Two travel industry experts debate on what the hotel business must do in order to appeal to younger guests
Words: Marianna Cerini; Illustrations: Tim McDonagh
Editorial director at Luxe City Guides
General Manager for Trip.com, Hong Kong
+852: What do you think millennials and Gen Z look for when they travel?
Hillman Lam (HL) What undoubtedly characterises both generations are two things: they share everything online and they seek unique experiences. Everything has to be Instagrammable while also being special. That applies to their accommodations, too. Another big thing is how digital they are – they are very tech-savvy and, when they travel, they are drawn to services and facilities that reflect that digital know-how.
Liz Weselby (LW) I actually don’t think [these] are exclusive to millennials. The luxury traveller as a whole has evolved across all age groups. I’d add two other main traits among younger well-heeled travellers: They are passionate about a holistic lifestyle and environmentally friendly practices.
+852: What does that mean for the luxury hotel industry?
HL Everything from the services to the facilities should be [designed] with the digital world in mind. Using apps and mobile devices to unlock [hotel rooms], check in or order room service should be an integral part of the hotel experience. They also need to offer guests something they won’t find elsewhere – something they feel was created especially for them. For instance, The Peninsula provides special experiences, like lantern- or mooncake-making lessons during Mid-Autumn Festival. They’ve also offered a tour of Hong Kong’s green spaces complete with gourmet picnic. Peter C Borer, COO of The Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels Limited, which owns The Peninsula Hotels, once summed it up perfectly to me: Being a modern luxury hotel isn’t just about the nice cotton sheets or the finest details. It’s about making the customer feel like they have unique, truly distinctive options to choose from. Sounds easy, but it’s extremely difficult.
LW Having a strong wellness offering is also paramount in order to attract millennial travellers, as is taking a strong sustainability stance. That’s no longer just about encouraging guests to reuse their towels – rather, it’s about showing a real commitment to positive change across the board, from offering plant-based or locally sourced dishes at restaurants to banning single-use plastics.
+852: How do Hong Kong’s luxury hotels stack up internationally?
HL I think most establishments are evolving and adapting, and really trying to go the extra mile. LW Not many hotels here are really nailing sustainability and wellness yet. Those that are, though, have really embraced both concepts. The Landmark Mandarin Oriental and Rosewood are some of the most praise-worthy. Landmark Mandarin Oriental has banned plastic bottles from its rooms, runs a recycling programme for unused soaps and has committed to sustainable food sourcing, for instance. Rosewood runs a “Partners in Provenance” programme, which works with local suppliers for a farm-to-table approach to its dining offerings.
+852: What about attracting millennials living in Hong Kong?
HL I think Hong Kong’s five-star hotels are stepping up in terms of creating spaces that aren’t just for travellers, but residents too. Take the rooftop pool bars at a lot of properties, for example. Many have become places that residents will go to for an evening drink. They are destinations in themselves.
+852: To what extent is adding a local component necessary for hotels to attract millennial and Gen Z travellers?
LW I think boutique places like The Fleming or Eaton HK offer great alternatives for travellers looking for truly different experiences. They have character and a sense of place and are often truly connected to their neighbourhoods. They can certainly be real competition to bigger brands.
HL As long as luxury names maintain really high standards, people will return to them because they know what to expect. The key to staying relevant is to also add local elements to guests’ stays. It’s a fine balance. Hands-on experiences – like workshops, cooking classes or personalised outings – offer a sense of connection to the destination and make the stay more memorable.
“The luxury traveller as a whole has evolved across all age groups”
+852: What do you expect to see more of in the future of luxury hospitality in Hong Kong?
LW Shareable experiences, community-driven services, more wellness and also better social media marketing strategies – I think hotels, in general, aren’t making as much use of the digital landscape as they could. They could be using social media more, especially Instagram, when it comes to marketing campaigns. There’s a lot of untapped potential still.
HL Distinctiveness. I think properties will strive to create their own unique identities and specialities, to really stand out in their own ways. That’s what modern travellers are attracted to.