Takeaways from the BLLA Investment Conference.

Earlier this month, more than 350 attendees gathered at the Fourth Annual Investment Conference put on by the Boutique & Lifestyle Lodging Association (BLLA).  The conference had over 50 speakers and covered a wide range of topics including hotel deals, Airbnb, the debt equity marketplace, hotel f&b design and strategy, gaining further media coverage, the current state of the investment marketplace and much more. (Check out the full recap here.)

One theme that came up and was discussed multiple times throughout the conference was the topic of millennials.

First some relevant stats:

  • One quarter of US adults making an annual household income of over $500,000 are millennials
  • Millennials are 23% more interested in going abroad than older generations
  • Millennials make up 20% of international tourists

(Source: Condé Nast Traveler)

This is clearly an excellent target consumer market for boutique and lifestyle brands to aim reach. But should boutique and lifestyle hotels make millennials the hyper-focus of their marketing and design efforts?

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Editor-in-Chief of Condé Nast Traveler, Pilar Guzman lead the conversation asserting that Millennials are connoisseurs of experiences with “78% of millennials choosing to place value on experiences over things.”

Great hotel experiences can further the process of personal development when we ask the questions of “Who do we want to be?” and “What do we want our lives to look like?” Questions like these are appealing to the millennial mind as they navigate unchartered waters and work on self-development. Hotels have a unique opportunity to connect with this development and thought process in a pivotal way.

Boutique and luxury hotels lead the way in creative design, food and beverage programs, and embracing the cultural elements of their surroundings. This is one way hotels can lead the way as role models for an aspirational lifestyle and informing who millennials want to be and what kind of lifestyle they want to lead. Pilar Guzman continued, “Taste and experience (aka being in the know) is now the new luxury.”

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Speaking of luxury, Caroline MacDonald (Vice President, Rosewood Hotels & Resorts) highlighted the importance of functionality and not just blindly chasing the millennial demographic with whatever is trending at the time. She emphasized, “Our CEO is a millennial but it really is a mindset. We’re always going back and forth with Traditional Luxury vs. Millennial Mindset.”

If you look at the millennial focus as more about the mindset than the age bracket, it can change the conversation to be more actionable. In order to connect with connoisseurs of experiences, first focus on the cultural elements of your property and then you can connect with those seeking a cultural education as well as attract the best talent in design, food & beverage etc. This will subsequently provide an excellent experience to the luxury traveler.

Bill Walshe (CEO, Viceroy Hotels) revealed that one of his biggest challenges with millennials is that they tend to think they should be a manager the first day of their job. “But their desire to keep achieving does also serve as a good reminder that we as an industry need to keep reinventing ourselves and our product in order to stay relevant – which can be a big challenge,” he continued.

As Ian Schrager (cofounder of the groundbreaking Morgans Hotel and  the Ian Schrager Company) emphasized, “Do something new, get inspired by another industry, and provide a unique experience.”

The key takeaway is to keep innovating. Millennials will continue to explore and be excited about the pioneering spaces. Consequently, the boutique and lifestyle sector cannot be complacent.  It needs to continue breaking new ground in order to stay relevant while not losing focus on the overall mission of bringing both quality and luxury to their individual markets.

The conversation will continue at the next BLLA conference, the Boutique Lifestyle Leadership Symposium, October 24-26 at the Luskin Conference Center @ UCLA Los Angeles.