Hospitality

New age travellers

Sameness and anonymity is out – it's all about fun and authenticity for Millennial travellers, says Rockwell Group partner Greg Keffer


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What do Millennials want out of a hotel experience?
Modern travellers value experience and community over opulence and material possessions, and hospitality is beginning to reflect that. Millennials crave an authentic experience, rooted to its time and place.

Moxy is a great example of a brand designed for travellers who want a hotel to be a fun and coherent experience, not a sequence of formalised rituals. Our firm recently designed three key amenity areas for Moxy Times Square in New York. The restaurants, which are operated by the TAO Group, provide visitors with distinct experiences. Egghead is a compact, street-level fast casual spot. Legasea is a warm, intimate seafood brasserie on the 2nd floor. Inspired by classic amusement parks, the Magic Hour Rooftop Bar & Lounge is a series of playful dining and lounge areas with views of the city skyline.

What don’t they want?
Sameness and anonymity. For decades, hotel brands focused on the homogenisation and streamlining of their properties. It was more about reliability and consistency and less about the enjoyment of difference. Difference was regarded as a flaw.

For example, we recently completed Hotel EMC2 in Chicago. The property is part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection. The brand emphasises individuality. No two Autograph hotels are alike.

Our client approached Rockwell Group because he wanted something different from any other hotel. It’s great to have a developer that’s passionate about their project in a personal way and collaborates along the journey to ensure all the points align to make magic.

The hotel is located in a burgeoning science-driven district in Chicago, so our goal as designers was to capture the intersection of art and science. The design concept for the lobby, restaurant, amenities, and guestrooms celebrates the artist and scientist’s shared sense of discovery, creativity, and innovation. We balanced the two realms by focusing on the similarities between the artist and scientist – their shared sense of curiosity, creativity, and passion for innovation.

The double-height space of The Albert restaurant allowed us to play with this concept on a grand scale. We conceived a haphazardly-stacked collection of bookcases and dressers to not only give a more human scale to the dining room but also to form a fantastic structure hiding a secret staircase to a lofted lounge high above. Consistent with the concept of discovery, the bookcases playfully evoke an imagined home of a scientist and a poet packed to the ceiling with an eclectic collection of books, antiques, and art that they had collected throughout their lives.

How will their desires change the industry? 
Obviously, Millennials are tech savvy and able to access a lot of information. As a result, they are very sophisticated and well educated travellers. Moreover, they’re not interested in one-size-fits-all design. They want experiential spaces that will push us as architects to design hotels with distinct personalities that fit whatever one’s character, mood, and interests are.

The evolution of “mash-ups” is one of the most interesting design concepts to emerge today. We’re seeing different typologies merge, blur, and evolve into unique solutions that support how people live, work, and play today. As a studio, we’ve been looking at a wider range of projects – from hotels and restaurants to offices, theatres, and train stations – through the lens of hospitality. I think there’s a realisation that there’s a hunger for people to share social space in other environments. I think it’s partly a reflection of the physical isolation associated with social media and an acknowledgement of a basic human need.

An example is NeueHouse, a co-working environment in New York and Los Angeles. In both locations, we combined elements of hospitality, office and theatre to create a new type of workspace to house new forms of work habit. Essentially, the idea was to encourage and capture the serendipitous encounter by creating a series of inviting public spaces, where members can gather, socialise, and exchange ideas.

How do you approach designing for Millennials?  
Narrative and storytelling are more important than ever in hospitality these days as travellers demand luxury and a residential sense of comfort in addition to a unique, immersive experience. We pour over the history of the hotel’s location – and in some cases, the history of the building itself – to weave allusions to the past into our design concepts and details. There’s growing interest among hoteliers in anchoring their hospitality projects to the local culture and context or a specific place and time to make their guests feel as if they are stepping into a different world.

Hoteliers are also seeking other ways to address the needs of millennial travellers. Hilton commissioned Rockwell Group’s LAB, our in-house innovation studio, to create the Hilton Innovation Gallery, an R&D lab to showcase the company’s new hotel brands, products, and vision for the future to their key constituents (owners, operators, and employees), and inspire individuals to think differently about hospitality and the future of the service industry. It also enables Hilton to invite its creative collaborators and brand partners to test new products in a variety of event types.

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