Pioneering hospitality by attracting different generations


Millennials “killing” industries and how Gen Z will transform the industry


It’s the age-old question of, well, age. What do seasoned experts who have been working in an industry for more than a decade have to offer when compared to younger generations entering the industry?

Hospitality is an industry that values building intergenerational knowledge, growth, and wealth. From the beginning of the 17th century, entrepreneurs developed inns across America to serve the needs of pioneers traveling across the country. And now, more than 100 years later, the goal for hotels and hospitality hasn’t changed much. Hospitality professionals still strive to serve the needs of travelers. However, the way this is done has completely transformed due to new generations bringing in new ideas, the adaption of emerging technology, and acceptance of age diversity.

The baby-boom generation viewed the hospitality industry as a culture of results. Figure out what the customer wants and deliver results flawlessly. With this mindset, they built hotel empires starting with one property and expanding to 10. This idea of expansion is very relatable to many boomers and Gen Xers.

Boomers and Gen X strived to build intergenerational wealth and create a standard of excellent service. Now, the question is posed: How will younger generations move the industry forward while keeping the integrity of everything previous generations built intact?

Millennials have a reputation of “killing” trends in industries. For hospitality, millennials are “killing” the front desk check-in process and “killing” the hot continental breakfast many hotels offer.

Sameer Tharani, a millennial hotelier, owns and operates two properties. “I don’t think millennials are killing industry trends,” he said. “If your client falls under an older generation, they may care about room service and being able to get free breakfast. It’s all about identifying what your demographic wants and solving for it.”

New York Times bestselling author Chip Conley agrees. “I’m not sure I agree with the premise that Millennials have killed industries. Millennials often take the less traveled path which means they’re hard to predict especially for established global brands.”

In 2008, three Millennials sparked an idea that would completely disrupt the hospitality industry. Many hospitality professionals saw the creation and development of Airbnb as a competitive move and an industry disruptor. What many hoteliers do not know is these three Millennials reached out to Chip Conley, who would be considered to fall under the Baby Boomer generation, to help transform the start-up company.

Conley, now Airbnb strategic advisor for hospitality & leadership, recalls sitting in meetings and clearly noticing the differences between him and the Millennials he was sharing the table with. Airbnb, now a multi-billion-dollar company, was started by Millennials and was able to reach new heights by welcoming age diversity and new perspectives.

Bloomberg News describes Gen Z as individuals born between 1997 and 2012; that means Gen Z is already in the workforce. While boomers, Gen X, and millennials are navigating the hospitality space, they all agree there is absolutely no shortage of opportunity when it comes to the hospitality industry.

“Gen Z has never known a world without the internet,” Yutta Shelton, Hospitality Practice Leader at Deloitte Consulting LLP said. “As this generation matures, we expect digital innovation to continue to rise. The industry will evolve to a place where digital becomes a powerful tool to improve service excellence. A big part of that is data-driven personalization.”

When considering what Gen Z will bring to hospitality, Tharani said, “I try and think back to what my thought process was when I was that age. I was very ambitious and maybe even a little naïve. However, sometimes that combination can lead to great things, because an idea you have in your head can become something great if you work hard.”

With four different generations collaborating, what can be expected? “Previous generations in the industry are tackling challenges, but they don’t have to overcome it alone,” Tharani said. “New generations can bring new ideas to help find innovative solutions.”

When multiple generations begin working together, characteristics like work ethic and risk-taking begin to collide. “I do think younger generations, seeing the success of tech start-ups, are perhaps growing less risk-averse in their professional lives,” Shelton said.

“If your background as a millennial is from the hospitality industry, you might be more inclined to take risks because you have a strong support system,” Tharani said.

In 1989, a small group of hoteliers collaborated to create an innovative approach to solve the problem of discrimination within the hospitality industry, particularly from insurance companies and banks. This resulted in the creation of AAHOA. This example is a testament to how working together and sharing knowledge makes industries stronger and gives industry professionals an opportunity to collaborate and find innovative solutions. There is no doubt the hospitality industry has been moving forward ever since.

This same strategy is used today among different generations in the hospitality industry. For example, boomer hoteliers are welcoming new technology, while millennials are constantly reinventing ways to use technology. The end goal, going back to the hotel pioneers of the 17th century, is to serve the traveler and that is accomplished through welcoming age diversity in the industry.

Chip Conley couldn’t have said it better. In his TED talk he states, “turn the judgement into curiosity,” and that is the mantra to live by.

Many hoteliers are often so engulfed in the operations and business strategy in their day-to-day they forget to take a step back and see that the hospitality industry is not the only industry being affected by intergenerational diversity.

“Every industry is benefited, especially if they’re reliant on technology,” Conley said. “It’s become most evident in the advertising and marketing world where digital savviness is increasingly important.”

Millennials have brought many new ideas that transform the way industries operate. “Perhaps the better question is…what industry isn’t transforming?” Shelton said. “As much as millennials may be a generation disruptor, their behaviors and choices are disrupting businesses and society alike.”

“Every industry has a focus on constant renovation and growth,” Tharani said. “In the era we are in now, changes are going to happen and it’s our responsibility to find creative ways to adapt while ensuring you are playing an integral role in maximizing your return and moving the industry in a positive direction.”

In hindsight, some hoteliers could have predicted industry disruptors like Airbnb, while others say it’s close to impossible to predict what the future of hospitality holds. That’s why Today’s Hotelier reached out to the industry insight experts at Deloitte.

“Perhaps the biggest trend will be a redefinition of the core hotel product,” Shelton said. “Today, we associate large hotel brands primarily as a place to spend the night, grab a drink, or get a bite to eat. In the future, how hotel chains serve the consumer will evolve. Hotels will grow their presence in the consumer’s everyday life, taking their core competency of service excellence with them into new spaces.”

According to Shelton, some early signs of this are already beginning to permeate the marketplace. For example, hotels are expanding into co-working spaces, health and wellness facilities, destination activities, and even retail.

The idea that you don’t need an established company or brand to succeed is a different type of work culture that new generations can bring in. “That workforce culture, business resources, and access to global markets through digital and social are all ingredients helping good ideas thrive outside of the traditional corporate ecosystem. It’s a significant mindset shift,” Shelton said.

“As a millennial hotel owner, I would predict a lot of consolidation in terms of brands and many technology facets will be seen as a standard rather than a luxury,” Tharani said. “The individuals that will be successful will be the ones that consider age diversity an asset. If you stick to your ways, you might get left behind.”

“The future is all about mutual mentoring,” Conley said. “Wisdom no longer comes exclusively from the top-down or from old to young. I learned so much from younger generations about the tech industry, design thinking, and Millennial travel habits. We all have something to learn from each other.”


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