Getting away from it all more often

Travel and hospitality professionals are seeing rapid industry changes for a host of reasons – technology chief among them – but atop the list are the changing expectations of today’s tourists and spenders. As hotels and travel advisors shift to their patterns, they’re seeing a trend toward shorter and more frequent vacations rather than longer bookings and they’re seeing it across demographic groups too.

At HotelsCombined.com, recent data showed the average length of stay among American travelers was just 2.2 nights, which is about the length of a weekend. It’s consistent with industry research that finds more people opting for five or more short trips each year rather than taking one- two-week vacations.

There are lots of underlying reasons, including necessity and obligation. With more mobility has come a greater need to head home for a long Thanksgiving weekend, or for weddings or graduations, among all travelers. In most cases, excluding destination weddings or extended family reunions, they are planning to be in town for a specific event and may only make a touristy side trip or two to a nearby city and show, or a family-friendly attraction. The same is true for the shorter stays common to business travelers, whose time – and accommodation needs – are geared toward the main purpose of their visits.

Yet when it comes to leisure travel, what’s at work among millennials and the people who travel like them is a priority placed on experiences, destinations and the need for more work-life balance. Their preference for a long weekend getaway several times a year offers more breaks but also opportunities.

First, there’s the millennial lean toward experiences rather than possessions. The chance to attend the Coachella festival in California, South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, or any other event-related travel – whether it’s a tradition or a bucket list one-off – is important to their understanding of a good life. It’s true for people in their 40s and retirees too, and short trips to see favorite professional sports teams or farewell-tour musicians are the perfect reason to take just a few days off to head to Atlanta or Philly.

That means some changes for the hotels that serve them though. These travelers want immersion in their experiences and aren’t likely to hang out much in their rooms, or need laundry and other services you’d associate with a long stay. They do want connectivity and lots of it, and it’s almost a guaranteed deal-breaker if guests won’t be able to share photos on social media or check out the user reviews on new restaurants to try. They want easy mobile charging, easy WiFi access and connected-room features.

They also want the short stay to be more than hassle-free because it needs to be refreshing. Especially among millennials, who these days account for the majority of Americans in the workforce and have established cultural norms for everyone else too, the value of shorter breaks more often is to stay plugged into what matters and nourish what’s meaningful in their lives. If they’re exploring a new city, it’s authentic connection to its history and culture, reflected in meeting its people, that matters most.

If they want a restorative walk in the woods, what the Japanese call “forest bathing,” it may mean more solitude than Minneapolis downtown districts or New Orleans nightlife, but it still means making the most of a shorter stay. If contemplative time on a Bermuda beach is a priority, they won’t be in their rooms all that much, but when they are they expect a seamless transition within the new environment.

Another trend to consider is that among those without children, travel across the year is more likely. They’re not taking the long family vacation in August because, frankly, they don’t have to, so it’s just as easy and often more affordable to plan a week in October or a four-day weekend at Valentine’s Day. Much like their retired counterparts, these younger workers can take advantage of off-season deals for short stay bookings – if they take the time off, which they’re often cautious about. When they do, they’re likely to research their destinations carefully to make the most of their time and their money.

There’s plenty of time for a little spontaneity too, but good decisions about a shorter stay are more important with the limited time window, and travelers are more sophisticated about knowing the details about a chosen locale, flights or driving plans, things to do and their hotel accommodations in advance. It’s these travelers who want to see mobile check-in and similar features in the places where they stay. In some cases, despite the “do not disturb” sign, they want to make sure they can work remotely too, even if it’s for just a few hours before heading back out to relish every moment of their short-stay trip.

Ultimately, knowing what the experientially-focused guest wants and needs is critical to success and it’s not hard to find out – because in most cases, for the shorter stay, the traveler already knows what it is.