COVID-19 and Hospitality: Why Attracting Millennial Travelers is Essential to your Hotel’s Recovery Plan

“This too shall pass” is a sentiment that surely everyone can take comfort in right now, and one which hoteliers especially should keep in mind. 

The continued spread of COVID-19 has taken the world by storm, and has seemingly overwhelmed the hospitality industry. As the fear of transmission continues to surge, our communities are banding together, as new emergency regulations urge us to self-isolate and avoid all non-essential travel. Currently, the timeline for a return to normalcy is anything but guaranteed: Will this ‘new normal’ last for a month, or three, or for the majority of 2020? 

While we cannot change our current circumstances beyond that which is asked of us by governing authorities and safety recommendations, we can (and should) continue to plan for the future.  Unfortunately, it’s too soon to tell, but what I can tell you with complete confidence is this: This pandemic is temporary. This, too, shall pass. A new normal will proceed and recovery will happen…and millennials could be leading the recovery. 

Millennials are more fearless–and paradoxically more anxious–than other generations, more in tune with advances in mobility and social media, more price conscious, and more desiring of unique experiences. While they are worried about the outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic, they are also the most eager to get back out and explore the world, and will be one of the first to start engaging in travel once the restrictions are relaxed. Needless to say, any rapid business recovery plan should include millennial travelers as an integral role. 

Laying the Foundation for a Gradual Recovery

In many ways, coronavirus has caused the economy to grind to a halt. For many of us, this is a reality which we simply never anticipated. In fact, the current economic crisis is even different from the Great Recession in 2008. And in some ways, this is actually a good thing. Unlike in 2008, the global economy in general and the hospitality industry in particular are fundamentally healthy. The current crisis occurred because of an exogenous pandemic–not from poor business decisions or structural faults in the financial industry. This means that when this virus is contained (and it is a question of “when”), the economy will be poised to make a gradual recovery. When the virus is contained, we will pick ourselves up and begin to rebuild.

This means that it is the responsibility of hoteliers to prepare for the recovery period that lies ahead. Your guests may be on self-quarantine, but you must still stay connected and continue providing excellent service. From ramping up your social media presence, to email campaigns, there are many ways hotels can stay engaged. Consider options like gift certificates or bonus loyalty points guests can redeem when they are ready to explore and travel again. 

When it comes to communications, be transparent and keep in touch. This is especially true when dealing with millenials, who place a high value on transparency, trust and authenticity. According to a survey by Consumer Content Report, an overwhelming 90% of millennials value brand authenticity over messaging that is “perfect and packaged.”  

How does this apply to coronavirus crisis communications? You need to communicate early, often, and openly. If your company is going through troubles, say so–and then outline what you are doing to respond and make things right. As Harvard Business Review reports, “When customers are separated from the work that’s being done behind the scenes to serve them, they appreciate the service less and then they value the service less.” Describe the steps you’re taking to mitigate risk and give them insight into the steps you’re taking to help your community navigate the current cursis. 

And in the realm of travel, many of those trends and estimations that dominated the initial growth forecasts for this year, though delayed, will emerge again . Namely, we will realize the influence of millennial travelers and the potential they have to reignite the hospitality industry.

The Role of Millenials

Millennials are championing the ‘experiential’ movement. With a demonstrated penchant for experiences over material goods in combination with their impressive buying power, millennial travelers quickly became a key travel segment. In fact, US Millennials spent $200 billion on travel in 2018 alone, while 55% wanted to increase the volume of trips, and almost 3 in 4 wanted to increase their spend on travel experiences, rather than physical products. 

In light of this pandemic, when the prospect of travel is suddenly taken off the table, and planned trips are placed on hold, it’s easy to imagine the disappointment experienced by frequent, avid travelers. Having something they value so deeply suddenly taken away from them is a hard pill to swallow. For millennials who deem travel as such an integral part of their life, the desire to once again travel will surely grow with each passing week. 

Many will simply travel no matter what. Reports across the country show that many millenials, lured by cheap plane tickets, continue to travel amidst the global crisis.  In fact, millennials crowded popular party destinations such as Miami’s beaches, or New Orleans’ famed Bourbon Street, in spite of dire CDC warnings. It’s important to stress that this youthful hubris can be dangerous: data from the CDC suggests that adults aged 20 to 44 account for almost 30% of America’s COVID-19 cases一and 20% of its hospitalizations. Similarly in Europe, about half of Dutch patients who require intensive care because of coronavirus are under 50, while 10% of Italians admitted into an ICU with the virus are under 40. The point here is not to encourage millennial travel during the crisis一that would be socially irresponsible, and could be disastrous to your brand’s reputation一but rather to prepare for the inevitable upsurge of millennial travel once the crisis has waned. 

We have all gained a newfound appreciation for the normalcy for which we used to take for granted. 

For many, this will instill a desire to ‘do things differently’ and with greater enthusiasm, once we return to normal life. And for millennials, it will likely translate to a sharp increase in spending geared towards unique and meaningful travel.

Let’s Refresh Our Memory — What Do Millennials Want?

Now that we’ve identified that millennials will likely champion the initial influx of travel-related spending as the spread of COVID-19 comes to a close, the better question is, how can hoteliers best prepare?

As tech-savvy digital nomads, millennials demand to be at the forefront of a mobile-first guest experience. They are well-informed travelers who crave the cultivation of personalized messaging and offers, the 24/7 convenience made possible by mobile solutions, and the intelligent use of technology to create memorable experiences. The world has seen more startups and young self-made millionaires than ever before, and many of them are millennials. They influence the market, products & strategies as they are the ultimate consumers.

Studies show that 86% of millennials choose to experience a new culture over partying, while 51% plan to visit domestic and international travel destinations. Similarly, 62% are likely to extend business trips to visit areas or sites of cultural significance. Even further, 85% ​of millennial travelers check multiple sites for the best deals before booking, while 52% check online reviews, travel websites, and blogs researching their potential destinations. Lastly, millennials are more willing than other generations to exchange personal information for discounts, personalized vacation recommendations, advice, and travel tips. Following the pandemic, millennial travelers will be in search of great travel deals that tap into their demand for bleisure packages, weekend getaways, meaningful trips with cultural experiences, and tech-driven personalization.

With your sights set on the future, now is the perfect time to re-examine your hotels’ service offerings, stay connected digitally, make critical on-property improvements, upgrade technology, and streamline processes to prepare your business for recovery. Millennials are the first generation of digital natives 一 they are constantly connected and their skill with utilizing mobile technology is unparallelled. Consequently, millennials are uncompromising when it comes to providing a unified and seamless mobile guest journey. Providing a mobile or self-service check-in demonstrates to millennials that you value a digital experience, while also providing them with a convenient check-in experience that let’s them get on with their stay, and avoid any concerns of human-to-human contact in a new post COVID-19 world. 

While the details of how they live their lives are different everywhere, millennials share a remarkably similar love of memorable travel, unique experiences, and digital connection. Hoteliers who make the effort to craft the experiences that millennials crave will benefit from a generation that is ready and willing to kick-start their bookings once the tide has turned. 

And it will. Remember, “this too, shall pass.” 

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