Expert’s Voice: Why talking about millennials won’t get you anywhere with Gen Z

by | Sep 20, 2019 | People

Gen Z are the true digital natives and hotels will do well to recognise that.

Hotel groups still talking about millennials in 2019 are going to be left behind, writes Allie Miller from HBA DNA.

For years, industries have spent time learning and understanding the millennial mindset, even creating new lifestyle hotel brands and experiences based off of them, but now the time has come to shift that focus over to Generation Z as this new group is finally coming of age. Paying attention to the generational differences between Millennials and Generation Z (and hello Generation Alpha!) will help companies better cater to and design with these new demographics in mind.

They may be young, but don’t underestimate their impact.

The oldest of the Gen Z are currently in their 20s, and the youngest are 4 years old; while they might seem “too young” it’s important to not dismiss them as such. The twenty something year olds are just out of college and entering the workforce, starting to make their own money, find their own autonomy and travel. The younger Gen Zer’s are highly influential and impactful on family vacation decisions, even though they aren’t paying the bill. According to the Gen Z study from Cassandra Report, “when it comes to family vacations and travel, 32 percent of parents say their kids hold a lot of influence on vacation spending, and 54 percent of parents say kids have some influence.”

What do they really want?

If you thought millennials were all about “me”, wait until you meet Generation Z. This new group is all about the idea of creating individual identity. Personalization is crucial to them, but individualization is more significant. While they like the chocolates on the pillow, it’s the personally tailored, organic, gluten free menu that really ticks the box. Brands that speak directly to their young consumers, recognize them as individuals, and invite them to be a part of the creative process are often the most successful.

An ethical approach to consumerism

They are a generation that defines itself more by values, experiences and beliefs than material objects and things. By 2025, Gen Z will represent more than 40% of the luxury goods market however, it is not luxury as we currently know it. “For them, luxury has to be meaningful; luxury brands must then align with Gen Z’s concerns over inclusivity, transparency and sustainability” says Charlie Gilbert for Stylus.

Gen Zers are more likely to look at the back of a bottle rather than the front. They want to know what’s in it, where it’s from, what it stands for, etc. They don’t care as much about the brand name or the label. As long as it is aligned with their values, they are interested.

How do we capture them?

With an average attention span of 8 seconds, visual content is key in attracting Gen Z. Most Gen Z travelers are inspired by a post or picture they saw on social media. Many up to date brands are switching to campaigns that utilize “minimercials”, which are, as you guessed it- around 8 seconds long. This new form of advertising conveys information quickly and coherently and is uploaded to social media platforms (Snapchat, Instagram and YouTube) to capture the attention of Gen Zers.

Brand loyalty?

As an individualistic generation, it’s unlikely they are loyal to one brand. They either shop with brands they feel understand and reflect their values OR they shop a brand based on affordability and price. Individualization and memorable experiences are critical for brand loyalty and “the more hospitality brands treat members of Generation Z like individuals- the more likely they’ll remember you” (Jeff Fromm, Future Cast)… and potentially pay a bit extra. This attraction to cost makes them less loyal to brands, however they will also support a company whose ethics and actions align with their beliefs.

The needs of Millennials vs. Generation Z

Millennials were okay with trading off smaller guest rooms for larger, more informal, more programmed public areas. While this still remains the same for Gen Z today, it’s all about taking it further.

Generation Z members are more likely to seek alternative accommodation options, look for experiential special event offerings and hotels that offer social change and ethical programs (Eaton Workshop in Hong Kong and Washington D.C. is a great example of this), and stay in a hotel with sustainable materials and eco-friendly design that supports causes that they believe in.

Gen Z: The True Digital Natives

Gen Z travelers are likely to see straight through any “cutting-edge” technology that is designed to woo them. In fact, it is more likely to send them in the opposite direction. While the above may have appealed to millennials, Gen Z travelers aren’t impressed by upgraded tech (which are the norms these days) and are looking for something else.

They are interested in how this technology can improve their daily lives and hotel stays on a wellness level: personalized lighting to help align ones circadian rhythm and prevent jet lag while traveling, or beds that morph to support bad backs, healing muscular pain and sensing the changing needs throughout the guest’s sleep cycle, using intelligent sensors to ensure a fully refreshing night’s sleep (Hotel Technology News- Hilton 2119).

What is the new luxury worth?

For Gen Z, travel is not a luxury but a necessity. They love traveling to new places, engaging in new experiences and look for places in incredible locations that not only offer all the latest trends (nicely plated dishes and hand crafted cocktails, elevated designs, and of course, the destination specific Instagram shot) but they also look for brands that really connect the surrounding community and local culture to the guest experience.

However, unlike the preceding generation, they prioritize frugality. This younger, cost-conscious generation practices totally different spending habits than their predecessors and are more aware of how they spend their money.

It’s time to rename the minibar and rethink room service.

If an overpriced bottle of Jack Daniels didn’t work for millennials, it’s not going to work for Gen Z. With room service on its way to becoming obsolete and more guests utilizing food app delivery services, hotels need to calibrate their offerings to this individualistic generation. Whether it’s replacing the minibar for complimentary organic fruits and locally sourced snacks, providing daily prepared treats from the kitchen and garden, or making room in the fridge for guests’ own food, hotels need to get inside the minds (or stomachs) of Gen Z to win their vote.

One company taking note is Onyx Hospitality with their new Shama Hub lifestyle brand, created together with HBA DNA. One way this brand addresses the next-gen traveler is by allowing them to customize their room to sleep either 2-4 people, noting the desire for multiple occupancy and shared experiences. Another is in addressing the external food app delivery phenomena- by creating a dedicated food drop locker in reception (like an amazon locker) that is accessible from both the outside and inside of the building. This allows travelers to have their food delivered and avoids the reception desk being inundated with food deliveries.

To truly capture this new generation, the hospitality industry has to stop assuming they’re simply a younger Millennial and come up with fresh, relevant and future-proofed solutions that really address the needs and beliefs of these future travelers.



Allie Miller
Allie Miller

Designer, HBA DNA

Allie is a designer and lead researcher at HBA DNA, the hospitality brand-building division of HBA. Using her live research on market trends, insights and consumer profiling, she works with clients to focus on brand creation and development to help pioneer the next generation of hospitality.

Allie completed the Interior Architecture program at UCLA prior to joining HBA. She has a background in Media and Communications and spent five years serving various roles within the entertainment industry.


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