morning coffee from a little shop… or jumping off at a different bus stop to try a new spot for dinner.”
It’s also important to note that guests don’t necessarily need to leave the hotel to experience local culture. Aloft, a line of boutique lodgings by Starwood Hotels, brings area musicians to their locations with an event series called Live At Aloft Hotels. The series often features up-and-coming local talent, making guests feel like music tastemakers having an “I-saw-them-when” moment. That’s a meaningful memento that can’t be picked up in a gift shop.
Alyssa K. is a San Francisco event planner at a major hotel chain, and she sees the integration of locally focused initiatives firsthand. When planning events, she consistently works with local vendors to highlight everything the surrounding community has to offer. “We’re very invested in showcasing local art, no matter the city, as well as food and beverage vendors,” Alyssa says. “We partner with these local purveyors to bring in California products to showcase their unique flavors.”
It’s also important for hotels to stay on top of local trends and offer those up to guests. For example, Alyssa explains, “One big trend right now is wellness, eating clean and being ‘green’. Partnering with companies that promote these experiences help build a community for guests while they are with us.”
3. Technology: Be smart about smartphone integration
Millennials often turn to online travel agents and sites like TripAdvisor and VRBO because of the convenience — everything happens online, often right on a mobile device. By properly leveraging the technology that nearly every guest carries in their pocket, you can surprise and delight customers with the perks served up by your “smart hotel.”
A key area in the hospitality industry is rapid response to guests’ needs — so it’s no surprise many third-party companies are racing to build tech that can push the boundaries of instant gratification.
David Wang is digital marketing manager at Zingle, a messaging software solution that lets customers text-message businesses via a dedicated number. Wang believes text-message support is a no-brainer for hotels that depend on excellent customer support for business success. “Everyone texts, but Millennials especially,” Wang says. “[the goal] is to help both customers and businesses communicate more effectively without wasting time on the phone or waiting for email replies that can take much longer.”
When a guest’s satisfaction is at stake, every moment counts. An extended wait or a clunky communication experience could mean the difference between a bitter customer and a lifetime promoter.
Smooch’s Mike Gozzo elaborates, “Millennials don’t want to talk on the phone, so the convenience of always-on messaging can immediately improve their opinions of a business during a customer service interaction.”
For a field as historic and steeped in tradition as the hospitality industry, it can be easy to shy away from progress and rely on tried-and-true methods of operating. Luckily, by incorporating the latest tech innovations, personalizing guest services and embracing the local culture, many traditional travel and hospitality brands are changing with the times and earning the loyalty of this new generation of eager travelers.