By Lauren Hall, Founder & CEO, iVvy

As a hotelier, the process of (effectively) marketing to millennials might have initially presented itself as a rather daunting task. Just how much buying power and influence do millennials have? And how does that impact the hospitality industry? What are their travel behaviors and preferences? How can hotels readily appeal to the millennial generation without compromising their relationship with travelers of previous generations? Who and what should be the priority? More specifically, when addressing the group hospitality segment — what do millennials expect from meetings and events in 2019 (and beyond)? What do millennial planners require from hotels to effectively vet and book venue space in a timely manner, and curate the perfect event? With small group business alone representing 30% of hotel business and the demand for meetings and events projected to rise 5-10% in demand, this consideration should be mulling in the mind of all hoteliers.

By 2020, millennial travelers will reportedly make up more than 50% of all hotel guests worldwide. Further, the 2018 Travelport U.S. Vacation Survey of approximately 1,500 U.S. residents shows that millennials (ages 18-34 years old) are most likely to spend more money on their upcoming vacations than other age groups, with one out of three millennials willing to spend $5,000 or more on their vacations. Not only that, but 56% of millennials plan to travel more this summer compared to summer 2017, in contrast to 35% of Gen X respondents (ages 35-54 years old) and 22% of Baby Boomers (ages 55+). So, if there was ever a time to re-focus and refine your millennial marketing strategy — it’s right now.

Addressing the Group Booking Demand

Likely influenced by the influx of millennial travelers, the demand for group and event venue space continues to outpace the supply of eligible hotels. Or, perhaps, the supply does exist but simply hasn’t been effectively realized or maximized due to limited booking infrastructure. If hotels are still allocating a largely manual process to their group segment, they likely can’t meet encroaching demand of prospective millennial planners.

When it comes to event planning timeframes and the unique demands of small or robust group bookings, millennial planners do not want to be restricted by the limiting nature of manual forms/RFPs, emails and phone calls. Rather, they expect an online group booking process that mimics that which is available for transient travel — live availability, easy mobile booking tools, 3D virtual tours, online invoices/payments and more. After all, millennials are cited as more likely to book through a mobile app with customized notifications, when available. Further, 81% of organizers desire real-time inventory and pricing and 83% want self-service. It’s no surprise, really, as millennial planners were brought up in the age of digital media — meaning they crave (better yet, they demand) a more innovative and digital-savvy process from the venues they work with.

With increased demand for meetings/events and the promise of higher group rates, millennial planners will likely look to book venue space further in advance. In order to effectively manage this shift, hotels should look to employ group booking technology that allows them to segment business intelligently (with insight-driven demand forecasts), prioritize leads effectively and streamline communications and marketing efforts. With the right tools in place to empower their sales team, hotels can finally adequately address and maximize the group booking demand and satisfy the booking expectations of millennial planners. If you don’t offer the capacity to answer the demand, however, millennial planners will likely take their business elsewhere. In fact, millennials are reportedly 37% less likely to source directly through a venue when compared to their older generation industry peers, indicating that the new generation of meeting planners value the convenience and simplicity of an event management platform during the process.

Selling the Experience

Millennials are notoriously interested in experiences over material goods, which gives way to an exciting opportunity for hotels to capitalize on experience-based travel or, in this case, experiential meetings and events. If millennial planners are responsible for curating buzz-worthy, shareable moments within each meeting/event, how can your venue space best help them achieve that effect? Packages that include station-style food and beverages to encourage networking/attendee engagement, interactive components and/or local experiences are sure to be well received by millennial planners.

Generally speaking, millennial attendees aren’t interested in sitting through long, boring meetings or event presentations — rather, they want to feel engaged in a unique experience that is worth talking about (or sharing to social media). Venue elements/features could include Artificial Intelligence or Virtual Reality, a unique seating or room setup, local recommendations, improved amenities or experiential packages that cater to the millennial desire for a share-worthy experience. With the needs of the millennial attendee in mind, your hotel can best market its venue space as an exciting event concept to prospective millennial planners. Ultimately, millennial planners are looking to create exceptionally unique experiences for their attendees meaning that every aspect of the venue space should offer its own unique personality or draw.

Further, millennials are a generation of travelers decidedly influenced by social reputation and online clout. Millennial planners, specifically, are 50% more likely to say social media and blogs are highly influential when it comes to evaluating a venue compared to older generations. This means that online reviews/ratings and influencer recommendations are more important than ever. So, with this in mind, what’s the best way to attract millennial planners? The answer is to closely monitor your online reputation and offer a buzz-worthy, FOMO (fear of missing out) inducing venue space that, ideally, already has people buzzing.

Tech-Savvy and Personable, All in One

Millennials crave face-to-face, personalized communications — both when it comes to the brands they support, but also in their event expectations. Hotels that curate more organic opportunities for networking and genuine engagement are sure to thrive in the modern group booking environment. With this in mind, hotels can leverage lobbies, rooftops and other communal areas for networking-specific events (or as smaller segments of a larger event). Further, when engaging with millennial planners, it’s important to maximize the resources saved from the self-service aspects of an online booking experience and reinvest them back in a high-touch relationship. By this, we mean that millennial planners still have high expectations for a personalized experience with hotel sales teams. Sure, they require the convenience of online booking, but once they fulfill the self-service segment of their booking journey, you need to personalize communications with high-touch, responsive service.

Not only that, but while face-to-face connection is exceedingly valuable to the millennial crowd, they consider the availability of digital-focused interfaces and conveniences with equal precedent. Think charging stations, free (and high quality) Wi-Fi, social media walls or aesthetically-influenced installations for social media sharing, mobile communications and check-in/out and so much more. Ideally, the physical elements of any event/space should interact seamlessly with the digital elements, allowing millennials to enjoy a unique experience that is memorable as it is convenient and hyper-connected.

With the millennial masses seemingly taking the hospitality industry by storm, it’s never been more important for hotels to shape their offering and marketing strategies accordingly. By tapping into the potential of millennial group bookings, hoteliers put themselves in prime position to optimize revenue consistently throughout the year and foster a strong connection with this profitable crop of travelers.