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Generational Issues in the Hospitality Industry - a Moving Target

by Terence Ronson, February 2010

In a few short weeks, the US Government will embark upon a US$15 billion decade long exercise – the 2010 Census, with results expected to show there is no such thing anymore as the typical American – Joe has gone with the wind.

If this is indeed true, then you can rightly say, there is no typical guest. America may have a population of 300+ million, but China has four times that, and they are expected to be the biggest outbound travelers of this decade – and with a rapidly growing middle class, they are certainly becoming affluent enough. Have you really thought through how this new generation of travelers can positively impact your business?

It will be the summer of 2011 before the Census department releases its cornucopia of information, but early predictions already show that the African American and Latino communities are growing leaps and bounds, and consequently, so is the abundant usage of the Spanish language.

Since minorities are also becoming the majorities, Asia which was once considered as a Third World region, can no longer be viewed in that way, especially when you consider China has amassed over 1.3 trillion US dollars in foreign reserves and goodness knows how much of the world’s debt they have on their books.

Due to the growing number of Chinese speaking travelers, some would say Chinese is the new Japanese and when at one time hotels had a policy to translate their menus and collaterals into Japanese, they should now being doing the same thing (and more) in Chinese. 

The likelihood is high that the US census will also reveal the population is becoming older, and we have to thank advances in medicine for that, and not necessarily because people have become as health conscious as they are environmentally aware. Supersizing of meals and consequently people is still the norm in the US of A.

However, taking a global perspective, did you know that at any given moment in time, up to eight different generations (see table) of human life can enter into and use your business. How do you cope with that? How do you position, design, build and operate your business knowing this modern era phenomenon can potentially happen? 

The Eight Generations
1. Great Great Grand Parents
2. Great Grand Parents
3. Grand Parents
4. Parents
5. Children
6. Grand Children
7. Great Grand Children
8. Great Great Grand Children
The five popular Generations
1. Grand Parents
2. Parents
3. Children
4. Grand Children
5. Great Grand Children

And if we focus on just one area – Technology - how can you plan and implement technology strategies to accommodate all these life forms and their continually evolving needs?

Without doubt, technology is a game-changer and its impact on life’s generations and the hospitality industry should not be underestimated. 

The power of evolutionary platforms such as the iPhone, Blackberry, GPS, eBook, 3D TV, and Tablet/Slate computers have such a great influence on life, the resulting effect being not to just set aside the rule book, but throw it away completely. 

The technology train is running faster than ever before which can be seen in the decade running up to Y2K, where we mostly got the PC and mobile phone. Now in Y2K10 the ubiquitous Internet using the likes of SNS (social networking services) and high-speed mobile communications provides us with fingertip access to unlimited knowledge and facts which can help support our decision making process advising us where to spend time and money. 

Arming us with the ability to access this infinite repository are increasingly powerful and complex search engines – they tell us all we need to know, and in many cases result in information overflow caused by excessive electronic messaging eroding the increasingly fine line between work and personal time. And imagine that the average homo sapien just half a decade ago would have been hard pressed to grasp that in a box no larger than a packet of cigarettes we would have the ability to walk around with humongous digital media libraries and download even more over the airwaves as our appetite grows. 

For the tech lovers out there, you may very well say that we live in some of the most interesting times. Early adopters change their tech as fast as fashion items, and what’s in vogue today, is passé tomorrow. For some socio-economic groups, technology is such a critical fashion accessory that if you don’t have the right mobile phone or digital media player, it could result in alienation by your peers in much the same way as wearing incorrect sports trainers and blue jeans. 

There are others though, spanning all generations that have a phobia to technology, and age has nothing to do with it. Just because you are young does not automatically translate into being tech-savvy and having the in-built aptitude to make a computer do everything. What it most likely means is that you come with less stigma and baggage in regards technology adoption. Young age often gives you objectivity and raised expectations, and preempts you from saying “in the old days we used to do it like this” – that’s about all. 

Having said that, it is true to say that living amongst us is a generation of individuals who can be categorized as the TFG people. This socially rich generation Takes For Granted that water will flow out of the faucet, electricity will flow from the power socket and cash will come out of the ATM. They assume the TV will have hundreds of channels, the gas pump will pump gas, the sun will shine tomorrow, the supermarket shelves will be full, and that HSIA [High Speed Internet Access] will be the vehicle to the Internet - which will always exist. To these folks, the technologies they use are just disposable tools – they have a very limited shelf life and even shorter use before date. Side by side with the TFG generation comes the Starbucks Syndrome where we can experience the physical version of the virtual world and social networking. Starbucks is the de facto location to hold casual meetings, meet up with study buddies and get a helping of free Wi-Fi with your latte. Add that to what Mc Donald’s are doing, and there are few places that you can’t find an open hotspot these days. Even if you don't like Wi-Fi, the spread of free Wi-Fi services to every restaurant, bar, and burger joint in America can only help to push down the pricing of 3G and 4G services in the future.

Whilst we can have eight generations pass through the doors of our business, it’s likely that this will be focused around five of them. But when you take into consideration race, creed, religion, gender and other forms of social grouping the categories rapidly multiply themselves and the nuances associated with each become fairly mind-boggling. Boomers are the most likely group to be sporting this tech, since in most cases, they will have the disposable income and opportunity to go out and spend.

Having looked at this from the Guest perspective, one must equally consider the impact on the workforce. The growing desire of various socio-economic classes to earn better salaries increasingly draws them to alternate industries. Likewise, the overall lack of job security and the prospect of a long-service award with retirement pension has dramatically impacted the faithfulness of the employee talent pool.

Isn’t it time to consider the resulting impact on the hospitality industry?

This article is abstracted from a future publication titled “Generational Issues in the Hospitality Industry” due for publication in the fall of 2010. For more details, please contact the author Terence Ronson,

As a White Paper, this important subject will be discussed during the upcoming HITEC conference June 21-24, Florida, USA.

©  MMX  / Y2K10

In collaboration with:

Wang Swee Lee - Cotell International Limited
David Fallarme – The Marketing Student
From an original for HFTP’s Bottom Line magazine


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