The hotel of tomorrow needs to satisfy the young and young-at-heart, says Gillian Docherty Blair

As millennial designers, we have a great passion for creating and leading change. The hospitality industry has been experiencing the biggest disruption to the ‘norm’ in decades, and this will continue for years to come as the business seeks to reinvent itself.
The millennial demographic is currently estimated to account for one-third of the world’s hotel guests, with this figure anticipated to rise to 50% by 2020. The millennial generation is a highly influential powerhouse with attitude and a sharp eye for a good ‘selfie’ backdrop. More importantly, coupled with the power of social media and the internet, they can make hospitality offerings sink or fly.
Hoteliers are responding to this movement through the introduction of new and revolutionary sub-brands to appeal to this rising profitable travel segment of the young and ‘young at heart’. Operators who are tapping into this movement include Marriot International with Moxy, Accor with 25h, Rezidor with Radisson Red, Best Western with Vib and, more locally, Jumeirah with Venu. The key is for designers to address the movement – not as a controlled demographic, but based on psychographic research of a particular mentality to maintain a universal appeal of value, authenticity and connection.

In the past, hotel brands were striving for consistency within their brand, a familiar and reliable identity irrespective of location. Due to the exponential growth of the internet and connectivity, the millennial guest is much more informed and design savvy than the guest of yesteryear.
Breaking out of past moulds, operators are becoming more focused on providing original and honest experiences. Clearly, the millennial traveller values ‘the experience’ more than any other generation and they explore the cultural elements of their surroundings. Savvy hotels are responding to this notion through a commitment to a strong and individual design narrative, creating design hotels which are carefully curated and culturally engaging with relevance to the local context.

To make a millennial design-driven hotel financially sustainable, operators have to either charge significantly more for an overnight stay by positioning the hotel as ‘luxury’ or, as most operators are now doing, add more keys within a unit – resulting in substantially smaller guestrooms.
With this in mind, comes change to hotel public areas. Lobbies are no longer a transient space for check-ins and passing greetings. Now they are viewed as an annex of the now smaller guestrooms. The millennial traveller is informal by nature – so we are now taking the reception desk barrier down, and completely changing the purpose of this area to ‘anything goes’. These large open multi-functional ‘living-space’ lobbies are the social epicentre of the hotel, abundant with power outlets for charging personal devices and 24-hour coffee supply, where guests will spend most of their downtime with a member of staff on standby with an iPad in hand. These spaces have become the brand image that defines a millennial hotel, what it stands for and how it connects with the guest and the locale.

Society will attempt to impose a stereotypical label on the millennial, but this stereotype is not as easily translated into design due to the extreme diversity of the generation. Our challenge is to create spaces that enable adaptability and customisation, so that a more personalised service can be delivered.
As millennial designers, we have become storytellers – it is similar to developing a group of novels, a series of stories with common threads that are connected and related – but at the same time, diverse and different. The threads can be complex, subtle or even humorous.
We encourage guests to shape their stay and to adapt their environments within the hotel experience. At Radisson Red, guests can arrange for their in-room minibar to be stocked with their favourite beverages and populate the television screen with family photos even before reaching their room, via the Hotel Mobile App. Other operators are experimenting by removing the desk completely, and offering it as an optional room-service feature.

Irrelevant of consumer demographics or room rate, essential guest requirements remain non-negotiable: a comfortable bed, controllable lighting and room temperature, a warm, powerful shower, sufficient vanity space and an ample number of power outlets in useful locations for charging numerous personal devices.
These elements don’t sacrifice design and aesthetics, but provide guests with the best of basic necessities they would expect, per price point. What we foresee is further definition of these basic offerings as underlying hotel categories within hospitality brands.
Due to the disruption of the hospitality industry, we have seen experimentation, risk taking and, ultimately, confusion within portfolios. Going forward, we believe that we will now see a drive towards better definition between brands within hospitality portfolios, as operators understand what works and what doesn’t with guests today.

I call it ‘the white box approach’. Clearly, hotel operators cannot afford to become complacent with the excitement and changes brought on by the millennial movement. Operators are moving toward these new brands with easy-to-alter designs, in lieu of fully committing to current millennial trends. Furniture is modular with limited built-in hardwiring, allowing for easy and cost-effective future refurbishments, or minor immediate changes to stay relevant in a more subtle, turbulent and challenging market.

How important is luxury in the future? The lines of luxury have been blurred in recent years. Less – with the right story – can attract those with the budget to spend. What was once classed as luxury has now been absorbed into the upper mid-category of hospitality design, whilst luxury has increased in opulence and become less accessible. In a new world where more can afford more, it means that there is now a true level of luxury that few can access.
This is such a narrow band, that it has limited impact on the hospitality business. The luxury market is about consolidating investments and, more rarely, about new developments due to the costs involved. As the millennials begin to enter their peak earning years, with this comes disposable income for ‘luxury experiences’. As a result, we can expect this aggressive design shift to continue, ultimately redefining luxury.  If millennials are the future, luxury brands will also need to rise to the challenge and embrace them by segmenting their brands.
Not everyone will support change – but as a design force, I think we are ready to challenge and be challenged. As our Generation Z approaches the limelight, I foresee that this is just the beginning of a huge movement in the hotel and the broader design industry.

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