Millennials, Marriott, and Meetings

June 25th, 2013 by John Dinesh Mascarenhas Leave a reply »

Whether responding to the interests and demands of travellers or planners of meetings and conventions, the hospitality industry is looking at sustainability to meet shifting expectations and drive growth.

What’s causing these changes? To understand, we need to look at how consumers are changing as well as how businesses are expanding the criteria for selecting meetings locations and hotels.  Sustainametrics focuses on these emerging demographics to advise our clients on maximizing their sustainability and related branding efforts.

Much of this is driven by the largest generation in US History: The Millennials. (the roughly 86 million Americans born between the early 1980’s and mid-1990s).

In the Regeneration Consumer Study developed by BBMG, GlobeScan and SustainAbility, the authors highlight what they call the “Aspirationals,” making up 32% of the US marketplace, more than double the steady (read: not really growing) green/sustainability “Advocates.” What is different about the Aspirationals? Unlike others, they integrate materialism – being active consumers and valuing brand identity – with social and environmental sustainability.

It’s not enough for a business to offer them style without sustainability, or vice versa.

The largest segment in the study is the “Practicals,” comprising 36% of US consumers. However, the Aspirationals are stronger influencers than the Practicals, or even the Advocates. While Aspirationals are made up of more than just Millennials, it appears that that generation is at the heart of this segment and trend.

Large corporations, like Marriott International, are taking note. In a recent Triple Pundit article by Harry Stevens, he reports that “At a conference…Marriott International executives had a message for some three thousand general managers of the company’s hotels. From now on, said the executives, Marriott would be tailoring its hotels – and its marketing efforts – to Millennials, the generational cohort that represents the future of the hotel industry’s customer base.”

Fitting with this theme is Marriott’s Green Hotel Global, an online tool giving guests and business customers access to a comprehensive list of environmental metrics and practices for each hotel in the Marriott portfolio.1

As is often the case, sustainability is becoming a priority because it starts at the top. Stevens writes “Marriott’s executives have credited Arne Sorenson, who became CEO in 2012, with pushing through updates that make both environmental and economic sense.” For example, “under Sorenson’s leadership, Marriott has set a goal of reducing energy and water consumption by 20 percent per room compared with a 2007 baseline.”

Of course, the hospitality industry caters to conventions and meetings as well as travellers. On one hand, organizations have made changes to recruit and retain Millennials, and have been finding that authentic sustainability efforts are viewed as positive and can make a difference in employee satisfaction. On the other hand, and related to the above, corporations and other organizations have been paying more attention to ‘green’ aspects of the meetings they attend, sponsor, or host.

Environmentally preferable criteria is rarely one of the top site selection criteria, but is increasingly a consideration. Preferences or requirements may cover energy efficiency, access to local, sustainable food, and reducing landfill waste at meetings, not only by recycling but by providing ways for local non-profits to re-use materials from the meetings.

The recently developed APEX/ASTM Green Meetings Standards is evidence of this trend. There are nine standards that cover Destinations, Accommodations, Transportation, Food & Beverages, and other areas. These standards give Convention Centers, Visitors Bureaus and Hotels an organized way to conduct baselines, craft policies, and market their sustainability efforts while providing Meeting Planners and other decision makers with ways to evaluate potential sites.

From my perspective, all of this activity is both heartening and inevitable, even though it still lags the real environmental and societal problems. But it’s these needs that drive the long term direction of sustainable practices, and that provide current opportunities for profitable green strategies, and for organizations to be leaders.

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