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WEB EXCLUSIVE: Designers Look to Gen Z to Craft Future Look of Hospitality

NEW YORK/SAN FRANCISCO—While millennials appear to be the hot demographic that hoteliers wish to charm and cultivate, forward-thinking designers are looking beyond this group to generation Z—the influencers of tomorrow—to help shape and shift the hotel experience of the future.

A budding cohort that grew up with iPads, social media and other forms of technology within daily reach, they are able to process digital information quickly while multitasking or toggling between screens and some may have shorter attention spans. The result of all this connectivity is a group that has been raised to expect more, want more and crave unique experiences more than prior generations. With these characteristics in mind, designers are responding by creating spaces that strive to speak the language of gen Z without alienating other age groups. 

“We’re working on a hotel property in Miami that captures the ethos of design for gen Z and millennial travelers. It’s in a hip area in Miami, an area recently in transition and has that spirit. We designed it with the idea of individuals and a persona,” said Kevin Tyjer, project designer at Wilson Associates in New York. “For example, they get to choose their own experience for the check-in process, which ranges from traditional to a more streamlined experience or they can go straight to the room using their smartphone. We’re really focused on making spaces that balance the communal and hub activity environment with having pockets of opportunity for contemplation, a private call or reading alone.”

The design team at Wilson Associates puts the attention on giving guests control in terms of how they shape their own stay, and then adds a local flavor and layer of authenticity to seal the deal.

“With the rise of the hotel brands catering to this upcoming generation, there is also the rise of the lifestyle brands within larger hotel brands,” said Michael Lawless, associate designer, Wilson Associates. “The way we experience it, the lifestyle brands are the answer of big brands to the rise of boutique hotels providing a space for gen Z and millennials. There is almost a common thread. They look for this local contextualization, an idea of not just a cookie-cutter brand but rather inviting in influences from local neighborhoods to help drive the design and create a local experience.”

While it may be too soon to call it a trend, Justin Colombik, a senior designer at Puccini Group in San Francisco, is also seeing a lot of properties moving toward the gen Z traveler. One of which is the Hyatt La Jolla and its on-site Drift Restaurant, featuring a localized design to cater to the gen Z crowd.

“What’s really interesting is that there are a lot that are marketable to this group. A Grand Hyatt that is connected to the airport, for example, is great for those connected to travel and I think of the young jet set,” Colombik said. “For a project we’re working on in Napa, CA, we have an elevated hotel experience targeted toward gen Z and millennials that are crafted and have attention on the local surroundings. The aesthetic may be different for both crowds, but it’s exciting to work on a variety of projects for these target demographics.”

This up-and-coming group wants localized and curated experiences and for them, it’s not just a hotel room, noted Colombik. “It’s an experience to be shared and archived. The space must be personally connected to gain their loyalty and it has to be photo worthy with no filter needed,” he said.

Colombik recommends creating hospitality spaces that are not just about aesthetics, but provide a full experience that has a customizable flavor to it.

“It’s about the way they order food, go from the front desk to the guestroom and ways to keep them in the hotel for dining and being connected. It’s a DIY attitude that crosses over into content creation. Most of their day is Facebook or Instagram—they want to share their memories so it’s having them be comfortable in an environment where they are ahead of the trends that haven’t been shared yet,” he said. 

“It can be elements that feel local. Authenticity brings value to the project, a sense of textures and materiality and that narrative is what stimulates connection with the guest and connects them personally to the property,” he concluded.