[caption id="attachment_163315" align="alignleft" width="1000"]Drew Di Fonzo, 29, manager of the Hyatt Place Dewey Beach. Photos by Eric Crossan[/caption]
By Kathy Canavan
Delaware hotels are hustling to woo millennials - 83 million potential customers between the ages of 22 and 38 - with fresh interior design, technology upgrades and a savvier approach to social media.
Drew Di Fonzo is a hotel manager who knows exactly what millennials want. He's 29 himself. The Hyatt Place Dewey Beach where DiFonzo works reconfigured its Wi-Fi last year to keep up with millennial expectations. The Hilton Wilmington Christiana spent $250,000 to upgrade its internet and add wireless points.
Millennials travel with their own entertainment. Tablets and Netflix subscriptions trump the old pay-per-view.
DiFonzo said it's not unusual for toddlers to bring their own tablet devices: "Being a beach hotel, in the summer, we have lots of families. All of our rooms have sofa beds, so we can host up to six people in a room, so there could be up to 15 or 20 devices in a room."
Major hotels undergo a makeover approximately each decade. When the Hilton Wilmington Christiana was due for its new look two years ago, they had millennial-friendly upgrades in mind.
[caption id="attachment_163316" align="alignleft" width="286"]Electronic key cards are one of a series of tech upgrades implemented at the Hilton.[/caption]
"This hotel opened in 1986, and it has been a very successful cornerstone hotel in this community, but it had a very, very traditional look for its first 30 to 35 years, said Brad Wenger, the hotel's general manager. "We realized we need to be relevant for the next generation as they're coming into the professional world."
They nixed their traditional steakhouse in favor of a farm-to-table approach offering locally sourced food and beverages, plus a photo-friendly outdoor patio with live music. Some of the food served is harvested from the hotel's own courtyard garden.
Accommodating guests starts long before they arrive at the hotel doors. At the Hilton, a guest receives an interactive property map 24 hours before arriving. The guest can use it to choose a room electronically.
Di Fonzo said his staff encourages guests to tag the Hyatt on social media. "Those stories that are put out there connect us to the community," he said.
At the Hilton, Wenger said, "The amount of bookings that occur because of social media is pretty staggering. In the local community, for targeting customers, there is no better return on investment that's achieved than what we get for our social media efforts. Half of our reservations for New Year's Eve were directly attributed to our social media."
The flip side is negative online reviews, but Wenger and Di Fonzo said they call unhappy guests when they can reach them and personally apologize for any failings.
[caption id="attachment_163317" align="alignleft" width="1000"]Brad Wenger, general manager of Hilton Wilmington Christiana.[/caption]
"People look at social media before they book, now more than ever, so you have to be on your toes," Di Fonzo said. He added, "Nine times out of ten guests will take down their negative remarks if a general manager takes time to have a conversation with them."
Dan and Rhonda Bond own the 236-year-old turreted, balconied The Towers Bed & Breakfast in Milton. Its common areas are dotted with stained glass windows and filled with period antiques, but there's now a hot spot in the tranquil back garden.
The Bonds recently spent $2,500 to upgrade the internet at the sprawling pink mansion that was home to an
early-19th-century poet and to a Civil War governor.
Bond said they didn't have millennials in particular in mind when they upgraded their service to Comcast Business, because their Gen X and boomer guests use multiple devices too.
Wenger said social media and other changes wrought by the millennial generation have changed the hospitality industry: "Businesses have a choice. They can either embrace it and they can leverage it and realize there are a lot of great opportunities there. We don't have enough money in our advertising budget to get that kind of reach through traditional advertising channels. Social media has allowed us to get that reach. We can also be very, very targeted about who we want to put our message in front of."