Planning for the Next 10 Years: How Will Your Hotel Attract Generation Z?

Regardless of how we call it, there is always a segment of young adult travelers. A decade ago, this segment was Millennials. Today it’s Gen Z.

Why does it matter? Millennials and Gen Z together are nearly 45% of the global travel market, as the “boomer” segment is reducing and Generation X is at its peak. In the next decade, aging Millennials and Gen Z will dominate the travel statistics.

As the world became faster, more connected, and global economic liberalization has speeded up globally, it was never this easy for young adults to make money and travel. With disposable incomes higher than previous generations at the same age and lust for experiences, affluent young adults are excellent targets for modern luxury hotels and resorts.

If you start to optimize for Gen Z and Millennials now, then you are already late

Planning a future-proof hotel marketing strategy or brand positioning, engaging these young generations must be a priority. Not because it’s cool, not because it’s progressive, but because they will be your guests and customers in the coming decades. It’s not a passing trend, but reality.

For this article, we conducted a brief market research with Brand Auditor where over 2,600 young travelers gave feedback about how they feel about the typical hotel ads, travel marketing content, and hotel brand communication in general. That’s where all the stats in this article are from. Feel free to ask more about this on LinkedIn.

My attention for these generations started in 2014. As a Millennial from 1985, I can relate to my age group very well. In every hotel where we have taken steps to optimize for young adults, results became apparent swiftly.

International hotel companies like Marriott or IHG have already launched soft brands for young leisure and young business travelers. It is a significant threat for independent hotels. If you did not adjust your hotel product and marketing yet, you are too late. No cap. “No cap” means you can not underestimate the importance of that statement.

To make this article more interesting, I will use Gen Z slang to describe some key points.

In this article, we will talk about:

  1. Generation Z characteristics
  2. Cultural and communication-related challenges
  3. What Gen Z and Millennials expect from 5-star hotels
  4. Alma’s managing director Herbert Laubichler-Pichler go into detail regarding how Alma in Vietnam created a multi-generational experience

1. Characteristics of Generation Z

There is a lot of overlap between Millennials’ and Gen Z-er’s travel traits. They are socially and environmentally conscious. They want a mobile-first approach, and they desire authentic local experiences. 

Below 30, they spend money like it’s no tomorrow. The most important for hoteliers and tour operators is that both Gen Z and Millennials are willing to spend beyond their means to pursue travel experiences. A recent survey conducted by Bankrate shows that 56 percent of Gen Zers and 59 percent of millennials are willing to go into credit card debt to travel.

Gen Z is willing to make sacrifices to reduce its environmental impact, especially when traveling. Booking.com’s Destination Gen Z project found that over half of those surveyed consider the environmental impact that traveling has on their destinations when deciding where to go. In the report, 56% of young travelers said they’d want to stay in green or eco-friendly accommodations, and 60% are looking for more environmentally friendly means of transportation once they arrive.

The power of social media cannot be understated when it comes to serving Gen Z travelers. Many industry brands have already embraced Snapchat, TikTok, and YouTube to capture and engage with this new demographic, serving as the perfect media to highlight their offerings and experiences.

They expect a smooth and human-like experience when engaging with brands. A personalized approach is important on both digital channels and in-person interactions. 22% of Gen Z say they would be much more likely to choose a company/brand that offers a personalized experience over others.

And when strategizing on customer-facing communications and brand voice, your company should consider incorporating more Gen Z-friendly speak across campaigns and channels you target Generation Z with.

2. Cultural and communication challenges

For most hotel brands, the biggest challenge of hotel marketing teams in connecting with Gen Z is product presentation and marketing communication.

People in senior hotel management positions are typically in their 40s, 50s, or 60s, with little understanding of what today’s young adults want, what they find impressive, and how they speak. Age and cultural differences are at the core of these difficulties.

Younger Millennials and Gen Z travelers react much better to content and marketing communications with an authentic feel. The outdated 2018 influencer-style content is known to be staged, and won’t fool young travelers. They know how to produce similar imagery. They find authentically beautiful representations of moments and experiences to be more charming.

According to them, “professional” or “luxurious” hotel marketing communication comes across as unattractive, inauthentic, boring, fabricated, lame, and corny. The term “XLC” also came up a few times, a slang acronym for “extremely lame clowns”. I hope this puts you into perspective.

They don’t want to mix with older generations, especially “boomers”. They do not like Generation X either, as they remind them of their parents. They are “cheugy”. Cheugy describes anything uncool, untrendy, or people who deliberately stick to “older” trends – particularly trends from the early 2010s and before.

Are you unsure about how your current product presentation and brand-marketing communication is seen by young adults? In that case, the best is to run a market research campaign with Brand Auditor. Besides the hotel-specific snapshot brand audit, the company offers several other specialized audits focusing on social media, brand essentials, and more.

Keep your hotel marketing real, and authenticTo “kill Gen Z realness”, to make your hotel marketing “on fleek” for young generations, and “slay the game” – which means being the best among your competitors, you don’t need to use this silly slang language.

This will come across try-hard and they will laugh at your brand. Instead of using 😂 like Gen X and Millennials, they will use 💀 which means they are dead from laughter.

Lazy English like “Want to visit?” or “On your bucket list?” often seen on Instagram – in a luxury hotel context – is reported to be a turn-off for over 70% of the 600 respondents. Over-crafted sentences stuffed with pretentious words did not impress 64% of respondents.

All you need to do to win their attention and liking is an attractive hotel product and to remove all the pretentious, outdated elements from your marketing communications. Instead of crafting inauthentic marketing messages that smell “sales” from a mile, focus on delivering what they expect from a hotel or resort like yours. Keep it 100.

They check your hotel’s social media for social proofGen Z are digital natives and know how to use the internet to check facts, reviews and see if your marketing covers the truth. Social media is a big part of their research.

They will check out your content, but more importantly your social proofs for any luxurious claims. They want to see high engagement, endorsements, and positive feedback to trust your brand.

Most of the Generation Z members (90%) use social media to find sources for booking and accommodation for their vacations. Only 10% of baby boomers use social media for the same reasons, while 66% of them make booking and accommodation decisions after seeing online ads.

3. Gen Z and Millennial expectations about a 5-star hotel experience

As mentioned before, we concluded a small market research by collecting over 2,600 responses regarding what young affluent travelers below 30 expect from a modern 5-star hotel. The responses clearly outlined one significant motive, that they want things on their terms.

They want facilities to be available all the time

  • 24-hour gym
  • 24-hour pool
  • 24-hour room service
  • Breakfast till 11.00
  • Brunch options

Interaction with staff

  • Superfast check-in
  • They expect and prefer minimal interaction with the staff
  • They only want the staff’s attention when they need something
  • They don’t want staff to bother them with questions

They need a place to catch up with work

  • A business center that doesn’t look outdated and “cheugy”
  • A coffee shop with fast wifi and tables suitable for laptops
  • Fast enough wifi to upload photos and videos

Lifestyle and self-expressionYoung people take pride in letting their lifestyle defining them. This is a large part of their self-expression and they want to choose hotels that will support it.

In our 600-respondent survey, a shocking 79% of respondents shared that they choose hotels and resorts that match their lifestyle. It’s an important booking decision factor – and a clear brand identity will help to attract the right guests.

Over 60% of respondents shared when shopping for hotels, they imagine what pictures they can take there. Self-expression for both Gen Z and younger Millennials is a priority, and they will be happy to stretch their budget to take better photos.

Give them photo-friendly locations where your staff won’t stare at them uncomfortably when taking selfies and videos. Photo-worthy locations where they can show off for their followers online.

  • Impressive natural formations
  • Sleek, stylish, and spacious interiors
  • Impressive architecture
  • Retro or otherwise out-of-ordinary environments

Over 70% of respondents shared that they are not impressed by photo opportunities that they too many times on social media before, such as sunbeds, swings, or nests.

Food & gastronomy

Amongst the ‘healthiest’ options for food, Gen-Zers said they prefer whole, organic, and plant-based foods, with 79% considering processed foods unhealthy.

Putting it simply, keep your food authentic and natural. Use locally sourced ingredients whenever possible, that is a huge plus point for most conscious eating young adults.

Also, keep in mind that as part of their choices and self-expression, an increasing number of young adults follow strict diets. Either for health and fitness reasons, perhaps cultural or as part of their religious identity, they will not eat anything.

Veganism, halal, kosher eating are just a few to mention. Be prepared to cater to people with sensitive diets.

4. How Alma Resort in Vietnam developed a fun resort experience for multiple generations?

When Alma’s managing director Herbert Laubichler-Pichler invited me over to visit the resort, I was blown away by the innovativeness of the concept. Not only by the massive size and modern style of the resort but mostly because of how well it addresses the travel preferences of young adults, groups of friends, and families.

Herbert was kind enough to share his story and the approach they follow at Alma when it comes to catering successfully for multiple generations.

If you know how people in Vietnam and across Asia travel, you’ll understand why creating a multigenerational holiday resort experience is the way to go in this part of the world. When I was the general manager of Shangri-La Mactan in the Philippines, I remember walking past a double room and about 10 or 12 people from the same family spilled out of the front door. I thought to myself: “How is this possible? How do you fit that many people in a 35sqm room?” It was the same story when I came to Vietnam and worked at The Nam Hai; guests would make a booking, saying that they would bring two children, and then they would arrive with at least four children, and with the grandparents and nanny in tow.

In Asia it’s a cultural thing – people love to travel with their families. And thus from the very outset, the concept for Alma was to build a hotel for multigenerational Vietnamese families. Alma is the first resort in Vietnam to pioneer vacation ownership, whereby Vietnamese families can enjoy a holiday at the resort year after year. This business model is inextricably linked to multigenerational travel and thus fostering quality family time. In fact, we even had plans to create a video featuring children, their parents, and grandparents driven by the story of one of the children meeting another child at Alma’s kid’s club. They grow up and eventually get married before they return to Alma with their kids.

Building a resort made for multigenerational families hinges on the right mix of compelling recreational and entertainment experiences. You need activities that cater to the children, to the youth, to the adults, to the parents, and to the grandparents. You need to look at each generation individually and ask: “What’s in it for them”? You then also need to understand how all of these different interests and preferences fit together as part of a bigger cohesive picture. This is Alma’s approach; it’s our resort’s DNA.

We have the Kids Club, home to trampolines, ball pens, climbing frames, an arts and crafts area, library, nap zone as well as piles of toys and games. In addition to singing and dancing lessons, cooking classes, and team games, adjacent to the club is a huge kids-only pool complete with fountains and water games. And yet we also have the Active Youth Club that lures teens with virtual reality games, arcade video games, table football, billiards tables, as well as a chill-out space with bean bags and a snack bar for quick bites and drinks. Teenagers often meet other teenagers at the youth club and hang out together.

Designed to engage minds young and old, we have a Science Museum that promotes interactive learning through a host of exhibits focused on mind-boggling wonders such as Bernoulli’s principle, electromagnetic induction, viscosity, magnetic fields, moving images, electricity generation, communication vessels, optical illusions, pulley systems and more. Other facilities that appeal to all ages include our 70-seat private Alma Cinema, complete with a popcorn concession, and Alma’s five sound-proof Karaoke Rooms. With movies for all ages from Hollywood blockbusters to rom-coms, the cinema airs three films daily. Importantly, we consider different movies for different age segments at the most appropriate time slots. For example, due to its adult content, we would play a film such as Bohemian Rhapsody later in the evening. We appreciate that teenagers often want to watch a movie that isn’t a kid’s movie and is more appropriate for their age, and that they don’t want to necessarily sing karaoke with their parents but in a separate room with other teenagers.

A lazy river runs through Alma’s 6000sqm Splash Water Park, which also features a wave pool, kid’s pool, water slides, and two American-style food trucks. You often see teenagers and young adults having a great time at the water park, as well as parents and grandparents, accompanying their kids there.

Alma’s sporting facilities range from a water sports center offering pursuits such as kayaking and bodyboarding, a beachfront football field, and tennis, basketball, and volleyball courts, to an outdoor archery range, an 18-hole putting green, open-air exercise stations, and a giant chessboard. We always see families at the 18-hole putting green, as the kids want to learn from their parents and grandparents, and they all have a great time. As they have a lot of energy, we’ve found that teenagers and young adults really like the outdoor activities; I see a lot of teenagers playing volleyball, basketball, and tennis. The watersports are a bit too dangerous for the kids but are popular with adults.

We also get that many young adults like to go out to clubs and dance. While we have a varied bar scene, with the Beach Bar, Pool Bar, American Bar, and Alma Lounge, before the implementation of the current COVID-19 restrictions in Vietnam we also offered a complimentary shuttle bus to Skylight Nha Trang, a happening rooftop bar in nearby beach city Nha Trang. In addition to resuming this shuttle bus service once restrictions ease, we also plan to stage live concerts at our 400-seat 1000sqm outdoor Alma Amphitheater, including a family-orientated “Alma Idol” event, whereby contestants of all ages can rehearse under the guidance of our resident singer and pianist Engie and Ben and then perform at the amphitheater.

Another area that lends itself to a multigenerational travel experience is food and beverage. With a total of 14 diverse F&B venues enticing diners from outlets casual enough for fried chicken and refined enough for a grand piano, our F&B landscape is an interesting one that I believe truly caters to multigenerational travel. The teenagers like Japanese and Italian dishes at our Asiana and La Casa restaurants respectively, while the elderly like the traditional Vietnamese seafood at beachfront Atlantis. Alma Food Court is a fun and vibrant culinary hub that has something to suit everyone’s palette, whether you want a French pastry, a Vietnamese banh mi baguette, a burger, an ice cream, or a Starbucks-style cappuccino. Seating 312 guests, the Food Court is home to six different food outlets including An Nam selling Vietnamese classics, a Vietnam Express food truck, The Noodle House serving beef and chicken noodle soups, Little New York offering chicken cooked in a Henny Penny fryer, the French Bakery and Espresso Bar serving coffee, tea, and freshly squeezed juice.

The set-up of Alma’s oversized accommodations prioritizes multigenerational travel for up to four generations. The three-bedroom suites and three-bedroom private pool pavilions each have a total of four bathrooms as well as a large fold-out sofa and a large table in the living room where people can come together to chat, enjoy a meal, and play board games. Each party – the parents, grandparents, and children – each have their own bathroom and toilet. It’s more comfortable, for example, for a teenage girl to have her own water closet that she doesn’t have to share with her father or grandfather.

If you look at the vast majority of resorts, there’s a dearth of experiences and facilities suited to teenagers and young adults. This is negligence, in my opinion, that stems from hotel companies simply doing what they’ve always done in the past. They just open the files and go “we need a couple of restaurants and a couple of bars, we need a spa and a kids club, and we also need a business center and a ballroom”. I’m not saying it is laziness because it does come from a place of experience, in the sense they believe this approach is the way it should be as it’s tried and true. However, that approach prevents the exciting exploration of the rich possibilities that come to fruition from analyzing each generation; such possibilities that we are fortunate that Alma has fully realized.