by Matt Alderton | July 05, 2018
Millennials get a bad rap. Although popular culture would have you believe that they spend all their time posting selfies on social media and watching Netflix, the truth is: Many are hardworking professionals who devote much of their time and energy to working. In fact, Millennials -- those born between roughly 1980 and 2000 -- are expected to comprise more than half of the global workforce by 2020, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Statistics like that naturally have caught the attention of hoteliers who rely on business travel for revenue. If Millennials will soon comprise the majority of the workforce, they reason, they also will soon comprise the majority of business travelers. And they're right, of course. According to the Global Business Travel Association, Millennials are nearly twice as likely to want to travel more for business as Baby Boomers. And according to the Boston Consulting Group, Millennials by 2020 will account for nearly half of all business travel spending.

Because Millennials are poised to become one of their most important customer bases, hoteliers around the world are making major changes to their facilities and services in pursuit of a Millennial mindset. To better understand what those changes look like and what forces are driving them, Successful Meetings spoke with Mary Giuliano, general manager of Vdara Hotel & Spa in Las Vegas, which is among the many hotels that are evolving to accommodate a new generation of business travelers.

First of all, how do Millennial business travelers differ from other cohorts that you host at your hotel?
I think there are a couple things. First, I think technology is really important -- having good Internet, first and foremost, in your public spaces and in your guest rooms. But I think what really makes them a little bit different is that they're a little bit more curious when they travel. With older generations, if they traveled for work it was for work and they couldn't wait to get home to their families. This generation is taking advantage of the opportunity in a different way. Yes, they're going to be away from their home and potentially their family, but it's potentially a new destination and they're going to want to explore it. That's why in a lot of our offerings it's important to talk about what we're doing locally -- things we offer to immerse our guests in the destination that they're visiting. In that sense, Millennials are a very captive audience for us. 

By definition, hotels are all about hospitality. And yet, there's an assumption that Millennials don't want a lot of personal interaction. Is that consistent with your experience?
I don't think that Millennials are so different from other travelers. Once they're here, they want great service, they want quality and they want to be taken care of, just like anybody else does. But I think what does differentiate them is their comfort with technology. Many of them have never even walked into a bank. For those guests, we have things like mobile check-in. As luxury hoteliers, we always want to connect with our guests and see them face-to-face. But you can still create a great experience on your mobile platform by getting the guest here and getting them into their room quickly. And then, while they're here, you still have plenty of opportunities to talk to them through the concierge, when they're calling the front desk or when they're dining in one of our restaurants. Sometimes we think that they just want to be engrossed in their phones the whole time. But I think when they're in the experience, they actually enjoy having that one-on-one interaction. And I think they expect good service. Sometimes we assume that they just want things quick, but I think that they have the same type of expectations as any hotel traveler would have. 

You mentioned mobile check-in. That's a great example of how Vdara is appealing to millennial business travelers. What other changes have you made?
One of the things that we did a couple of years ago is we reinvented our concierge lobby and bar area. We're a very intimate property, so our lobby experience is very much incorporated with our lobby bar and our concierge living room space. And what we had noticed is that a lot of the young business travelers were having ad-hoc meetings and needed a place to plug in so they could work remotely. So we reinvented the spaces to create high-top workstations where you could easily recharge or sit in our bar area and have face-to-face meetings. 

Also, our food-and-beverage venue, our Market Cafe, is a pretty unique space. It serves breakfast and lunch, but it also has a grab-and-go component to make it really easy for any of our guests -- but in particular our business guests -- to get something quickly. And oh by the way, we also try to always have somewhat of a healthy perspective. For example, we make sure that grocery items we carry are responsibly sourced items, because I think that's important, too.

Another thing that we've created here at Vdara is: We launched the Crave Interactive tablet. It's basically an in-room guest tablet and it's a touch screen. We were able to remove all of our traditional collateral from the guest room so that all of our guest services -- our in-room dining menu, spa services, etc. -- are on a tablet in the guest room. We also just recently added a games platform, so there's different games available if you wanted to play games instead of watching TV. 

Finally, just last month we added two delivery robots to our team. On the Crave Interactive tablet there is a grocery list, for lack of a better word, of items that the guest can order from the Market Cafe, and the delivery robot will bring those up to their room; in less than 10 minutes you can have hot coffee, some little grocery items or toiletries delivered to your room. It's been very well received. The guests love it. As soon as they see one of the robots going through the lobby or in the guest elevators they record it and share it on social media.

Speaking of social media: Does Vdara find itself striving to create more "shareable" experiences as part of its efforts to be millennial-friendly?
Absolutely. One of the biggest areas for us is food and beverage -- we try to have innovative menu items or cool cocktails at the bar that have beautiful embellishments on them that somebody is going to want to take a photo of and share. Having that mindset with the amenities that we're creating is really important. In fact, we just launched a "this or that" [engagement] on Instagram where we'll let the guests decide things like: Would you rather have a ham and cheese toastie or an avocado toastie? Things like that create interest and allow the guest to participate in the decisions that we're making, which is really important.

You mentioned the Crave Interactive tablets that Vdara has in its guest rooms. What else do millennial guests want in their accommodations, besides high-tech controls?
We were initially designed as a condo hotel, so we have kitchenettes in all of our guest rooms. I think that's really appealing because Millennials care about flexibility and convenience; if you wanted to have something quick and warm it up in your room, it's very easy to do that in one of our rooms. Also the layout out of our rooms is very approachable and very spacious. It feels like a home away from home.

What are you doing from a meetings perspective to appeal to Millennials?
From a meetings perspective, one of the big topics of discussion is respecting the dietary preferences that Millennials have, whether it's veganism, gluten-free or the Paleo Diet. As we're thinking about menu engineering, we make sure that we have those type of offerings available and that our culinary team is flexible so that we can deal with any dietary requests that come up. 

Also, one of the biggest things that we've seen in the marketplace is that meeting planners aren't looking for a traditional box anymore. They're looking for more collaborative and nontraditional meeting spaces.

And does Vdara offer those types of spaces?
Since Vdara is on the smaller scale we only have 16,000 square feet of meeting space. We have one area that is a little bit more traditional, but aesthetically it's absolutely stunning. And then we have another area in the building that's called Silk Road. Silk Road was initially designed as a restaurant and we ended up designing the space to be more conducive to meetings. It's really an interesting space because it doesn't have high ceilings, but it has windows that look out over our porte cochère at Aria and the fabulous art piece by Nancy Rubins that we have in front of our building. It's a very inviting space for receptions and meetings because it brings in a lot of natural light and is not the "big box" that clients are trying to stay away from. And for smaller groups that want to have a meeting in a suite with more of a casual setup, we have the flexibility to accommodate that, as well. 

The changes you're making for Millennials: Are they here to stay?
The changes we've made in our building and in our programming I think will sustain for a long time because Millennials are going to be the dominant consumer base within a few years. Five to seven years ago we would say, "Oh, they're entry-level. Do they have the spend? Are they going to create loyalty?" Now we realize that it's up to us as hoteliers to create experiences that instill that loyalty by meeting some of their requirements -- things like being flexible, being open, being collaborative, and just creating spaces and venues for them to enjoy. I think connectivity is going to continue to be an area of focus as technology continues to get a lot more robust, and I think looking for ways to simplify and ease the guest experience -- but still be able to create personalized interaction -- will definitely be top-of-mind for the long term.