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WEB EXCLUSIVE: The McBride Company Shares Design Strategy for Gen Z Travelers

MANCHESTER, VT—It’s alphabet soup in the hospitality industry and hotel companies are slurping up these burgeoning demographics—Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y, also known as the Millennials, and the latest, Gen Z—to find ways to capture their interest and brand loyalty.

Forward-thinking hoteliers and designers are not only looking at who will be staying at these properties today, but who will enter the doors tomorrow. It’s not at all about chasing the next big thing; it’s about understanding the evolving attitude and perspective of the traveler.

So, how do you prepare for the next generation of hotel guests? Learn what makes them tick, what they value and how they prefer to engage in experiences, according to Ryan McBride, creative director, The McBride Company, a creative concept and design firm for hospitality based here. His clients include major brands such as Margaritaville, Four Seasons and Wyndham, to name a few.

The McBride Company’s work on a Margaritaville Beach Resort in Hollywood, FL, illustrates the thought process behind creating spaces that speak to various age groups and types of travelers. The design is, in a word, atmospheric.

“We’ve been with Margaritaville since day one, working on several restaurants, and from day one, we’ve tried to focus on selling the idea of escapism instead of custom tailoring to “Parrotheads,” McBride said. “When the prospect of designing hotels came online, we took it a step further and pulled back the theming. We sought to give a sense of refined escapism because, again, that’s what we’re selling and there’s no better setting than a tropical resort. We did this giant flip-flop sculpture in the lobby. It’s done in a way that looks like a Jeff Koons piece. You get this sense of casual sophistication and I think that’s the direction we take. Gen Z wants a sense of comfort, something laid back and luxurious.”

In a conversation with Hotel Business Design, McBride shares exactly what you need to know about designing for and responding to the needs of this upcoming crop of hotel guests:  

Don’t fence me in

Members of Gen Z are tough to pinpoint, and that’s the way they like it. The definition is very broad, according to McBride’s extensive research. “They don’t necessarily so neatly categorize themselves as one thing or another. You’re seeing it with gender labeling, shared bathroom spaces and through design. This can be reflected by not luxe, not casual, not themed; it’s just a more eclectic mix of things,” he said. “This speaks to Gen Z’s concept of individualism. They seek deep authenticity within things. It gives them the right to be what they want and interpret as they wish.”

Grab their attention quickly

Those who fall into the Gen Z demographic are digital natives who’ve grown up with the many bells and whistles of mobile devices, making their attention span shorter than older generations. McBride noted it’s essential for designers to capture their attention in the first eight seconds.

“That’s where part of the inspiration for the flip flop at Margaritaville Beach Resort came in as a towering piece of art. It will grab your attention on first glance and it’s a bold feature in the design,” he said. “Whether it be pops of color or interesting furniture, it’s got to grab their attention and have them buy-in for a few seconds to determine if they like it.”

Create a signature experience

Strive to create experiential opportunities found nowhere else and make it Instagram worthy, McBride suggests. “To cap off the notion of short attention spans. There’s this ‘fear of missing out’ [#FOMO, as Gen Z would post on social media] and it ties back to experiences and something they can share with their friends,” he said. “It’s an experience they can’t miss, such as an amazing waterslide or theme park with the tallest rollercoaster. There should be something in the resort setting where you can take advantage of this FOMO trait.” 

Make it local

Curating local delicacies, music or beer can help tell the story of a particular destination. “The idea of going into another Starbucks in a hotel lobby, which I can get at home, or I can experience the local coffee here. People appreciate that and research shows it’s a trait that people are drawn to,” he said. “We can speak to that in several ways, inviting local chefs to open a restaurant that locals and visitors will want to attend. Guests can mix with the locals and see it as a staple of the community, not just another hotel. A mini bar can have food and drink from area stores. We’re seeing hotels adopting this idea and people appreciate less of a cookie-cutter experience. Gen Z is looking for personalization.”

Seize the moment

Timing is everything. McBride recommends taking a look at your timeline for property enhancements, as the next series of renovations will need to reflect this group’s needs and wants. “We specifically have to focus on the lifecycle of hotels between refreshes. It varies. We’re looking at a range of every three years or so and a complete overhaul every seven to 10 years,” he said. “At this point, we have to think about how Gen Z. They are in their late teens, traveling with parents, and will soon be the ones traveling along and staying at resorts. You have to create a sense of brand loyalty, and now is the time.” 

—Corris Little