African hotels need to woo the millennial market


In 2019, business travel doesn’t look much like it did 10 years ago. A younger, more tech-savvy global workforce has emerged over the past decade and is demanding more bang for its working buck.

As the largest consumer group in the world today, it’s impossible to ignore the impact this generation is having and will continue to have for decades to come, as they settle into their prime spending years.

By 2020, millennials (those born from 1981 to 1996) will comprise half of the global workforce and, according to the 2015 GTBA Business Traveler Sentiment Index, are twice as likely to want to travel more for business than Baby Boomers.

If millennials had a LinkedIn profile, it would likely say:

  • Proficient with and adaptive to technology, but still value face-to-face meetings as a priority
  • Adaptable
  • Interested in international travel and new cultural experiences
  • More preferential toward social travel amenities (free unlimited wi-fi, social spaces, shared workspaces)
  • Focused on work-life balance
  • Quick to change for a better deal or more value (high importance placed on value of services and brand loyalty)
  • Emotionally-connected to brands (viewed as extensions of their own values)
  • Open to giving feedback (i.e. review sites and social media)
  • Frequent users of the sharing economy (accommodation and transit)


The millennial impact is already being keenly felt in Africa, where millennials have overtaken their predecessors, the Baby Boomers, as the largest demographic. South Africa alone has over 14 million millennials making up approximately 27% of the population.

What makes this so important is the fact that Africa’s youth are driven by similar concerns and realities to their global counterparts. This makes it critical for hotels operating in Africa to understand the unique challenges and opportunities of the continent’s millennial customers – and to build meaningful relationships with them and cater to the level of service they demand.

The African hotel space remains largely dominated by traditional hotel brands catering to the Baby Boomer market, with millennial brands remaining very limited. Those that have entered the continent are largely concentrated in South Africa and include the Radisson RED V&A Waterfront, Signature Lux by Onomo in Sandton and Cape Town (V&A Waterfront and Foreshore), and, to some extent, the Protea Fire and Ice! by Marriott.

There has been increased interest from international operators to introduce their brands that target millennials to the continent. Once their core flags have been established, operators will look to differentiate and focus on sub-segments and niche markets. Brands such as JO&JOE, 25hours and Mama Shelter (Accor); Canopy, Motto and Tru by Hilton; Aloft and Moxy by Marriott; Hyatt Centric and Radisson RED have been developed specifically for the millennial traveller, however location remains key to the success of such developments. Whilst hotel opportunities across the continent are diverse, not all represent an opportunity for millennials.

Another area that remains largely untapped in Africa is the co-living environment. Accor, with its JO&JOE brand, represents one of the few global hotel groups that have entered this space. Co-living represents group living with shared kitchen and social spaces. Whilst this type of living is increasingly being adopted in global cities, it is also a space that represents an opportunity for hotels in much the same way as hotel apartments, but for millennials. Co-working integration is also a trend that is gaining traction globally.

Hoteliers entering this space include Accor with the creation of the WOJO and MAMA Works brands. These will be springboards in creating a work/stay/ play ecosystem that appeals to the flexible lifestyles of millennials. Off the back of the early successes indicated by the co-working spaces provided in Africa through the likes of WeWork, integration of co-working space or a re-think of lobby space in some of operator’s more contemporary brand offerings could be likely to cater for the diverse needs of young professionals.

Next month, I’ll look at what African millennials expect from their customer experiences, how to gain their loyalty and the things that matter most to this up-and-coming group of business travellers.