By Harry Cahn

Baby Boomers versus Millennials. It's not a competition, but there is a battle for mindshare. As the wave of the internet and social media usage continues to build, a digital time stamp has been placed on our culture, effectively dividing us into “befores” and “afters.” Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) are older and tend to be more methodical. Millennials (those born between 1980 and 1996) are younger, and generally more technology-focused and quicker to act.

A better understanding of the motivations that drive each group can help you optimize your property's appeal to each segment. Millennials are now the fastest growing demographic group in the country. But their reasons for travel, the things that attract them to a particular destination, and their methods for investigation and booking are very different from Boomers. Millennials are expected to account for half of all room bookings in the USA by 2025, but they do not have the buying power of the more stable Boomer guest – yet. So, how can hoteliers target their message and offerings to one group without alienating the other? And, what if your audience includes both Baby Boomers and Millennials?

Start by filtering three key facets of guest interaction by generational preference.

  1. Marketing. When crafting a message targeting Boomers, provide complete answers using simple language and minimize the technobabble. Don't worry as much about length of descriptions for properties and amenities; Baby Boomers like details and are more apt to plan ahead. Emphasize on-premises dining experiences and activities. Offer Boomers holiday packages and specials with plenty of advance notice and avoid surprises. Make sure Boomers are aware of all resort fees, on-site parking and Wi-Fi access charges. Reach them through easily navigable websites and passive vehicles like emails, direct mail and articles in travel pubs. Properties targeting Millennials, on the other hand, should get right to the point. These web surfers have little patience for long explanations or delayed responses. If they can't find the answer in the first few sentences, they move on. Play to Millennials' time-pressured lifestyles with direct, hard-hitting copy formatted in short bullets. Adventurous and seeking new experiences, Millennials will want to explore local attractions and taste various cuisines. Provide this information on your website. On-site, have knowledgeable concierge staff point them in the right direction. Younger, more active and impulsive, Millennials are more open to last-minute travel and more likely to work even on a non-business trip. Offer short notice, discounted online deals to attract spontaneous travelers. Utilize social media platforms, push notifications and YouTube videos to get your message out.
  2. Customer Service. Boomers value personal relationships, face-to-face meetings and recommendations from trusted sources. Older Boomers prefer to talk rather than type, so make it easy for them to get in touch through 800 numbers and make sure booking agents have patience and value their time on the phone. Baby Boomers are more brand loyal and like familiarity, so keeping them satisfied is a priority for repeat business. Millennials tend to rely more on texting and utilize crowdsourcing and online reviews. A good Yelp rating with a few pictures will help to set expectations. When Millennials do reach out, they prefer live chat with fast answers or, better yet, a self-service web-based interaction. Millennials are quicker to sign up for rewards programs, but that doesn't necessarily make them brand loyal. They utilize multiple search engines to find the best travel deals.
  3. Technology. Boomers tend to use desktop computers with a large monitor, keyboard and mouse so they can more easily navigate online. They research and read pages at length, getting immersed in details or service choices before making a decision. Boomers use multiple web browsers and search engines to find what they need. They are more likely to visit and explore the webpage of your property. When it comes to post-stay feedback, make it easy for Boomers to write a review or get in touch with management. Millennials are quicker to use iOS or Android mobile devices to find the object of their desire. They also leverage social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram and TripAdvisor to gather information, share opinions and make decisions about properties and destinations. They are more comfortable using third-party sites like Kayak, Priceline and Travelocity to investigate options and discounts. Visibility among Millennials is key. Encourage guests to publish reviews on Yelp and TripAdvisor and post pictures of their stay to boost the online profile of your property. In the event of a negative review, respond quickly as word travels fast through public forums.

Moving forward, the goal for hoteliers should be to implement features and amenities that are more Millennial-driven but still have universal appeal. Accept PayPal, Venmo and other digital payment methods in addition to traditional credit cards. Ensure rooms are equipped with reliable high-speed internet and outlets with USB charging ports. Provide physical room keys, but offer guests the option of using their mobile device as a room key, to order room service, to text hotel staff for extra towel or even manage room climate control. Emphasize the eco-friendly aspects of your property without sacrificing luxury or convenience.

Balance is the key to success. Most hotels serve a mix of Boomer and Millennial guests, often in the same reservation, and must embrace both demographic groups to be successful. It may even pay for some properties to versionize their digital platforms: desktop websites for Boomers, and apps and websites optimized for mobile devices for Millennials. Because focusing on one group while ignoring the other only hurts a business in the long run.