With natural ability, confidence and technical savvy, the millennial generation can and will revolutionise hospitality – but employers need to understand how to get the best from them, writes James Stephen.

The hospitality industry is a slow moving, change adverse beast at the best of times. Rooms look pretty much like they did 40 years ago, as does the breakfast buffet, the check-in and check-out line, the ballroom, the fitness suite and so on. And with a couple of exceptions (wi-fi springs to mind), that’s how guests like it.

But there’s a storm coming, in the form of a new breed that is set to change not only hospitality, but the world. And it’s starting right now.

A recent report from Time magazine suggests that by 2025, 75% of hospitality employees will be millennials – people born between 1981 and 1996 – now aged between 22 and 37.

They are the most technologically aware generation yet, particularly in the way they communicate and interact. Baby Boomers grew up as television took hold on the world; Gen X came of age as computers began appearing in every home and office; while for millennials the internet era is the backdrop to their lives.

Even for those of us old enough to remember a time before it, the internet has become an indispensable business and personal tool; for millennials it is indelibly linked to their very identities.

Armed with confidence and a sense of self-worth, a determination to bring success for both themselves and their employees (but on their own terms), the millennial generation is primed to inherit the Earth.

Current employers, however, have little to fear. Millennials are bright, ambitious, hardworking over-achievers who will give you their all. On the flip side, they require constant stimulation, demand flexibility from their bosses and need to know they are valued. So how do you squeeze that millennial goodness from them?

Ahead of the game

Dr Alice Hon, Associate Professor, School of Hotel and Tourism Management of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, says millennials seek opportunities for faster-than-traditional career advancement.

“Employers should therefore provide more ways for them to try new and challenging tasks, and develop leadership and decision-making skills. Also in terms of training and development – millennials want to join companies that don’t just offer these opportunities but need to learn and grow. This can motivate them to work harder and better.”

Polytechnic University
School of Hotel and Tourism Management of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University

She adds that flexible options are also a high priority for millennial employees, as most value adjustable work schedules and hours, and they recognise technology as one of the most important workplace tools to increase productivity and provide useful analytics. Employers should therefore harness IT to facilitate the integration of employee development and engagement, she urges.

“They should also understand that employees are the most important asset of an organisation. Make each millennial understand that they are special, professional, and important from the first day they join the organisation. They are not afraid to face challenges and be noticed for their hard work and perseverance.”

Sellers’ Market

Florent Rondez, Chief Executive Officer, Swiss Education Group, says that with the international travel and tourism industry supporting one in 10 jobs, attracting and retaining talent in the industry has never been more important.

“Millennials have a strong attraction to wanderlust, making our industry uniquely suited to them. Hospitality and travel companies offer global exposure and millennials are attracted to this, as it allows them to work while seeing the world, develop new perspectives and grow their capabilities.”

Rondez stresses that hospitality appeals to millennials as they seek engagement and meaningful interactions with others, both in their personal and professional lives, alongside technology and innovation.

Swiss Education Group
Swiss Education Group

“It is a generation that enjoys consistent feedback and if they don’t receive it, will likely move on. The skills they learn in hospitality such as customer service, management and communication are highly transferrable. So they’ll go elsewhere that not only offers a higher salary but better leadership development prospects.”

And he adds that while millennials value work-life balance and mobility, they are prepared to go above and beyond for employers who allow them to combine their personal lives with professional growth.

“Millennials are dominating today’s workforce and many are already taking on important leadership positions. As they are driven by a different set of needs and desires than earlier generations, it is important to ensure they are equipped for leadership success.”

Shifting Priorities

Alan Ip, Deputy Manager – Hotel Operations & Training, The T Hotel in Hong Kong, agrees that with a booming economy and fewer financial concerns, millennials are more likely to consider employers based on challenges and opportunities to shine and grow, rather than salary alone.

“They need recognition at work, not only as teammates but individuals, are hard working but demand more work-life balance and greater flexibility. They possess self-assurance in what they do and are much more opinionated, and we give our students opportunities to express this.

The T Hotel
The T Hotel

“With this generation, spoon-feeding them education is no longer effective. We cultivate their problem-solving and communications skills and welcome them to challenge us so we can in turn further encourage them. Technology and the change in travel patterns are seeing developments within the hotel industry, and as educators we constantly review our training programmes in order to give the best support not only to the millennials but also the industry.”