New hotel design may be inspired by millennials, but hoteliers hope it appeals to multiple generations.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—The recent onslaught of new hotel brands, many of them targeted toward millennials, begs the question: Are hotels truly being designed with just one generation in mind?
Yes and no, sources said. Many hotels are being designed in ways that are inspired by millennials but also universally appeal to multiple generations and types of travelers.
“From a generational and design side … we’re not so much focusing on Gen X, Gen Y, baby boomers, millennials,” said Harry Wheeler, principal at design firm Group One Partners. “People don’t always act within their age group. We have some baby boomers who are very tech-savvy—and they tweet, and they’re online, and they act like millennials—and some millennials that are raised in a different way so they are acting like a Gen Xer.
“We don’t look at it from an age standpoint but rather from a design standpoint, and ‘how do we reach everybody?’”
Wheeler said it’s about making the hotel design approachable and accessible from an intuitive standpoint.
“It should still be comfortable and hit all touch points,” he said. “It should be cool and interactive.”
An example of that “cool and interactive” design can be seen in what the group did at Boston’s Envoy Hotel, which is part of Marriott International’s Autograph Collection. The hotel lobby houses what appears to be a standard pool table, but upon further inspection is revealed to be a full-size iPad that guests can play pool or other interactive games on. Guests can also use it to check email or accomplish any other tasks that they could on a regular-sized iPad.
“It’s something that was millennial-focused, but all people still approach it because it looks like a pool table,” Wheeler said.
Farrah Adams, SVP of hospitality at LBA Hospitality, said hotels designed with millennials in mind will appeal naturally to other generations.
“No one wants to be irrelevant,” she said. “When we started using iPhones, smartphones, things like that, nobody said, ‘Well, I’m not going to do that. I don’t want to learn how to use that device.’ Everybody jumps on board. The things that (millennials) like, we all end up liking. It just might take us a little while longer to get there.
“Something that’s fresh and new from a design standpoint, other generations—Gen X, boomers—everybody’s going to like when they see it.”
One design trend that is inspired by millennials, but embraced by all generations, is offering new ways to charge devices, whether it’s additional plugs or outlets incorporated into lamps or furniture, Adams said.
“If we’re adding charging at the nightstand, millennials are not the only ones charging their phones on the nightstand,” she said.
If hotels aren’t truly being designed with just millennials in mind, why is there so much talk about millennials?
Adams said much of that talk stems from targeting the generational group for research purposes.
“We realized they’re always open and willing to give us feedback,” she said.
But when the buzzwords for millennials are examined—tech-savvy, socially aware, the desire to make a difference, optimistic, caring for community—hotel designers realize “that really doesn’t alienate any certain age or generation,” she said.
It might sound as if brands are being designed specifically for an age group, Adams said, but it’s really the mindset that’s gaining attention. That mindset is one that seeks experiential travel, and it’s not just millennials.
In turn, that mindset has created an almost domino effect when it comes to hotel design, sources said.
First, millennials inspired the need for hotels to be social places, said John Edwards, VP of construction and design at Hospitality Ventures Management Group.
“Social activity within the hotel is important. Providing more areas for millennials—and all guests, to be honest—to ‘live’ and hang out and socialize is a key planning requirement,” he said. “Today, people spend more time in these spaces than their guestrooms. They are comfortable sitting at a communal table in the lobby or in a library area, on their iPad, or laptop surrounded by strangers, ordering a drink and having some light fare.”
Because of this need to socialize, he said, the guestroom desk also comes into question.
“You have to provide connectivity by the bed, and the desk can now be considered a dining table and/or work space,” he said.
As a result, guestrooms are becoming less important and smaller.
Wheeler agreed that some guestrooms are getting smaller, pointing to Marriott International’s Moxy brand with its 180-square-foot rooms.
“They’re really cool and unique, but the design is ... to get people out to experience the lounge, the public area, the bar scene and the neighborhood,” he said.
Wheeler said that while the millennial-inspired brand might not appeal to everybody, it’s not designed for just one generational cohort.
“It’s going to get those people who want to come in and go out, so the traveler can get immersed in the city, in the neighborhood and really feel like they’ve got an experience,” Wheeler said. “I don’t think that’s just for millennials.”