Ms. Knutson

Guest Service / Customer Experience Mgmt

Here Come the Kid$

By Bonnie Knutson, Professor, The School of Hospitality Business/MSU

When most of us were youngsters, the notion of children having much say in what our parents did, what they bought, or where the family stayed when it went on vacation was in the realm of comedian Rodney Dangerfield. They got no respect. Now, kids are - or should be - on virtually every brand's radar screen. Overall social and cultural trends have bolstered kids' monetary muscle. Consider the dramatic rise in their purchase power.

Back in the 1960s, children influenced about $5 billion in family purchases. These were the days of children being seen but not heard. Their primary tool of influence was what my parents called "nagging." We called it wearing them down. By the 1980s, parents began to involve their children more in family decisions so their influence power jumped to more than $50 billion. Today, try going out to grab a bite to eat or deciding whether to go to a theme park, dude ranch or stay in a historic hotel in a big city without talking with your kids and you' can be doomed to a really bumpy vacation.

Today's family is an inclusive family, with parents empowering and encouraging their kids to be involved in decisions across the board. If hotels have not yet realized the potential of this market trend, business sure has. Companies spend more than $1.2 Trillion (That's with a "T"!) annually marketing to children because they represent a dynamic retail market, influencing an estimated $500 billion in total retail spending. Marketing to children has evolved from the initial days of "secret decoder rings" and Cracker Jack toys. Today, kids are considered to be customers in their own right. Ask Disney. Ask Noggin.com.

Ask McDonald's, Nike, or True Jeans. They represent an important demographic to marketers because they have their own money, they influence what their parents do, where they go, where they stay, and what they buy. Plus they are the adult consumers of the future. Trends such as smaller family size, multi-generational families, dual incomes and postponing having children until later in life mean that parents (and grandparents alike) have more disposable income and are willing to spend more for and on their kids. Add to this the role guilt can play because parents are time-stressed and you have a potential gold mine for your hotel. Sound familiar?

YouGov research found that children are "active decision makers in family economies" across a lot of decisions - including travel. They also found that young children can hold as much persuasive power as teens. From a young age, children's preferences influence where the family goes and where the family stays 87% of the time. And this is true across geographic markets too. No matter where you live in Europe or the U.S., for instance, the vast majority of parents give their children some say in deciding where they want to go on a trip, whether for a weekend getaway or a more traditional family vacation.

Interestingly, in the U.S. about 71% of parents say they ask for their kids' input, but this jumps to 94% internationally. So just where are your guests coming from? Parents view kids' input as a way to ensure that their children get more out of the family's travel experiences. And it's also a way to reduce the nagging quotient too. As Brian Sharples, HomeAway CEO, quipped, "The whole family is now invested in the experience, with kids bringing their own travel preferences to the table." Parents are listening. So are hotels, resorts, spas, cruise ships, Airbnbs, and Bed & Breakfasts. Are you?

Before thinking about how your hotel can capitalize on this Kid$ trend, It will be helpful to understand two things about them and their influence. First, children begin their lifelong relationship with brands at a very young age. As unlikely as it may seem, babies begin to recognize brands by six months of age. They can form mental images of brand logos and mascots. Hence the power of icons such as Mickey Mouse, Ronald McDonald, and even the Peabody ducks. When they are two or three years old, brand loyalty begins to kick in and toddlers will begin asking for a specific product or to go to a specific place. This is when the so-called "pester-power" begins rearing its ugly head.

Think about the last time you walked down the cereal aisle at your favorite grocery store with a child in tow. In kindergarten, they begin making their own purchase decisions, and are virtually in total control before they enter middle school. What is both powerful and scary at the same time is the fact that, in many categories, more than 25% of brand preferences carry over from childhood to adulthood. Adult allegiance is rooted by childhood memories, associations, and nostalgia. This is a lesson Coca-Cola learned the hard way with its venture into New Coke.

Second, it is helpful to understand just how kids do influence family decisions. Nickelodeon found that there are basically five approaches to decision-making in families that involve kids' input. Of course, a family can use a different approach at different points in time, as well as depending on the type of decision being made and the ages of the children. But, in essence, the five are described as:

  • Board of Directors - Parents make the final decisions, but only after seeking their children's input (56%)
  • Family Meeting - Parents and children discuss and come to a decision together (44%)
  • Parent Screen - Parents provide options and let the children decide (20%)
  • Because I Said So - Harkening back to earlier generations, parents decide on their own and the children have to just accept it (13%)
  • Kids Cut Loose - Children decide on their own (9%)

So given these duel facts, let's take a brief look at what this might mean for your hotel.

Personalize

Kids of all ages have money to spend in your hotel, if - and it is a very big if -- there are "cool" things to buy in there. Those in the marketing world know that it's important to plant the seeds of brand recognition in children at an early age in the hopes that the seeds grow into purchase and loyalty. They also know that, even if the child doesn't directly buy the product and may not for many years, the marketing of the brand experience must begin in childhood. A case in point would be Christmas/Chanukah ornaments.

Buying an annual tree ornament for each child has become a hot trend for parents and grandparents. Think of the possibilities for having ornaments made that have the hotel's logo, the year, and space to have the child's name engraved. They could be available in your gift shop or even given to each child as part of his or her personalized welcome gift. It would be simple to include a personalized ornament. The same idea can be used for the adults in the family. The design would be different, of course, because kids sure don't want what their parents have.

Beyond Kids Klubs

Gone are the one-size-fits-all little plastic bags filled with coloring books and crayons. In are amenities and activities that are both unique to your hotel and designed for different age groups. A Los Angeles based hotel gives their young guests little backpacks filled with their own toiletries, slippers and robes. And remember that kids like to do fun things and learn new things. For example, one Parisian hotel provides family-friendly movies and pizza making classes with a renowned chef.

Then there are hotels that entertain their young guests with ventures such as kite making, Creole fishing, and a blank license plate to decorate for their bikes. The Internet is awash with examples of hotels that are capitalizing on the kids market by offering unique experiences. While you can look to them for inspiration, the key is for you to offer something fresh, different, and exciting; it isn't just to copy and be a me-too property. So look outside the lodging sector for ideas and inspiration that you can adapt.

Parlay the Buzz

Every parent and marketer knows that a child begging to buy something or to do something is the most powerful persuasive tactic there is. That's why kids' marketing is jokingly called "pester power." Thus, a key for your hotel marketing is the proverbial word-or-mouth (WOM) advertising, which in today's parlance may mean Snapchat (72% use), Facebook (68%), Instagram (66%), ad infinitum. The challenge for hotel, then, is to provide some things that kids - especially teens -- find "cool" enough to channel friends via their social media sites. Many kid brands are using "buzz or street marketing," in which you find the coolest kids and have them sign up for your activity or wear your hotel's product in order to create a buzz that can - and will - spread like wild fire. This type viral marketing connects with savvy and elusive kids by using trendsetters to help position your property as the "cool" place to go.

Whole Family

A.k.a. Multi-generational travelers. Let's face several facts. First, people are living longer more active lives. Second, the most important thing to grandparents are their grandchildren. And third, it is grandma and grandpa who generally have the discretionary money to pay for family trips. But it is the children and grandchildren who influence where they go. In the U.S., multi-generational vacations account for more than half of all trips taken by parents/grandparents. In fact, in one recent survey, more than three out of four grandparents said they try to take a big family vacation every year. After all, the gift of a sweater or toy will last briefly. The gift of a beautiful memory will last forever. My AmEx card can readily attest to these truisms.

Hotels are taking note and looking at how they can better accommodate large family groups - from adding more connecting rooms, suites, and convertible day beds, to providing large tables in the dining room, to serving meals family style. But what about adding activities that are customized to the family? And, of course, don't forget the FMP (Family Meeting Planner). Generally, there is one person who is in charge of corralling all the family likes and dislikes and booking all the travel arrangements. They can heavily rely on your staff for information, guidance, and all around help to make the experience memorable for everyone in their family. Make it easy for them to spend their time and money at your place.

Add an Edition

Finally, take a lesson from such notable magazines as Time, Sports Illustrated and People. Each has launched kids' and teen's editions. What about your hotel launching a kid or teen edition of your social media channels that boasts information about new programs, adventures, products and service that are just for them? Remember, they have their own money, their own pester power, and, most importantly, are your future adult guests

Your REVPAR will thank you.

Bonnie J. Knutson is a professor in The School of Hospitality Business in the Broad College of Business at Michigan State University. She is an authority on emerging lifestyle trends and innovative marketing. Her work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and on PBS and CNN. She has had numerous articles in industry, business, and academic publications. Bonnie is a frequent speaker for executive education as well as business and industry meetings, workshops, and seminars. Dr. Knutson is also editor of the Journal of Hospitality & Leisure Marketing. Ms. Knutson can be contacted at 517-353-9211 or drbonnie@msu.edu Extended Bio...

HotelExecutive.com retains the copyright to the articles published in the Hotel Business Review. Articles cannot be republished without prior written consent by HotelExecutive.com.

Receive our daily newsletter with the latest breaking news and hotel management best practices.
Hotel Business Review on Facebook
RESOURCE CENTER - SEARCH ARCHIVES
General Search:

MARCH: Human Resources: Inspiring a Journey of Success

Cara Silletto

Ever wonder what planet your new hires are from? For most, it is called Millennialland. It is my homeland, and it is a whole different world than where Boomers and GenXers were born. So why are your younger workers from this strange land so hard to understand, manage and retain? Why is it that they lack the loyalty of those who came before them? Why do they need so much handholding in the workplace? And where does this tremendous sense of entitlement come from? Allow me to explain. READ MORE

Nicole Price

You’re just being politically correct! In America, being politically correct has taken a new meaning and now has a negative connotation. But why? Definitions can help identify the reason. The definition of political correctness is “the avoidance, often considered as taken to extremes, of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially discriminated against.” In simple terms, political correctness is going to the extreme to avoid insulting socially disadvantaged groups. What could be wrong with that? The issue is not them or the term, it’s us! READ MORE

Kimberly Abel-Lanier

Engaging and retaining talented, trained workers is a critical component of success for any business in any sector. When employees are disengaged or turnover is high, organizations face challenges of subpar customer service, high costs, and human resource inefficiencies. Gallup estimates rampant disengagement among employees costs American businesses between $450 billion and $550 billion per year. High turnover also carries exorbitant costs to organizations, averaging approximately 1.5x an employee’s salary for replacement. In the hospitality sector, delivery of impactful customer experiences is strongly connected to employee engagement and satisfaction. Happy, engaged employees can make happy, loyal customers. Currently; however, the hospitality sector suffers higher than average employee turnover. READ MORE

Michael Warech

So where will we find the next generation of leaders in the hospitality industry? Like their counterparts in other business sectors, this question remains top-of-mind for those responsible for finding, managing, and developing the talent needed to ensure the vitality of their organizations. While, arguably, not as glamorous as a new guest amenity or as important as a cost-saving innovation, there is nothing more critical than talent to succeed in an increasingly competitive and challenging global business environment. Leveraging the best strategies and tactics related to talent management, succession planning, workforce planning, training and leadership development are, quite possibly, a company’s most critical work. READ MORE

Coming Up In The April Online Hotel Business Review




Feature Focus
Guest Service: The Personalized Experience
In the not-too-distant future, when guests arrive at a hotel, they will check themselves in using a kiosk in the lobby, by- passing a stop at the front desk. When they call room service to order food, it will be from a hotel mobile tablet, practically eliminating any contact with friendly service people. Though these inevitable developments will likely result in delivered to their door by a robot. When they visit a restaurant, their orders will be placed and the bill will be paid some staff reduction, there is a silver lining – all the remaining hotel staff can be laser-focused on providing guests with the best possible service available. And for most guests, that means being the beneficiary of a personalized experience from the hotel. According to a recent Yahoo survey, 78 percent of hotel guests expressed a desire for some kind of personalization. They are seeking services that not only make them feel welcomed, but valued, and cause them to feel good about themselves. Hotels must strive to establish an emotional bond with their guests, the kind of bond that creates guest loyalty and brings them back time and again. But providing personalized service is more than knowing your guests by name. It’s leaving a bottle of wine in the room of a couple celebrating their anniversary, or knowing which guest enjoys having a fresh cup of coffee brought to their room as part of a wake-up call. It’s the small, thoughtful, personal gestures that matter most and produce the greatest effect. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.