The senior vice president of operations at Waterton, a Chicago-based real estate investor and operator, discusses how the hospitality industry can make millennials feel welcome.

The senior vice president of operations at Waterton, a Chicago-based real estate investor and operator, discusses how the hospitality industry can make millennials feel welcome.Just as some homebuilders featured in this issue of Modern Builder + Design are working to make dwellings more attractive to the millennial generation, so too are designers and builders who help the hospitality industry stay current and appealing. Offering millennial-friendly accommodations goes far beyond quick, cosmetic changes. Patrick Hansen, senior vice president of operations at Waterton, a Chicago-based real estate investor and operator that focuses on U.S. multifamily and hospitality projects, talks about what matters to millennials and how it shapes hotel designs, concepts that also flow into how multifamily projects and amenities can be tailored to the millennial crowd.

Can you speak to what some brands are going for when they are designing for millennials?

Millennials value socialization, so today’s brands are looking for ways to foster a sense of community in their hotels. One way they’re doing that is through common areas that encourage millennials and other guests to spend more time outside of their rooms. This is particularly evident in the design of lobbies, restaurants and bar areas that allow guests to be in the company of others while they work, instead of spending time alone in their room. Providing a high-tech, high-touch experience is essential, as millennials require lounges and guestrooms with connectivity for
charging devices, multimedia capabilities, and sufficient bandwidth to support streaming services. We are seeing a wider variety of amenity spaces – many accented by unique design elements that enhance relaxation – such as VIP lounges, live entertainment, cafes and spas.

What have you seen that works? And what doesn’t?

Most millennials are carrying multiple devices and, while they may be “glued” to their smartphone or tablet, the majority want to spend time surrounded by their peers, similar to a coffee shop or lounge. As a result, the most successful brands are the ones that design lounges and other common areas around this tech-savvy generation. This includes outdoor amenities, such as sun decks, pools and fire pits, that are equipped for mobile devices.

Brand research has called for major renovations to include the removal of bathtubs in favor of showers only. Yet this hasn’t been well-received by all millennials. Because fitness is usually a part of their daily regimen, many want the ability to come back to soak and relax post-workout.

We are hearing the focus has shifted from inroom areas and amenities more toward lobbies and gathering spaces. Is this something you see for hospitality projects aimed at millennial demographics? If so, any thoughts on why?

Absolutely. One of the hottest new amenities we are seeing millennials flock to is the coffee bar, particularly those that offer cold-brewed coffee,
which is gaining traction with this younger demographic. We started offering cold brew in small batches at our West Coast properties, and it was an instant hit with guests. As a result, we are implementing this as quickly as we can at our other hotels while maintaining the quality
and service standards for which Waterton is known. Retro arcades, billiards rooms and outdoor gaming areas are also proving popular among millennials. Like lounges and coffee bars, these spaces present another opportunity for guests to socialize with their peers.

What are some of the key needs for this demographic? How do you cater to those?

Millennials want to be just as comfortable, if not more comfortable, on the road as they are at home. This means having access to bars and restaurants that offer local wines, craft beers and artisanal coffees, as well as seasonal menus that showcase fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Millennials’ desire for originality extends to décor as well. Rather than seeing the same carpet and furnishings in each hotel, they prefer a more customized aesthetic, such as those inspired by the surrounding neighborhood or city.

Complementing the communal areas that are being added to many properties are services designed to enhance the experiential nature of a stay; these include social hours, beer and wine tastings, and live music performances that are often open to the public. By providing those experiences, many hotels have not only appealed to millennials, but in some cases, become a neighborhood destination.

Another key need for this demographic is a modern fitness facility that can accommodate a variety of workouts, including everything from CrossFit and Zumba to cycling. The days of walking into a fitness center and waiting for a machine or piece of equipment to open up are over. We, like other management companies, are always looking for creative ways we can expand the physical footprint of our fitness centers while simultaneously broadening their appeal. By providing equipment other than treadmills and ellipticals, these facilities are able to offer something for everyone.