The absence of the colour beige is the most noticeable as you walk into Aloft, Marriott’s brand for millennials, in the national capital. The ample natural light that brightens the space and the play of primary colours make for an informal lobby. A 24×7 self-service cafe that doubles as a co-working space holds pride of place. The stiff suits and ties are missing on the staff in attendance. The general manager likes to use the word ‘easy’ a lot while speaking with you.
At Bengaluru’s Centric, Hyatt’s brand for today’s travellers, the doors open to a welcoming wall of potted plants and knick-knacks, with a diner-like sofa and chairs placed around. Bright yellow sofas by the window near a self-service cafe say casual in loud words. The rooms are a bright white and blue. Clearly, ‘intimidating’ and ‘magnificent’, generally associated with five-star hotels, are alien concepts here.
Welcome to hotels for millennials. Much like everything else, the hospitality industry is also tailoring its offerings for Generation Y, with some like Aloft and Centric specifically created for them.
And when players like ITC build a hotel with a glass facade right in the middle of an IT hub, you know it’s a target audience that is hard to ignore. Especially as it sets the tone for the other generations as well, as many feel that where Gen Y goes, Gen X follows. So what is it that millennial travellers want, and how is the hospitality industry giving them just that?
Lose the fuss
Elaborate check-ins, filling up forms, furnishing ID proof… The last thing a weary traveller used to jetting around the world needs is a red-tape welcome. Today, guests can check in through hotel apps and open rooms with digital keys.
Instead of concierges, there are customised itineraries and guidance through social media. Integration of technology is not only in the rooms, but in the overall experience to eliminate delays and human errors, which works for the impatient generation of today.
Hotels in India might be late in waking up to the wonders of technology, stressing more on ‘warm hospitality’, but the effort is finally being made. For a generation used to screens, the impersonal interaction with a device can be preferred over intrusive staff trying too hard to please.
For instance, Starwood Preferred Guests at hotels like Aloft can check in, get room numbers and open rooms with just an app. A robotic butler named Botlr, already in place in hotels in the US, could be delivering late-night drinks in Indian hotels soon. At Taj Hotels, the website is in multiple languages, Taj.Live, its social media command centre, offers options to organically engage with a wider audience through omni-channel trend tracking and analysis. At ITC hotels, iPads pretty much control all of a guest’s needs in a room, from ordering food to adjusting the temperature, opening the curtains or watching Netflix on the smart TV. As ITC Hotels’ CEO Dipak Haksar says: “From product design to room configuration to interiors, every aspect of ITC’s hotels is conceptualised and built around the diverse and evolving needs of our guests. We ensure that we stay relevant and contemporary in our offerings.”
Varun Mohan, general manager, Hyatt Centric Bengaluru, adds: “In-room amenities are now beyond providing only Wi-Fi facilities; guests are offered easy systems, including online bill settlements, one-touch display and online orders.”
Work & play
For the plugged-in generation, the office desk is obsolete. Hotels are realising this, and offer co-working, as well as personalised office spaces. From facilitating large meetings to one-on-one conversations, hotels are bringing the office to their guests.
At the same time, guests don’t have to leave the premises for entertainment as well. Live performances, shows, comedy nights are part of the game at Aloft, which has a dedicated space for it. Hyatt’s Centric has ‘The Corner’, where guests can work, play and socialise all in one space, with access to computers, books and magazines. At the Marriott in Delhi’s Aerocity, Playhouse is a one-in-all concept to socialise, eat, drink and be entertained.
As Arne Sorenson, CEO of Marriott International, told us during a recent trip to Delhi, the feeling of comfort is what he wants the brand’s USP to be. “I think it is the authentic and truly hospitable welcome and service which cause people to feel like they have arrived home. ‘People want me here, I am comfortable here.’ That could be done as a luxury brand, or a mid-tier brand. But no matter what the cost is, do I feel like I’m coming home? And that quality of service is what we’re most focused on,” he had said.
Even at Delhi’s Andaz, a niche concept by Hyatt, the Hong Kong Club is touted to be more of a meeting place than just a restaurant offering good food. At ITC Kohenur in Hyderabad, the rooftop bar occupies prime space, integrating an Italian restaurant and intimate corners on the same floor to both network and entertain.
Cater to the curious
The millennial traveller has a thing for local experiences and this is not just about food. Instead of a concierge suggesting local attractions, today, hotels are curating the entire experience for their guests. For instance, the Marriott resort in Mussourie curates a culinary sojourn where guests are taken to remote villages to sample local cuisine. The trip is not just about food, as guests see for themselves how the Garhwalis live, eating in their homes, seeing them cook in the kitchen and even cooking alongside them. In between, they shake a leg to the beat of trumpets and dhols and even participate in regional festivals.
At Taj Hotels, curating local experiences for guests, be it sightseeing, food or art, is an integral part. It could be a guided tour of the Golden Temple or a market escapade in Goa.
Guests can feel like a nizam in Hyderabad as ITC curates a vintage car tour of the city, or explore the bylanes of the national capital for flavours of purani Dilli with their expert chefs. The hotels facilitate this all.
Feed the globetrotter
Occupying perhaps the largest space in Delhi’s Aerocity, Andaz has just one restaurant to cater to all its rooms and residences. But under executive chef Alex Moser’s guidance, Annamaya caters to every tastebud. From biryani to burrata, guests can taste the world sitting at one table. “We always try to be on top of the game when it comes to cuisine, being innovative in creating new dishes, especially ones that use local and fresh produce. We are constantly experimenting with flavours and dishes for the young generation, which is always looking for experimental cuisine,” says Moser.
The model is becoming a norm, with the 24×7 restaurants of hotels becoming the most popular. Many hotels don’t feel the need for multiple restaurants as they believe guests should not be restricted to a particular cuisine in a restaurant. Well-travelled with varied tastes, guests, too, expect a variety of world cuisines with options to satisfy multiple palates. Just as they expect authentic tastes wherever they go. Not surprisingly, when Taj Hotels, with several properties abroad, launched its Tajness initiative a couple of years back, it proposed to standardise recipes across properties. Giving details, Taj Mahal Palace Mumbai general manager Taljinder Singh had told us then that the bunny chow in Mumbai will taste the same as in Cape Town, just like the chole kulche in Colombo will be the same as in Amritsar.
At Aloft in the national capital, general manager Suman Gahlot says the emphasis is now on beverage and food and not food first. No wonder then, the bar in the hotel welcomes guests as soon as they walk in. Here, too, just one multi-cuisine restaurant serves the entire hotel.
Straws might be the face of the hospitality industry’s crusade against plastic, but many brands are making a conscious effort to go green. There are not only properties certified by rating agencies for sustainability, like most ITC hotels, some have sewage recycling and biogas plants on the premises as well, like the Taj’s new property in the Andamans. This is also the group’s first “zero single-use plastic hotel”, with even tooth brushes and earbuds made of wood. Glass bottles are used for water, as well as bathroom amenities. Says Puneet Chhatwal, managing director and chief executive officer at the Indian Hotels Company Limited (IHCL), “We have taken a pledge to phase out single-use plastics from all our hotels, so that we can play a small but significant role in our endeavour to conserve the environment. This decision is in line with our ethos of weaving in sustainable and responsible practices in business operations.”
Single-use plastic is being discouraged at most hotels and the overall message is that the hotel cares for the environment, something that resonates well with Gen Y. And, as said earlier, they are clearly the influencers for other age groups as well. Mohan of Hyatt’s Centric acknowledges this when he admits that millennials will most definitely continue to grow in prominence within the existing and potential customer base. “It’s their influence that continues to spread among all customer segments with the development of social media platforms. The concept of ‘immediacy of service and standards’ and the continued search for ‘new experiences’ have influenced other segments such as GenXers and Baby Boomers. While millennials tend to lead the way in adopting new technology and experiences, the trend indicates that the older generation of travellers is also embracing the new trends in the market,” he says.
Big on wellness
Vitamin C showers, a mini bar full of granola bars, fresh fruit and other healthy goodies and even gym equipment in the room—wellness has never been a bigger selling point. Hotels are not just offering world-class spas for rejuvenation and relaxation, the concept of wellness now extends to activities, food, and even amenities in the room, a far cry from the days when all you could get in the name of comfort food was yellow dal and chawal from the in-room dining menu.
Today, every good hotel will have a sleep/relaxation kit that includes relaxing essential oils and sleep aids in every room. Gen Y is a stressed generation and has no qualms in accepting it, as they seek every possible way to unwind even while away. And that is what hotels today aim to do. As Marriott’s Sorenson says: a home away from home!