As millennials embrace a future of authentic, anti-corporate branding, where bottom-up companies like Airbnb and Uber give the power back to the consumer and away from the bosses, industries that operate on a kind of top-down model have had to drastically rethink their game plan.
Chain hotel brands are an obvious example. Traditionally, the hotel giants have been the ‘factory farms’ of hospitality, where often their pursuit of scale and operational efficiency drove their highly standardised and ‘cookie cutter’ experiences, resulting in decidedly beige experiences from Manchester to Mumbai. Of course, guests wanted to know what they were getting, and the hotel chains ensured they got it. Every time. Everywhere.
But the world has moved on, and hospitality has been quick to follow.
That kind of mass-market, homogenised experience no longer cuts it with today’s new breed of savvy, millennial consumer. Millennials want personal, bespoke experiences that feel genuine rather than generic. They want the authenticity of a boutique experience but also the efficiency of a chain hotel.
Cue the rise of the branded-lifestyle hotel: a market now saturated by a plethora of both independent and chain hotels that have launched lifestyle hotels under millennial friendly brand names (often ditching the traditional ‘founders name’ that used to be a positive badge of consistency & reliability).
Brands from the big chains including Moxy (Marriott), Aloft (Marriott), Andaz (Hyatt), Jo&Joe (Accor), Mama Shelter (Accor), Canopy (Hilton) and the soon to be launched Motto (Hilton) rub shoulders with the cool, ‘born millennial’, upstarts such as The Hoxton, Freehand, Ace, Public and Citizen M. At the last count there were over 100 lifestyle brands and growing.
In an attempt to lure the ‘next generation of travellers’, these hotels focus own a strong sense of locality, with seamless technology, sociable, buzzing public spaces and health-orientated services. They offer personalised, informal and open experiences that millennial consumers have come to expect.
But as new brands continue to be launched, and the existing brands continue to scale globally, we’re seeing the homogenising effects that have been witnessed in coffee shops around the world and so brilliantly articulated by Kyle Chayka in the article ‘Welcome to AirSpace’.
These lifestyle brands are becoming all too familiar: with their open ‘living room’ aesthetic, collection of coffee table books, faux Banksy murals, industrial accents, Instagram friendly ‘statement pieces’ and retro-homage to vinyl, typewriters and Bakelite telephones.
The danger for these lifestyle brands is that they are becoming indistinguishable. They are driven by design and aesthetics and less about the promise of the brand – or that the promise is the same one offered by everyone else – for ‘cool’, sociable spaces.
While for many, and not just millennials, this is a welcome change from the beige boxes of old, the points of differentiation between the lifestyle hotel brands is diminishing and they face exactly the same challenge as faced by the cookie cutter hotels of old: remove the sign from the building and will a guest know whether they’re in a Hoxton, Ace or Line Hotel? A consequence being that the brands become subsumed in a sea of sameness, blurred distinction and lack of loyalty.
As in other sectors, it might take new entrants and the encroachment of brands from other categories to carve out more focused, differentiated offerings. Will the Equinox Hotel open the door to a raft of ‘wellness’ experience-based hotels (Headspace Hotel, anyone?) or WeWork / WeLive flex to offer the ideal millennial business traveller solution?
‘Lifestyle’ must avoid becoming a flabby term, simply led by design, but become more focused, providing a distinctive promise that is rigorously pulled through into the experience and other touchpoints.