(CNN) — The long-held stereotype of the business traveler — predominantly male, predominantly white, suited up with a briefcase in hand — is swiftly changing. According to some, the shifting landscape is all down to the ‘millennials.’ Young, diverse, tech-savvy, and umbilically connected to their smart phones, the post-80s generation is expected to account for half of all business flights by 2020. It’s no wonder airlines and hotels are racing to meet their needs.
“The two things they want different to other generations, is they want spontaneity, and they want to be connected,” notes Lee McCabe, the global head of travel at Facebook.
“This is the generation that is more likely to change travel plans at the last minute, they’re more likely to book at the last minute, and they want to be connected 24/7.”
As the travel industry has traditionally hinged on advanced reservations, this new attitude is shaking things up considerably. McCabe points out that increasingly, airlines and hotels are rolling out last-minute booking options to target this growing market.
Hotels of the future
As millennials make up 50% of hotel bookings, it’s no wonder the hospitality industry was one of the first to tap into their mind set. Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide has been decidedly ahead of the curve, launching Aloft — a brand squarely aimed at the group — back in 2008.
“This generation is collaborative. They are part of a social community, and they like sharing things [with that community], whether it’s about a cocktail they’re out having, or maybe what they’re having for dinner or what they’re doing this weekend,” says Brian McGuinness, global brand leader of Aloft Hotels.
Though the desires of a younger generation of business traveller may sound obvious, knowing how to translate their social proclivities isn’t always straight forward. To do this, Aloft has created hotels with lots of open, public spaces, and put their guest at the center of the hotel experience. Even the check-in desk is in the middle of the lobby, rather than placed at the back, as was once traditional.
“[Our guests] are self-expressers. They want to be front-and-center, and part of the guest experience, so we made the traditional desk sort of like a DJ booth,” says McGuinness, who refers to guests as “talent”.
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“Our talent are controlling the light and music in the lobby. Quite frankly, they’re controlling the overall vibe in this public space.”
Tinder to the rescue
Traditionally, life for road warriors has been a particularly lonely existence. For the new breed of traveler, meeting people is easier than clicking a button (or swiping a screen). Tinder, a GPS dating app that is growing by 15% every week, according to CEO Sean Rad, is increasingly attracting users who aren’t necessarily in the market for a hook-up.
“I use it whenever I go to other cities. Generally, as soon as I have wi-fi, I get on Tinder to see who’s in the area,” says Jenny Levy, a subscriber who travels regularly for work.
“When I was in Los Angeles, I met up with someone and we went for a drink. It wasn’t successful, but now I know someone that lives in LA,” she explains.
“Tinder makes your experience of traveling less intimidating, because the second you land, you can start making new social relationships in that area,” Rad says. “Traditionally for business travelers, if they want to meet people they might go down to the hotel bar. These young people are doing it very differently.”