Gen X Takes Over: Are You Ready?

This issue of Lodging Hospitality is a first for us. The entire feature package in the edition focuses on one topic: the rise of the Generation X traveler and how hotels can better serve this fast-growing market. By definition, this kind of shift in the marketplace only happens every 20 or 30 years, but the implications are more pronounced and more important this time than when the previous generation (Baby Boomers) took the lead in the travel market in the 1970s and ‘80s.

That transition barely registered among hoteliers and their designers, f&b experts and marketers. The assumption was — and it generally proved to be true — that Boomer travelers wanted the same kinds of hotels and hospitality experiences as their parents preferred. Changes occurred but they were more subtle than the current shift in demographics has brought to the lodging landscape.

The hotel industry needs to congratulate itself on its quick, studied and nuanced reaction to the news that Gen Xers now or will very soon become the largest segment of both business and leisure travelers. Most of the major chains, and a fair number of smaller companies and independent hotels, took the time to study this group to determine what it wants in travel and how it differs from the generations preceding it.

The research phase was done quickly and the brands swiftly introduced a new class of lifestyle flags (aloft, Hyatt Place, Cambria Suites and others) they believe will appeal in basic ways to the Gen X traveler. Interestingly, the new offerings have a lot in common (i.e., heavy emphasis on technology, a new approach to public spaces and hip, but comfortable designs), yet each adds its own set of facilities and services the brand managers feel give their companies the advantage. Of course, time will sort out the winners and losers.

The hotel industry hasn't always been so nimble or on the mark when it comes to shifts in its customer base. By the mid-1980s, as it became clear that women were traveling as often as men, the hotel industry fumbled in its initial attempts to reach this market. The answer, some chains and properties believed, was to treat women differently, as though their tastes and needs are completely opposite those of their male colleagues.

Security was thought to be an issue — and correctly so — among women travelers. The solution was to put female guests on women-only floors or to place them in rooms near the elevators (which, of course, are usually the noisiest accommodations in the house.) Guestroom design also shifted to styles, colors and furnishings the so-called experts (usually men) thought women would appreciate.

Eventually, hoteliers realized that the needs and wants of men and women are strikingly similar. Security is a concern for all travelers, so the widespread adoption of electronic guestroom locks made both men and women guests feel safe and secure. And amenities like irons and ironing boards, upgraded bathroom toiletries and coffeemakers that were thought to appeal to women are also appreciated by male guests.

Hotel companies seem to have learned their lesson as they gear up to create products and services that appeal to Gen X travelers. Improved in-room technologies, communal lobbies equipped with WiFi hot spots and upscale but quick-and-easy food and drink offerings and online or kiosk check-in and check-out systems are ideas that all travelers can embrace. As Jim Abrahamson of Hyatt says, “Gen Xers are really closer to the center than the edge.”

We hope you enjoy our package of stories on how to best serve Gen Xers — and all your guests. Travelers, both business and leisure, are changing. Are you ready to serve them?

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