Generator Hostels target Millennials with social media and design

22 Aug 2013 by ReviewPro in Case Studies

Editor’s note: When it comes to targeting the up-and-coming Millennial traveler – the world’s first generation of globally connected guests – the Generator Hostel chain has an edge that’s helping keep guests engaged and its Global Review Index high. ReviewPro’s Millennial correspondent Natasha Drewnicki gives us a glimpse into the company’s formula based on her visit to the chain’s newest property.

BARCELONA – On May 24, Generator Hostels inaugurated its flagship “budget luxury” hostel in the heart of Barcelona, and what a night.

Victoriana punks, carnival queens and circus escapees trapezed and hoola-hooped their way across the reception rafters. Gypsy ska outfit Molotov Jukebox brought their own eccentric London flavor to the stage and later, local DJ Pablo Bolivar spun electronica as a crew of devastatingly good-looking “shot police” poured test-tubes of black syrup into mouths of the brave, leaving a trail of jaeger victims in their wake.

Throughout the night our smart phones captured it all with a steady stream of tweets, Instagrams and Vines. An after-party in the hostel’s design-centric penthouse suite, with more thumping music, tapas and sweeping vistas across the Catalan capital, is where the night came to a dazzling and merry end.

Welcome to the age of the Millennial traveler.

Though some Millennials are still in college, a growing number of lodging operators are chasing them either by creating new brands or putting creative, new spins on existing strategies. That’s because as this generation hit their peak earning years (as soon as 2018), they will check into hotels with an entirely different set of expectations to their parents. Now is the time to prepare.

Companies that pay attention today can gain valuable insights into tomorrow’s opportunities—and get a head start on capturing a larger slice of the Millennial pie. By 2020, these travelers will control about 50% of business travel spending on flights – and they’ll then hold the lead for another 10 or 15 years, consultant Christine Barton of Boston Consulting Group told USA Today last year.

So how does Generator stand apart? This “budget luxury” chain has succeeded in commanding guests’ attention with a seemingly whimsical approach that emphasizes social media, culture and design. Each Generator location is tailored to address the needs and desires of 18-35 year olds: local experiences, free wi-fi, sociable communal areas and above all, originality.

“It’s hard to find a member of the Millennial generation who doesn’t travel with some form of device that connects them to their ‘online’ life,” says Rebecca Mason, one of The Design Agency’s designers for Generator Barcelona. The Toronto-based design firm created the concepts for all eight Generator establishments, from Berlin to London and Copenhagen.

Generator’s communal living space contrasts starkly with the tech-heavy lives of Millennials – vinyl players, board games, chess sets and other curios are scattered throughout the space “with the hope that they will attract people and inspire some fun and quirky posts to social networks,” she tells ReviewPro.

The communal lounge area at Generator. Image courtesy of Rebecca Mason

This species of kitsch inspires a sense of nostalgia and homeliness, but most importantly, online conversation. Other areas of Generator are designed to reflect different neighborhoods and cultural festivals of Barcelona, giving the property a distinctly individual feel, resonating with guests.

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“We want to encourage people to spend time in the hotel. The goal is to keep people out of their rooms and in public spaces where they can have a drink and meet others.” Not only is this a savvy marketing move – luring guests into communal areas also encourages them to spend more money on-site – it also inspires a sense of community among guests. “When you walk into a hotel lobby where you can see people hanging out and enjoying themselves, it makes you feel as if you’ve arrived to a destination rather than just another place of accommodation,” Mason says.

Younger travelers are wise to the preachy marketing tactics of yore, turning to peers for advice and recommendations instead. So it makes perfect sense that the savviest hostels and hotels are harnessing social media by creating talking points and experiences to stimulate guest conversation. Today, word spreads organically – or virally – through Millennial channels such as Instagram, Facebook, Foursquare and Vine.

At a brand level, Generator maintains their interest with a loyalty program that was recently highlighted by the Los Angeles Times. Their passport program encourages guests to collect destination stamps at different Generators across Europe, receiving free nights’ accommodation after collecting several.

A hip compilation of culture, music and activities, the company’s blog also uses the tagline: “Much, Much, Much, More Than A Blog.” Blog readers, for instance, will find information about music festivals in cities where other Generators exist such as Dublin and Berlin, with a cheeky signature style (“Let’s see what’s crackalacking this week…”). The social web is also a common theme and a recent story highlighted the blog’s selection of best new “free” travel apps aimed at giving readers “ways to get the most out of your trip.”

It appears the formula is working – Generator receives rave reviews across the social web and on the most popular review sites. Not only does Generator actively participate in online conversation by giving guests something to talk about, it has tapped into the energetic, fun-loving zeitgeist of today’s youth, soon to become the world’s next affluent generation.