Connecting with young and old

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Marketing your hotel to different generations of travelers

by Nick Fortuna

There are only so many marketing dollars in any hotel’s budget, and it’s important to make them count. Here are insights from four hospitality executives into how to reach travelers across a wide range of ages.

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BROADLY SPEAKING, WHAT ARE THE MAJOR DIFFERENCES IN MARKETING STRATEGY FOR THE DIFFERENT GENERATIONS OF CUSTOMERS?

Brent Bouldin, Vice President of Marketing, Choice Hotels: Millennials are far more digitally savvy than older people, and they’re far less likely to be watching television with the same frequency. So, I think it starts with channel selection in terms of how you reach the different age groups. There are different things that you care about at different phases in your life, and obviously, the younger generation cares a lot more about spending their disposable income on experiences and less on things, so you can play that up in your marketing – about the way your hotel allows people to do more of what they care about. With the older generation, you have people who care about getting close to their friends and family and traveling as a means to maintain those relationships with adult children and grandchildren. So, positioning the property as a means to allow people to connect with the people they care most about is obviously something that’s more meaningful to older people than to those who are younger.

Dennis Gemberling, Founder and President, The Perry Group International: For the younger generation, it’s all technology-based these days. A good example is Facebook ads, which have really taken off the past couple of years because millennials are really tuned into social media. Of course, you want to market to them in terms of experiences and not necessarily group tours and that kind of thing like the older generation is used to. Instagram also is one of the dominant players with the younger generation. A picture tells a thousand words, and that’s what experiences are all about. Instagram is an ideal platform for the hospitality industry, particularly the hotels and resorts, because you can pretty much tell your story with your photos. Direct mail, which can include email marketing, is a good vehicle to reach the over-55 crowd, and they also respond well to packages, such as guided tours.

WHAT IS THE BEST STRATEGY FOR MARKETING TO MILLENNIALS? WHAT ARE THEY LOOKING FOR?

Melissa Postier, Director of Brand, Public Relations and Social Media, Hotwire.com: What we’re noting about the millennial traveler is that they’re still searching for unique experiences, which they often value more than physical products, but they’re also overwhelmed with the number of options for destinations and travel providers. Therefore, they’re looking for easy, streamlined booking experiences and expect clear communication around what a brand offers. For example, the Hotwire brand campaign “4-Star Hotels at 2-Star Prices” has been successful for us because it’s simple and an easy way to understand our unique value proposition.

We’ve also noted that millennial travelers are often more adventurous and willing to try out something unknown. In particular, we’re seeing a rising trend of quick, spontaneous trips that last two to three days, which falls right in our sweet spot since Hotwire helps partners fill last-minute inventory that would otherwise go unsold. Millennials care that a brand’s messaging feels authentic, so we’re making a dedicated effort to talk to our younger consumers about this type of last-minute trip.

Larry Trabulsi, Executive Vice President, CHMWarnick: We continue to see a shift away from traditional marketing and more to online, digital, and mobile media. Examples include YouTube videos that can be accessed at any time (including in a formal sales presentation) and are easy to forward. We also continue to see a focus on moments and experiences, whether it is a food presentation, something in a public space like a lobby or in the guestroom. The ideal is that “Instagrammable moment.”

WHAT ABOUT MIDDLE-AGED TRAVELERS, INCLUDING FAMILIES WITH CHILDREN?

Postier: These travelers are often more value conscious. They know what they want, and they’re willing to do a little work to find a good deal on what they’re looking for. At Hotwire, we define value as saving our customers money on travel via our opaque Hot Rate deals, but – almost more important – we know that value really exists in the upgrades, more frequent trips, or other experiences they’re now able to afford. Our middle-aged consumers also enjoy discussing their knowledge of vacation options with others, so it’s important to help them stay in the know and give them that inside travel scoop on the best deals.

Trabulsi: Many properties focus on intergenerational travel (parents/kids/grandparents). Keys to executing well include programming assistance (tours, activities, etc.), guestroom setup (clustered rooms, shared rooms, family suites) and pre-arrival communication. Generally speaking, if the kids are happy, the parents and grandparents are happy as well.

HOW IS MARKETING TO SENIOR TRAVELERS DIFFERENT?

Postier: Seniors are an often-overlooked consumer segment of the travel space, and, contrary to what one might expect, senior travelers still enjoy exploring new places and trying new things. They also appreciate a good deal, particularly on more luxury-oriented travel, and offering multiple lines of business across the travel lifecycle is a great way to provide that. So, for example, if they book a hotel, Hotwire can help them find a discounted car rental nearby, or if they book a flight, we can help them find a hotel, etc.

Bouldin: We still have great results reaching the older demographic that’s still watching primetime TV and news television, and when we go out with video campaigns on YouTube, that tends to skew younger. So, if the audience or the messaging that we’re trying to get around is connecting friends and family, a grandkid with a grandparent, I don’t think we’d run that on YouTube, for example. That’s just not where that audience is.

People are also living longer, and the definition of “older” continues to change and evolve over time. You always hear that “50 is the new 40” and things like that, so what you see is older people still getting out and living an active lifestyle, and going and doing. I think the things that a 75-year-old person might have cared about 30 or 40 years ago aren’t necessarily the same things anymore.

WHICH GENERATION SEEMS TO BE THE MOST CONSCIOUS OF COST AND RESPONDS BEST TO THAT MARKETING MESSAGE?

Bouldin: I don’t know that there’s one that is more cost-conscious, I think there are different reasons for cost-consciousness. The older the demographic, the more there tends to be that work ethic and value-of-a-dollar mentality that goes all the way back to the World War II generation. The people who lived through the Depression – and a lot of the older generation today are the children of those people – have been raised in that mindset. Millennials and younger generations often have less disposable income because of where they are in their life stage, so they’re cost-conscious for a different reason. The definition of value means different things to those two groups, so it comes back to what each cares about. At the end of the day, clean, comfortable rooms in a desirable location are the necessities that matter to everybody, and the things that you layer on top of that – the types of food and amenities that you offer – can vary by the group to which you’re trying to market.

WHICH GENERATION IS MOST LIKELY TO RESPOND TO ADS THAT TOUT A HOTEL’S AMENITIES AND LUXURIOUS SETTING?

Gemberling: Predominantly, it’s the generation older than 55, the senior crowd, because it’s all driven by income, and those folks have the most disposable income. They’re also looking for more service-based amenities and things that are going to be maybe less active and more proactive in terms of their needs. Spas are an example of that.

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