The age of Millennials has begun. Eighteen to 35-year-olds will soon surpass Baby Boomers in size as the largest demographic in the U.S. – at 74 million strong, they already represent nearly 25 percent of the entire U.S. population. The Resonance 2015 Portrait of the U.S. Millennial Traveler shows they have a keen interest in travel, and, unsurprisingly, that 49% of them regularly or occasionally use owner-direct rental services like Airbnb. What is surprising is that while they frequent Airbnb, our report also shows that they’d really rather bed down in a real hotel.
The report, which surveys 1,189 Millennial travelers, finds that only 11% of Millennials list Airbnb as their preferred type of accommodation. In fact, it’s actually their very last choice in terms of accommodation preferences. Their first choice is full service hotels, which are preferred by 58%.
And the top hotel preference? Hilton Hotels and Resorts (22%).
Part of the reason for Hilton’s popularity might be familiarity. Hilton operates more than 4,100 hotels in 91 countries worldwide, and its portfolio boasts names from Waldorf to the Hampton Inn and Embassy Suites.
“A college student can stay at a Hilton branded Hampton Inn in their hometown as easily as staying at a Hilton Hotel in New York City,” says Vincent Szwajkowski, senior director of global brand strategy for Hilton Worldwide. “The association of the Hilton brand has helped a lot.”
Yet Hilton’s physical presence pales in comparison to Airbnb’s 1.5 million listings in 190 countries. So where does Hilton excel? With technology.
“We’ve made huge investments and improvements to our app capabilities such as room mapping, and allowing guests to use their device as a key to bypass face-to-face interaction,” says Szwajkowski.
The upgrades include a digital check-in service for smartphones that Szwajkowski says also resonates with the Millennial mindset.
But, ironically, the tech upgrade wasn’t made with tech-native Millennials in mind.
“We never actually specifically targeted the Millennial demographic,” Szwajkowski says. “Our digital upgrades were actually meant to target our Elite Honor members, but they resonated more strongly with Millennials.”
Millennials make up 47% of Airbnb’s community, according to the online data cruncher People Pattern. It’s often suggested that Millennials want to live like a local and explore new neighborhoods. But Millennials also want to travel cheaply – our report shows that they spend $459 less per trip than all other U.S. travelers. Their preference for full service hotels suggests that the main motivation to stay at Airbnb might be to save money. It’s a less romantic theory, but likely the more logical one.
For his part, Szwajkowski has no qualms with Airbnb.
“Airbnb isn’t hurting the hospitality industry,” he says. “It’s actually feeding the industry by creating new segments of guests. It’s made it easier for more people to travel and experience different hospitality types than ever before.”
And as long as Airbnb continues to deliver the huge Millennial demographic to the Hilton – and other full-service hotels – the industry should be in for happy times ahead.