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“Competition and market forces are fierce in the hospitality sector, while consumer expectations just keep on rising – and your accommodation has to meet all these needs,” says Rodney Westerlaken, lecturer-researcher for Hospitality Studies at Hotel Management School Leeuwarden. “And, yes,” he says, “it really is a case of has to. Gen Z represents a considerable part of the travel market and their share is growing, so it’s important that you adapt to meet this generation’s preferences. How? That can be done with these 5 ways.”

1. Make it hyper-personal
A hotel room that completely meets your wishes might sound futuristic, but it’s not, says Rodney. “There’s a hotel chain on Bali that uses AI to find out what your preferences are. It starts as soon as you book. What wine do you like? Red or white? Do you maybe smoke cigars? It means that the moment you check in, everything you think is important is in your room. It can even go so far as a framed family photo on your bedside table. It’s a good thing too, because there’s so much available now that, as a hotel, you have to do your best to attract and keep Gen Z’s attention. And you do this through hyper-personalisation.”

2. Green, greener, greenest
“Gen Z values sustainability and transparency,” says Rodney. “There are a lot of places that are guilty of greenwashing, presenting yourself as more sustainable than you actually are. Gen Z can see right through this and opt for truly sustainable destinations rather than a hotel that says it’s good for people and planet but actually drains away groundwater and damages nature. If you say sustainability is important, then don’t just put an environmental label on your accommodation but actually put measures in place. For instance, to prevent prostitution taking place in your hotel, by treating your personnel well, and through investing a part of your profit in the local community.”

3. Smart gadgets
Fussing around with passes to open your hotel room door? History, according to Rodney. “The keycards always get lost. I’ve had it too. So how much handier would it be to open your room door with your phone? Gen Z have grown up in a digital world, more so than any other generation. They appreciate seamless technical experiences that increase convenience as a guest. Like a mobile check in and out option, smart room functions for the lights and temperature, and mobile apps for room service and other facilities.

4. Authenticity above all
Gen Z is on the lookout for authentic experiences that will help them feel connected with the destination and local community. Rodney: “This means accommodations need to provide more than just a place to sleep. Here on Bali, there’s a hotel, for example, that organises a trashwalk every morning with an expert who talks about the sea and everything that gets washed up on the beach. And they clean up rubbish while they’re there. Another hotel does a bird tour each morning with a local biologist. The condition is that activities like these help the local population, animals and nature. Gen Z is more aware of this than anyone else. Having your photo taken with an elephant without knowing if the animal is actually well cared for or not simply doesn’t happen anymore.”

5. Instagrammable
“Since the advent of social media, accommodations have to do their absolute best to be instagrammable,” says Rodney. “From gorgeous backgrounds to beautifully designed villas: nothing escapes notice. And Gen Z also wants things that are nice to look at. However, the goal shouldn’t be to do something just for the picture. That conflicts with the need for transparency and sustainability. My tip? Make sure you run your business with consideration for your personnel, the surroundings and the world. Think about how you can make things as comfortable as possible for your guest without jeopardising people and planet. Include unique activities that will help the local community and the world, and you’ll become naturally instagrammable. Because, let’s be honest, you’d want to take a photo of that, wouldn’t you?

About Rodney Westerlaken
Rodney has lived and worked for years on Bali, where tourism is booming. He works on research and in education and puts on various programmes as part of his foundation. He recently worked with Hospitality Management student Eleni Tata and Stenden South Africa lecturer Megan Sharrock on the article ‘Generation Z consumer behaviour and hotel branding: exploring the role of values, corporate identity and trust.’ If you’d like to find out more about the research or get in touch with Rodney, send an email to rodney.westerlaken@nhlstenden.com.