As I was touring some old posts, new posts being pretty inaccessible due to the latest spam attack, I noticed many criticisms of cutbacks, whether that's the free mug of joe at Courtyards, category creep or a lack of upgrades. Coupled with that is criticism of Marriott pandering to the millenials. It's certainly a fact that I would prefer a mug of free joe to a cup of Starbucks for $5, that I prefer a buffet breakfast to the bistro offerings and that I want a desk in my room to work at. It is however a fact that all hotel groups are looking at the future of travel and planning their new hotels and refurbishments to cope with the next generation. It obviously means our hotels are changing, but does it also mean the winding down of loyalty programs? Are we in fact experiencing a death-of-a-thousand-cuts?
Now we all know, just like the last 50 years, the next 50 will be a period of profound change. How will the world of Internet-Everywhere and driverless cars change the lodging industry over the course of the next 50 years? Marriott needs to know, because it's building hotels right now that will be trading then. Their buildings need to be adaptable to forthcoming demands and their marketing attractive to the next generation.
The internet-everywhere world means no need to book a hotel, just turn up and as long as you don't care much about the name above the door, apps like hotel-tonight will find you a reasonably priced clean place to rest your head. But hold on a mo'... Who needs to be stationary when sleeping? The driverless car will mean you can sleep while being driven to your destination. But then for business meetings, who actually really needs to travel? Video-conferencing is already here and synching everyone's tablet means meetings can be conducted seamlessly across the globe. Conferences and workshops likewise. All these factors combine to suggest the days of the branded hotel chain are numbered.
Now you may say that I'm defeating my own argument, videoconferencing is already here and been with us for years now, yet new conference centres, with connected hotels are still being built. And they are. Demand continues, but is that because we Gen X are the ones making the spending decisions and we are still familiar with that setup? Whenever I attend conferences I always make a habit of talking with the young lawyers and to a woman (new female lawyers now outnumber males, so I'm adjusting my style to reflect that) they roll their eyes at these conferences. They view them as junkets for the men to escape the kids for a night and carouse in the bar. "We could do this on our iPads", they sigh. At the moment the boss pays, so they go. But in 20 years they'll be the boss.
Already we we can see the fading attraction of the industrial hotel of the 1970's City centre, 300-500 room establishments with numerous conferencing facilites. Look at Marriotts new build hotel list, almost entirely smaller hotels in a range of areas, plenty of the Autographs, Courtyards and AC/Moxy.
Then we have the perennial room service menu, that yardstick of a full service hotel is being replaced by a bagged offering delivered to your door.
The future of hotel room service? Does Sir require a Spork?
Room service, an oft utilised service by the baby boomers, is now running at a loss in most of the non-luxury sector. My first boss, a baby boomer, used it lots, I (Gen X) barely do so. Not because of its cost, though it is expensive for what you get, but because these days there's lots of local food offerings I prefer to try. Hotel restaurants, no longer guaranteed patronage by my generation of guests are trying to make their restaurant a local destination in itself, or in the case of the Courtyard Bistro menu, making the food offerings more generic and hence able to be served by the coffee shop assistant, thus cutting overheads.
Our generations current behaviour is effecting the business hotel model. Millenials, and today's teenage generation (the i-Gen) will over the next 50 years be effecting the future model as they will be making the lodging decisions. Some already are. Two changes reflecting that fact are already with us, the Open-plan Courtyard Bistro concept and the removal of desks from Full Service hotel refurbs. Millenials have all their work on their iPad, they don't need a desk, they do want to connect over a coffee. Not a cup of joe, real coffee! They don't want to spend their money on expensive room service, but clearly do like spending it on pricey coffee!
So, are these fickle newcomers going to be brand loyal? We know they're brand conscious when it comes to clothing, footwear and their ubiquitous coffee habit, but insufficient numbers of them are making lodging decisions at the moment to determine whether they will be when it comes to lodging. Decisions this year from the 3 largest chains, IHG, Marriott and Hilton, seem to indicate their belief that brand loyalty remains a key part of their strategy and that loyalty schemes remain an important part of their offering, though characteristically they don't seem to agree how to deliver loyalty rewards.
IHG has launched a new top-tier level, Spire... Yes, I know, Spire Elite? Really...
Spire Elite? Get over the silly name and bank those points!
Now, in common with the IHG scheme generally which concentrates on offering points for free stays, the new level offers a 25,000 achievement and renewal bonus and 100% bonus points in spending, but no real in-stay benefits other than a space-available upgrade, which they are good at honouring. So no free breakfast or lounge access.
Marriott for its part has launched the M club, a larger exec lounge placed close to the hotel restaurant free to enter for Gold/Plat with fee-paid entry available to other guests.
Bigger lounges next to the restaurant (like this at Toronto Eaton Centre) await future Marriott loyalists
Marriott has therefore followed its model of a mixing points and in-stay benefits and this remodel of the concierge lounge is clearly a big commitment to the future of the in-stay loyalty benefit offering.
And last but not least, Hilton has changed its scheme to offer lifetime Diamond. Although late to the lifetime party in comparison to Marriott the offering of a lifetime scheme is a big promise on the future of the program.
So it seems, whilst our generation may not like some of the changes being made to attract future guests, we can at least be assured that the loyalty scheme is here to stay, and that the chains value both the programs and us, the regular, loyal guest, representing both the present, and future, participants.