Millennials will soon be the largest group of business travellers – but not before they reinvent the sector. By Jenny Southan, business travel editor
Ten years ago, millennials (people born between the early 1980s and 1990s) were a small subset of the business travel market, but today they travel more for work than older generations. According to data from metasearch engine Hipmunk, 38 per cent of millennials travel for business, while just 23 per cent of Generation Xers and 8 per cent of Baby Boomers do. By 2020, Boston Consulting Group predicts millennials will represent half the global workforce and be responsible for 50 per cent of business travel spending.
The influence the power of youth has had on the travel industry has been fascinating to observe, as companies scramble to reinvent themselves in such a way as to appeal to this new consumer. In a fight to compete with the personal feel of sharing economy platforms such as Airbnb, almost every major hotel chain has launched a “lifestyle” brand: the Radisson Hotel Group has Radisson Red; Marriott has Moxy; Hyatt has Centric; and Shangri-La has Hotel Jen – all with trendy interiors, communal work/hangout space, free wi-fi, artisan coffee and affordable room rates.
Gary Steffen, global head of another new lifestyle hotel brand, Canopy by Hilton, says: “Our brand promise is to deliver a ‘positively local experience’. Customers are looking for unique hotels that are an extension of their neighbourhoods through architecture and design, food and drink, art and music. Canopy-branded bikes are also available free so people can explore. Our hotels are perfect for those who enjoy boutique-style hotels while benefitting from the Hilton Honors loyalty scheme.” So far Canopy has hotels in Reykjavik and Washington DC, but another 30 are in the pipeline including one in Zagreb and one in London.
At the same time, a handful of forward-thinking airlines such as Norwegian and Level (from British Airway’s parent company IAG) have managed to target this demographic with low-cost long-haul flights, and even new hipster-orientated subsidiaries such as Joon from Air France. Launched last autumn, it now flies from Paris CDG to 14 destinations including Cairo, Cape Town, Mahé, Mumbai and Tehran. Crew are outfitted in fashionable white trainers, polo shirts and gilets, while snacks are organic and movies are streamed to personal devices.
Just in the way that Joon announced it was aiming services at “young working clientele whose lifestyles revolve around digital technology,” other emerging companies have also tapped into the shift in the way millennials combine business and leisure. “Work” and “life” are no longer independent entities that need to be balanced. We see this in the rise of private members’ clubs, especially in London, that have a mix of restaurants, bars, office space and hot desks, hotel rooms, gyms, spas, swimming pools and inspiring events programmes. Newer arrivals include Allbright (women-only), Mortimer House, the Devonshire Club, the Curtain Club and the revamped Soho House on Greek Street.
Co-working spaces are also exploding – and evolving. Not only has US giant WeWork launched dozens of high-spec communal workspaces around the world for “digital nomads” but, more recently, unveiled a new concept called WeLive, which combines office facilities with apartments for both local residents and travellers. This trend for “co-living”, as it is known, will likely be the next disruptive force within the hotel industry as a growing proportion of the population go freelance (by 2020, about half the US population are expected to be their own boss). Other co-living enterprises to look out for are Roam, the Collective and Lyf.
Mindy Teo, vice-president for brand and marketing and digital Innovation at the Ascott Limited, which is opening its first Lyf property in Shenzhen, China, at the end of the year, says: “Lyf is a co-living brand designed and managed by millennials for millennials and the millennial-minded. It signifies a new way of living and collaborating as a community.
“Each Lyf property will have a unique personality with fun and quirky design elements. We also strive to provide flexible communal spaces that facilitate social activities – our kitchen and pantry can be used for networking and cooking classes, while a lobby can double up as a yoga space. Residents can hang out at the ‘Wash and Hang’ laundromat and play a round of table football while waiting for their laundry to be done.”
Ascott’s target is to have 10,000 Lyf units across the world by 2020. In terms of the apartments, Teo says: “Groups can opt for the ‘All Together’ business suites, which have smart display screens for video-conferencing, while large tables double as collaborative working zones and dining areas. Instead of standard wardrobes, guests can hang their clothes on rails that suspend from the ceiling or put up a hammock for a lazy afternoon snooze.” It sounds like millennials have got the right idea.