Meet Your New Guest: Generation X

Hotel chains are falling over themselves to roll out new products they hope will appeal to the highly coveted Gen X traveler, that 25- to 40-year-old who no doubt will be tomorrow's road warrior as well as a heavy user of resort products.

While I haven't seen Hotel Indigo, InterContinental Hotels Group's new product for the hip and young, I'm somewhat familiar with Cambria Suites, Choice Hotels' recent entry into the segment. Both brands are the product of highly focused research, some calculated risk-taking and a healthy dose of gut instinct on where the hospitality market is headed. And while both chains say the products aim for a broader demographic than Gen X, it's clear that the creators of these brands were thinking more about my 26-year-old son than they were me.

The inspiration for these products and others to follow (Hyatt says it intends to jazz up its new acquisition, AmeriSuites, to appeal to the younger traveler) comes from the independent boutique hotel craze and its corporate cousin, Starwood's W Hotels chain. Therein lies the lesson all hoteliers, and developers in particular, need to learn as they cope with a new generation coming to economic power.

In crafting products, services and marketing programs to serve the Gen Xers, it's critical to understand who they are and, more importantly, who they're not. In many cases, they're no longer the hot-shot, got-rich-quick kids of the late ‘90s who craved experience and consumption and for whom the boutique hotel was born.

Many, but not all, of the boutiques I've slept in or visited are all about the vibe and very little about comfort. Shoe-box-sized rooms with minimal furnishings are the design hallmarks of these hotels. While these boutique rooms scream “cool” to the 23-year-old single Wall Streeter on a weekend getaway to South Beach, I find them to be inconvenient, uncomfortable and not at all warm and inviting.

And before you write me off as a 56-year-old fuddy duddy, the truth is that an increasing number of Gen X travelers would agree with me. As they mature, marry and become parents, the Gen Xers' point of view changes. And when the 30-something is traveling on business, he or she wants the same things I do: a clean room with a comfortable bed, high-speed Internet access, a great TV with lots of viewing options, hassle-free arrival and departure and an efficient, even if it's not friendly staff.

New research on Gen X consumers points to the hot buttons that move them to purchase. According to Reach Advisors, a marketing strategy firm, Gen X buyers respond to value and permanence; they want both quality and quantity time with their families; both parents take active roles in the lives of their children; and they're very vocal in telling their peers about the good and bad purchases they've made.

While the similarities are strong, the typical Gen Xer has wants and demands as a traveler that differ from his or her baby boomer parents. Chief difference, of course, is that the 30-something is probably more tech-savvy than the 60-year-old guest. He or she wants access to the latest technology, they want it immediately, they want it everywhere (e.g., wired HSIA in the guestrooms and wireless in the public spaces), and they probably want it all for free.

The creators of Hotel Indigo and Cambria Suites seem to understand the need to balance new and unconventional elements with what's proven and traditional. Since no demographic group can be defined precisely, it's important to appeal to as many potential guests as possible while giving each customer the feeling that the product was designed just for him or her. It's a tough task, but the results can be well worth the effort.

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