Watch out, millennial business travelers: Hotel chains are coming for you! (Thinkstock)
If you ever see the words “millennials” and “business” together these days, chances are it’s in an article that unfairly bashes this group’s work ethic; “entitled” is an especially popular epithet. But now, there’s one group that’s taking these 20- and 30-somethings seriously: the hotel industry.
Experts say millennials will make up half of all business travelers by the end of this decade. And hotels are tripping over themselves to appeal to this hyperconnected age group.
Hilton is the latest hotel brand to jump on the millennial courting bandwagon. It recently announced plans to open a new line of hotels called Canopy, which aims to give a more unique, neighborhoody feel to its brand — and, hopefully, bury the cookie-cutter image hotel chains like Hilton may have among younger travelers.
Hilton’s new Canopy brand aims to target the millennial (and millennial-at-heart) biz travelers. (Courtesy of Canopy)
With the promise that “No two Canopy hotels will be the same,” Canopy hopes to mirror the boutique-hotel experience by having properties located in vibrant, urban neighborhoods, including the Pearl District in Portland, Ore., Brickell in Miami, Bethesda North in Washington, D.C., and Gaslamp Quarter in San Diego. They’re expected to start opening in 2016.
“We’re creating a culture around, ‘We’re going to be local, and we’re going to be fun,’” promises Hilton’s Vice President of Brand Performance Gary Steffen, a self-described “49-year-old millennial” business traveler, who craves a fun social experience but still wants to be in bed at a reasonable hour. “This will be a local and neighborhood brand,” he says of Canopy.
Not your typical hotel. This is what Canopy’s lobby would look like in Portland, Ore. (Courtesy of Canopy)
Steffen says each Canopy will offer guests “surprising extras” — locally themed gifts that give little winks to their locations. “If I’m in Denver, I’m going to get a couple of pieces of chocolate from the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory” near Canopy’s planned Denver location. Other locations, Steffen says, will offer microbrew craft beers, tastings of local wines, and free artisanal breakfasts. And Hilton giddily predicts that Canopy hotels will reflect the local music and art scenes so that guests can get a real taste of the unique neighborhoods they’re visiting.
“What we’ve developed is a reaction to energized neighborhood hotels that offer great service and comfort,” says John Vanderslice, Global Head of Luxury & Lifestyle Brands. “Not design for design’s sake, but comfort.”
And since Canopy hotels are going after millennials, they have a high-tech component as well. That means free Wi-Fi, of course, plus a no check-in option, which allows guests to go straight to their rooms using their mobile phones as their room keys.
Canopy hotels would offer little nods to their neighborhoods, including local chocolates, wines, and beers. (Courtesy of Canopy)
Hilton Canopy isn’t the only hotel chain targeting millennials: There’s Hyatt’s Andaz, Starwood’s Aloft, and Radisson’s Red. ”They are certainly going after the millennial market,” says Robert Cole, a hotel industry consultant and founder of RockCheetah, of all these new brands. He says this new proliferation is a much-needed correction to recent years, when expansion-minded hotel chains took a page from the airlines’ playbooks and cut back on perks and individual flourishes in order to boost profits.
As a result, Cole says, “hotel chains were left with shells that were more shelters than hotels” — places so generic, frequent travelers had to struggle to remember exactly what hotel they slept in on any given night. “Now, [these new chains] are trying to get tied into community. That makes for a better, more unique product,” Cole says.
Hyatt’s Andaz is one of several other youth-minded hotel lines out there. (Courtesy of Andaz)
But Cole sees a potential pitfall for Canopy’s late entry into the game. “The question is how will people differentiate it from Andaz or Aloft or Richard Branson’s upcoming Virgin Hotels?” he asks.
And instead of spinning off new, millennial-focused brands, Cole suspects hotel chains might be better off bringing that forward-thinking mindset to the hotels they already have. “The area looks too crowded with too many of these new brands trying to appeal to millennials,” he says. “Why not make sure your Courtyards or Country Inns & Suites appeal to them as well? Millennials are going to be 50 percent of biz travelers someday, and you can’t close those existing brands down.”
So with millennial-bashing articles being all the rage in multiple business publications, it looks like this new generation of professionals will have the last laugh. And tons of chains are making sure this younger set does their laughing in their hotels.