How Hotels Can Win Back Group Travelers

Millennial group travel

Group travel is on the rise. The millennial generation is more inclined to travel in groups and is increasingly opting for a home-away-from-home experience where they can divide the bill more affordably. Gen-Xers and baby boomers also enjoy group travel—whether it’s treating the family to a group vacation or simply taking a trip with a group of peers.

Millennials and Airbnb came of age around the same time. This tech-savvy generation was the first to embrace home-sharing networks, drawn to user-friendly mobile apps and affordability, and the chance for an authentic travel experience where they could live like locals. Today, several new home-sharing platforms appeal to a widespread audience, with Gen-Xers and baby boomers also seeking unique travel experiences filled with local neighborhood vibes and Instagrammable moments.

Companies have started tapping into this trend, investing in new developments that offer apartments and condominiums designed solely for the home-sharing platforms. The hotel industry has been quick to respond to this competition, upping the ante with “funky” lobbies, gaming, rooftop amenities, and multipurpose common spaces.

While hoteliers are pleased to have an edge by offering F&B options in their lobbies to create a more communal space, they could miss the mark if they don’t consider a key social element that research reveals. When it comes to appealing to the Airbnb generation, it’s all about their tribe.


Tribal Travelers

Before the rise of home sharing, a group stay typically meant a getaway in a fancy hotel suite, resort, condo, or bungalow with a stocked kitchen, bars, and a comfortable living space that was much like a small home, yet came with a hefty price tag for a night’s stay. Since Airbnb answered the hotel suite concept with real homes and at a more reasonable rate, the hotel industry’s response has been to slightly change their product.

Enter the tribal travelers. Hoteliers might be raising the bar with unique amenity spaces that appeal to leisure travelers of all ages, but they cannot shift them away from what travelers have become accustomed to—their own common area.

Current trends show that people who travel in groups clearly prefer a common space where they don’t have to interact with other guests—or another group that is not like-minded—and can simply enjoy their own tribe without worrying about restricted hours. One pool table for an entire hotel may no longer be feasible. And while a hip bar will certainly score points, many will choose to make their own mimosas in the morning, or just hang out with their group to watch their favorite sporting event.

Rethink the Rectangle

When surveyed, most millennials, Gen-Xers, and boomers said that if the cost was the same they’d prefer to stay in a hotel with its added amenities, security, cleanliness, and the consistency of daily housekeeping, which were all big drawcards. The overriding new norm is a desire for authenticity as well as a local flavor. While this signals there is a way for hotels to win over this group’s business, being mindful of their expectations will increase their chances of doing so.

The hotel industry developed the concept of upgraded, multi-bay suites replete with a kitchen, living areas, and a dining space. All were shared with optional adjoining rooms accented by formal and stuffy décor that raised the price tag. Bland, utilitarian suites and rectangular rooms offered longer stays at more affordable prices. Today, many home-sharing platforms offer a decidedly unsquare, more casual hybrid at an even more reduced rate, and unexpected aesthetics are now a staple of the adventure.

In response, hotels are becoming more boutique-like, casual, funky, and tech-friendly. So, if hoteliers can rethink group rates, reverse the room mix to have more flexible suites, and offer guestrooms and floors with more private amenity spaces—especially in group travel markets such as urban and vacation destinations—they will have the ability to outperform any nontraditional format.

Just make sure those couches are sleep-ready for unexpected additions to the tribe.

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Valli Wiggins is a hospitality design leader at Gresham Smith.