Hotels adjust to accommodate surge in millennial road warriors

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Hilton's Five Feet to Fitness room concept includes an assortment of equipment and access to guided workouts.
Hilton's Five Feet to Fitness room concept includes an assortment of equipment and access to guided workouts.

Millennials, who now account for roughly a third of the U.S. workforce, represent a growing share of business travelers. Unlike the road warriors of previous generations, however, millennials are demanding a new type of business travel experience, and hotels are moving quickly to accommodate them.

In a recent survey of business professionals ages 25 to 35 released by Hilton Hotels & Resorts, nearly 70% of respondents expressed a desire to extend their work trips for leisure. 

Wes Bergstrom, vice president for hotel value and revenue management at American Express Global Business Travel, said, "The behaviors and priorities of today's modern business traveler are evolving. They are looking for work-life balance. Because of these shifts, companies are beginning to adapt their travel policies to enable both personal and professional growth."

Players in the hospitality space have also taken note. In recent years, hotel brands have revamped their rooms, public spaces and marketing approaches to better appeal to younger business travelers.

Emily Drees, a travel adviser for Christopherson Business Travel, said, "Our millennial clients tend to ask more questions about their hotel, like asking about which hotel might be great for exploring a cool area. They also appreciate things like quick and easy food and coffee options, walkability or a shuttle service to a downtown district. Hotels have responded by trying to give their properties a hip, modern and young vibe."

This year, Hilton began targeting millennials with its New Business Traveler Initiative. Featuring work travel tips from ClassPass founder Payal Kadakia and Milk Makeup co-founder Zanna Roberts Rassi, the marketing platform aims to help new business travelers maximize their time on the road.

Armand LeVasseur, senior director of global brand marketing for Hilton Hotels & Resorts, said, "We want to let these travelers know that if you come stay with us, we can ensure you'll have a great work trip, both from the primary business standpoint but also from the leisure standpoint. None of us enjoy having the laptop out at 8 p.m., and we want to reassure that new business traveler that it's OK to put it away." 

Crowne Plaza's WorkLife room concept features zones that encourage guests to work, relax and recharge.
Crowne Plaza's WorkLife room concept features zones that encourage guests to work, relax and recharge.

Hilton is also touting business travel-friendly amenities like its recently launched Five Feet to Fitness room concept, which offers 11 options for in-room fitness equipment and accessories, as well as its Herb N' Kitchen in-room delivery service and dining concept, which specializes in healthy grab-and-go options. 

Likewise, InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) is targeting millennial business travelers with its Crowne Plaza brand, which began rolling out a major refresh last year. 

Meredith Latham, regional vice president for Crowne Plaza, said, "Just like the shifting needs of travelers, we knew Crowne Plaza needed to adapt. Our focus has been to keep the modern business traveler in the center of everything." 

The brand's revitalization has included the addition of a WorkLife room concept, which offers "distinct zones" for working and relaxing as well as free WiFi, multiple USB and power outlets and wireless printing capabilities. Crowne Plaza has also transformed its lobby area, creating what it calls a Plaza Workspace. Latham said the Plaza Workspaces are Crowne Plaza's "answer to the desire for co-working spaces.

"Millennial business travelers have become more attracted to the freedom that 'third spaces' can deliver," Latham said. "What was once a business center with desktop computers and printers in the basement is now a collaborative workspace in the lobby that is designed to accommodate multiple uses."

So far, Crowne Plaza has 3,000 WorkLife rooms and close to 25 renovated Plaza Workspace lobbies across the U.S.

While hotels are certainly making a strong play for new business travelers, millennial darling Airbnb is also gaining traction in the space. The home-sharing giant reports that around 700,000 companies have had employees sign up and book stays with its Airbnb for Work platform since its 2014 launch, with Gap Inc., Facebook, Twitter and Columbia Sportswear Co. among the site's many corporate users. 

David Holyoke, global head of Airbnb for Work, said his division "makes it easy to travel for work without sacrificing the comforts of home. It allows travelers to feel like they get a chance to live in a city, even if it's just for one night."

Holyoke added that many business travelers are opting to add weekend days to their work travel in order to explore the destinations they're visiting. 

"More than 30% of Airbnb for Work bookings in the past year included at least one weekend night," he said.

Earlier this month, Airbnb for Work announced it would be expanding into the team-building experience and meetings segments. According to Holyoke, 60% of Airbnb for Work trips over the past year were booked for more than one guest, and nearly 40% had three or more guests, suggesting the platform is well suited for teams traveling together.

"For meetings spaces, sterile conference rooms aren't motivating and don't foster creativity," he said. "People need more than whiteboards and colored Post-it notes. A relaxing environment helps people open up to connect and contribute, and an interesting space helps people experience something new together."

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