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Preparing for the guest of tomorrow: how hotels can cater to Generation Z

Gen Z is set to outnumber Millennials within a year according to a Bloomberg analysis. The analysis defined this demographic as anyone born starting in 2001 until the next “meaningful cohort” emerges.

As this generation comes of age and enters the travel scene, hotels need to be ready. It’d be tempting to assume that Gen Z are similar to their nearest Millennial demographic. But Gen Z are their own generation with a unique worldview that has been shaped by the experiences, culture and technology of their time.

As observed in the report “Rise of Gen Z: New Challenge for Retailers,” they grew up in a post-9/11 world amid deep recession and the worst employment rates since the 1930s. This has made them less idealistic, more world wary, and more cautious with money than their Millennial counterparts.

In the following post, we’ll explore more of the defining characteristics and behaviors that hotels need to know about, and provide a series of tips on how to cater to the guest of tomorrow.

Gen Z and social media

Teenagers on smartphones

Gen Zs are more cautious than Millennials about how they portray themselves online. They’ve grown up surrounded by social media, and they understand the consequences of publicly sharing their lives.

Gen Z also use social media differently than others. While Millennials see it as a place to chat with friends, younger generations use social media more for entertainment and filling time. This means that marketers need to change the nature of their ad content, as we’ll discuss shortly.

As for their preferred platforms? The mention of Facebook might be met with an eye roll—it’s not seen as an especially cool platform. According to a survey by Piper Jaffray, just 9% of teens use Facebook. Visually-driven platforms were found to be far more popular, especially Instagram (24%) and Snapchat (47%).

Snapchat is also favored because of the anonymity it provides. Facebook’s track record of security breaches may continue to keep younger generations away.

Compared to Millennials, Gen Z are also more likely to use social media to follow celebrities and influencers: one-fifth say they watch celebrity or vlogger videos on YouTube.

Gen Z watch a lot of video

According to a report from Awesomeness, Gen Zs watch an average of 68 videos per day, on at least five different platforms. The majority of these videos are watched on YouTube (22), followed closely by Snapchat (17). In particular, YouTube is used to watch entertaining content and funny clips, and videos under 10 minutes are the most popular.

While YouTube isn’t used especially to discover brands, it can help drive sales: Gen Z is nearly twice as likely as Millennials to turn to YouTube before making a purchase.

They expect a personalized web

In the recent whitepaper “The Future of Digital Experiences,” 50% of Gen Z respondents said they would stop visiting a website if it did not anticipate what they needed, liked, or wanted. The youngest consumers were also confident that the near future would involve digital experiences that were predictive and highly personalized.

When it comes to marketing, Gen Z actually want to help invent the deals and experiences that companies offer them. For this generation, personalization defined by a brand just isn’t personalized enough.

Gen Z does not want to be sold to, and they aren’t taken in by overt brand messaging. However, they have no problem with branded content if it entertains them and feels spontaneous, unique, and authentic.

They aren’t especially brand loyal

Winning guest loyalty is already a challenge for travel brands. But things will get even harder when trying to win the hearts of Gen Z. In a recent cross-generational study by EY, 45% of Millennials said that a loyalty program makes a store special to them. Only 30% of Gen Zs said the same.

When it comes to travel, research by Skift found that 25-35 year old travelers were three times more likely to associate loyalty with at least one travel brand, compared to those aged 18-24. This younger cohort was also far less loyal to online travel brands, as illustrated by the graph below:

Skift Gen Z loyalty graph

Marketing to Gen Z

Gen Z has short attention spans and consumes a lot of content. If you don’t grab their attention instantly, you’ll lose them. That means snackable and highly visual content is the way to go, especially short and snappy videos.

Today, the kind of content that goes viral with Gen Z often feels homemade, and more commonly gets shot on a smartphone than an HD camera. For that reason, slick brand messages are going to feel inauthentic.

Instead, think about how you can create content that feels fun, contemporary, and relevant. Leveraging influencers and vloggers on Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat can help you achieve credibility and build trust.

This generation also loves to share, which means that there’s real value in creating entertaining content that they consider worth sending around. When it comes to travel, Gen Zs are more influenced than any other generation by shared pictures and videos from their friends. Capitalize on that fact by creating a Snapchat Geofilter for your hotel. These location-based overlays can be used by anyone at your hotel when they take photos or video.

By encouraging Gen Z guests to act as brand advocates, you’ll increase your exposure in a natural and non-promotional way. This soft brand approach will be key to winning favor with tomorrow’s traveler.

Online booking experience

Gen Zs are used to content-rich, visually engaging websites. In the battle for limited attention spans, hotel websites will need to quickly stand out with engaging images and entertaining videos that instantly bring their property and destination to life.

The browsing and booking process will also need to feel fast and frictionless. Delays will lose bookings, so chatbots such as Hijiffy will be important to offer quick online assistance, check availability, and book rooms without the need for human help.

Personalizing content will also be essential. For instance, AI-powered trip-planning tools on hotel websites will be extremely useful to allow younger travelers to create tailored trips and itineraries, with recommendations by machine-learning algorithms.

Compared to older generations, Gen Zs are happier shopping via their smartphone. According to a Think With Google study, 53% of teens “mostly use smartphones to make online purchases.” In contrast, 43% of those aged aged 25-34 said the same. Therefore, optimizing your online experience for mobile will become even more crucial to win direct bookings.

What kind of hotel experience will they expect?

Futuristic hotel door

Gen Z has never known a world without the internet, smartphones, and on-demand content. So they will naturally expect that hotels offer the same technology and services.

Mobile check-in and keyless entry might be seen as nice extras, but hotels will need to really focus on their in-room entertainment offerings. Already with their eye on the future, the likes of Marriott and Hyatt have introduced casting services that let guests stream Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and more to the in-room TV.

When it comes to ordering services, convenience and speed of delivery will be vital. Using the in-room phone to request room service will seem completely alien. Instead, messaging apps are going to be imperative to replicate the way that Gen Zs like to shop and communicate with brands.

Looking slightly further ahead, younger members of Gen Z may expect digital in-room assistants to greet them on arrival, coordinate their travel plans, and act as their ever-present guides to the destination.

The key to earning Gen Z loyalty

Forget traditional loyalty programs. The on-demand Gen Z generation expects instant everything. Earning points over time just isn’t going to cut it. However, while offering instant rewards will be important, hotels will also need to rethink what these rewards look like and how they’re created.

Keen to collaborate, Gen Z may want to help create the offers you send them, so you might need to involve them in the process. To make this process quick and easy, you could send out a short poll on Snapchat or Instagram Stories. In the near future, winning loyalty will be even more reliant on creating experiences and rewards your guests truly love.

How are hotels preparing for Gen Z?

Last year, Marriott launched a four-part Snapchat video series called “Six Days, Seven Nights” to reach a younger audience. The campaign featured four different social media influencers, who each visited a Marriott property in a different global destination.

In terms of changing the actual hotel experience, Marriott is preparing for the future with its innovative M Beta at Charlotte Marriott City Center. This tech-packed experimentation hotel includes a farm-to-table restaurant, a neighborhood-style coffee house and co-working space, and a gym with on-demand access to nearly 1,000 digital training classes.

Winning the guest of tomorrow

Hotels need to be ready for Generation Z. Born into an on-demand world of instant everything, these first true “digital natives” have high expectations, and they interact differently with technology, social media, and brands.

All of this means that hotels will need to market and communicate with Generation Z consumers differently, rethink the services and experiences that they offer, and crucially, understand the unique traits and behaviors of Generation Z in order to form strong and meaningful relationships.

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