February 24, 2005

Maybe We'll Stick with Best Western ...

OH NO. No. No. No.

We have just learned from USA Today that hotel stays may grow intolerable and snarky, now that some hotel chains are revamping things for the young people. While this could be considered good news -- after all, people other than Baby Boomers do spend money -- it is particularly bad when some of the proposed changes are disturbing to consider.

Here are three particularly salient paragraphs from the USA Today story, which makes use of annoying phrases such as the "under-40 set" (we may vomit) and "Gen Xers" (prima facie evidence of ne plus ultra lameness). The paper writes:

The adjustments are needed because Gen Xers make different demands than the older baby boomers for style and ambience, Internet service and creature comforts.

The sketch of the Gen X traveler, as developed by market researchers, goes like this: They crave branded items for example, Starbucks, not coffee. Paradoxically, they're less loyal than older travelers to single brands. As a result, they're willing to scour the Web to find a boutique hotel oozing with attitude, instead of simply booking the same chain hotel their family booked for their 1980s vacations.

And they fiercely insist on "their way," whether that means being able to check e-mail while sipping a mojito in the lobby bar, or having the choice of soy or low-fat milk for their cafe latte.

Please pardon us while we fiercely stomp upon this idiocy about Generation X, whether it means we have to digress for 500 words, or have the choice of using a scalpel or chainsaw for the dissection.

First thing first: you can't lump everyone from 1961-1981 -- the traditional Generation X dates -- in one generation. It just doesn't work. Someone born in 1961 was enjoying his first toke and using words like "groovy" and lusting after the neighbor's AMC Pacer about the time we came home from hospital in swaddling clothes. Therefore, it's not tough to conclude that we and Mr Dazed-and-Confused don't exactly share the same tastes.

As for where one might draw the dividing lines, we're not exactly sure, but we think a bit of additional stratification might help a bit. It seems to us that folks born between 1961 and 1966 had their formative years in the mid- to late Seventies, while those born between 1967 and 1973 came of age in the early to mid-Eighties. Those born between 1974 and 1979 came of age in the late Eighties and early Nineties, while those born between 1980 and 1985 came of age in the mid- to late Nineties. As such, they had wildly different experiences growing up, and these are reflected in their personal tastes. (For those of you who know us personally, think of how different our tastes are compared to those of our younger brother).

This leads us to our next point, which is that we don't know anyone who "craves branded items," who would voluntarily endure "attitude" from a lodging establishment, who would really care about the milk put in his or her coffee, or who would "fiercely insist" upon anything at a hotel, because it's not cool to harangue the staff at the front desk. It's not their fault the people in reservations overbooked all the smoking rooms, is it?

So that explains why we're somewhat mystified at all these changes some hotel chains are considering. For instance, according to USA Today's sidebar, one such change involves telling staff to be informal and engage in banter with the customers. Yeah, there's a real winner. We don't know about the rest of you, but the last thing we want at a hotel is for some clerk to give us the same spiel we'd get down at Applebee's -- especially if we're paying more than $100 per night.

But of course, we can now have the Applebee's right in the hotel too. USA Today informs us that because "the Gen X man" makes hotel choices based on whether there's a serious sports bar on site (!), all the hotel chains are going to start replacing their lounges. Great. So much for our chances of getting a decent omelet in the morning.

Still, if there is a bright side to this, it's that some of the proposed changes very much make sense. For instance, the shaving mirrors which don't fog up after one showers -- those would be convenient. Better television channels would also be rather nice -- we'd like all the news channels, plus Bloomberg, please. As for those 24-hour gift shop/emergency bath-supply deals? Definitely a smart move.

And you know, maybe we're just wrong on this one. Maybe the sports bars and what not really will work and boost revenues. But speaking as a somewhat-frequent traveler, we just hope these hotels don't forget the basics in their drive to become more with it.

That would really prove a turnoff for us and, we suspect, many other people our age. At the end of the day, what we personally want is a clean room and a decent bath and good service and a place where we can get a quick and pretty good breakfast in the morning -- if not at the hotel, then at least nearby.

As it turns out, the reasonably-priced chains (think Howard Johnson's, think Best Western) do a surprisingly good job of this, because that's been their prime focus. They've also been able, as we noted, to keep their prices reasonable -- which is our own prime focus.

Could the major players lure us away with goodies that justify our paying $40 or $50 more per night? Perhaps -- but only if those goodies had a direct impact on the two hours or so per day we would spend awake in a hotel room. After all, the point to traveling isn't to spend time in a room, but rather to spend time in the place one is visiting.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at February 24, 2005 11:31 PM | TrackBack


You make many a valid point here, although you must understand that not everyone is like us, and THERE IS a significant portion of people who right now are between 23-29 and very much resemble USA Today's significant albeit overgeneralized point. While I don't give a rat's ass about, say, branded coffee, I know many people who do, most of whom are about 5 years younger (they actually say they want "Starbucks" or "D&D", not "coffee". Perhaps it was the internet, which was not around while we grew up but was for our brother's generation, that led to this, I don't know. But I think the USA Today piece is accurate for an unusally large portion of 20-somethings. Of course, those 20-somethings are full of shit. But that's not the point of the article, is it? Props on the hotel point and it's purpose which is to PROVIDE A ROOF OVER ONE'S HEAD. I will pay extra to be within walking distance of attractions and restaurants, sure. But that's it.

Posted by: simon from jersey at February 25, 2005 09:26 AM

Hi Simon,

I don't doubt for a bit that many people are actually like those described in the USA Today point, but I do think there are fewer of them than USA Today's article suggests -- even among the upwardly-mobile types who sleep at hotels frequently. The story, simply put, oversimplifies and exaggerates.

Posted by: Benjamin Kepple at February 25, 2005 02:31 PM