It has long been understood that teenagers can make or break a family holiday. But what do they want and what can hotels do to meet their demands? In the first of four discussions, Hotel News ME asks a group of Gen Z teenagers to share their tips on how the local family holiday industry can re-focus on the most overlooked VIP.
The family holiday is an event that both excites and terrifies in equal measures. But, behind the week of petty fall outs, delayed flights and sunburn, is an industry that is worth $140bn globally and today, more and more hotels are tailoring their facilities to capture an ever greater share of that market.
Tourism is a central pillar to Dubai’s growth and family tourism is a central pillar within that, with DTCM fully focused on family tourism as a core part of Dubai’s 2020 tourism strategy. Detailed in this plan are the holiday homes, theme parks and safaris the organisation believes will best support its ambitions.
Dubai is already popular on the family front, not least among the growing Indian upper middle-class family segment and the thousands of families who visit residents in the emirate every year.
Tourism-related infrastructure and investment in capacity enhancement is gaining momentum in 2016, with the scheduled completion of the Dubai Park and Resorts mega-project in Jebel Ali and a raft of other similar family attractions, from IMG World to new family resorts in prime locations.
According to DTCM: “Dubai will be steadily implementing projects to develop, enhance and promote the core pillars of Dubai’s destination offering that in turn feed into the agenda to not just attract more volumes but to further the sector’s growing contribution to the emirate’s GDP, and be a source of sustainable competitiveness for future growth.”
Yet there is a disparity between the ambition of the authorities and the current focus of the hotel industry. Most of the hotel industry’s innovation over recent years have been based on the habits and preferences of the millennial traveller, rather than the next youngest age group, Gen Z. This age group travels alone or with friends, is not traditionally focused on seeing the great outdoors, but does demand the world’s fastest Internet connection and a mastering of the concept of “non-intrusive hospitality”.
However, when it does come to Gen Z, these rules don’t stick, and while the cruise industry’s Kids’ Club model has been greatly borrowed from, that appears to be where the innovation ends.
That is why Hotel News ME, in partnership with Ti’me Hotels, has begun a four-part research exercise into the habits, preferences and behaviours of family travellers, through the eyes of the most crucial family member: the teenagers.
Over the coming pages are the results of the first discussion, and they serve as a lesson for everybody in hospitality. While many hotels are looking at their facilities – everything from the dedicated Kids’ Club to the quality of WiFi connections – it seems that families are actually far less wrapped up in modern trappings of the hotel offering.
As has always been the case – perhaps more so now as parents see themselves stretched to work longer hours – families want warm hospitality, excellent food, comfortable beds and spacious rooms. They want the things that will help them create quality time.
Contrary to the hypothesis set out by the millennial generation, WiFi connections aren’t at the top of the priority list; iPad controlled curtains are a cool add-on, but not a must-have; and facilities such as water slides or attractions based on local culture, are far more engrossing than BYOD content.
The Gen Z crowd:
Jacob Lonning, 16
Sergio Raya Aires, 15
Chadi Awadalla, 16
Saquib Mabadiwala, 15
Joan Bangera, 18
Hari Kava, 20
What is the best family holiday you have ever been on?
Chadi: As an extended family of about 15, we went to Egypt and there was a huge water slide that you didn’t have to pay extra for and it was within the hotel complex. We could just go on the water slide all the time and because all my cousins were there, as well as my grandmother, it was a really good holiday.
Sergio: We went to Oman and they had a water park inside the hotel. Unfortunately we haven’t been back there since but I would like to.
Joan: One of the best trips was Sydney because there is lots to do outdoors and lots of nature, which you don’t get here in the UAE.
Jacob: In my favourite holiday we stayed in a huge and very clean hotel and the food was great, especially the breakfast. The facilities were really good and there was a great pool and good WiFi, but the thing I liked most was that there were lots of trees and it was very beautiful. And the bed was really comfy!
Saquib: The first was in India we stayed in some villas which connect to each other and all have their own pool. It’s in nature so it’s really nice and the beds and food were great. The second was in Times Square, which was a completely different experience, because we were right in the city. But it was a really great holiday because it was so different. Oh and the hotel had great WiFi.
What is the worst family holiday you have ever been on?
Sergio: London. The room was really, really, really small. Extremely small. And we were all too close so it was really uncomfortable. There weren’t really any other facilities in the hotel either.
Chadi: We went to this hotel where the food was awful. Really low quality, and unhygienic. One time I went to get a drink and there was something in it, so I told the staff and they said I had put something in it, which I hadn’t. Then they poured it out and re-filled it in the same glass.
Saquib: Ours was Paris. The hotel room was so small we had to get another room so there was spacce for us all. The service was ok, sometimes they were nice but sometimes they weren’t. We weren’t sure what their problem was! And the breakfast was really limited, only a few choices.
Hari: The Himalayas. The room was really small and it was so cold because there was no heating and they had no extra blankets to give us. It was really cold!
Joan: It was the first hotel we stayed at after we landed in Jordan. We reached the hotel the middle of the night, ready to go to bed. The service however was terrible as we had to wait for an hour before they gave us our rooms. Though the room was spacious, it was pretty grungy. The carpets looked worn-out and the sheets looked old as well. The second would have to be in Sydney, it had been raining all day long and we drove two hours to see the Blue Mountains. Unfortunately because of the rain, there was a thick fog that filled the sky and completely covered mountains. All we saw was white mist.
When your parents are choosing where to go on a family holiday, how much say do you have in the discussion?
Chadi: Every summer we go to visit family then we will go to a second place just for a short visit. Usually I don’t have much of a say in that, I’m just told around a month before but it’s ok because I’m happy so long as I have fun.
Joan: we usually decide as a family
Hari: It’s always a family decision.
Saquib: Usually I choose because my mother and sisters don’t have a preference and my dad is too busy. So I do some research then show it to my family and ask them where they prefer. Based on the research we then decide, but when I’m doing that I look for good food, fun things to do and comfort and safety.
Sergio: We have a discussion about it so it isn’t an individual who decides but we decide as a group. If my mum wants to go somewhere but my dad says no they’ll have a disagreement so then I get to have the final choice out of their preferences. If it doesn’t happen that way we all decide on a destination – what is the most appropriate, what has the best weather. That’s how we choose.
Jacob: We visit our family every year and occasionally we do travel, too. When we go somewhere new my parents choose somewhere they think me and my siblings will enjoy.
Many hotels are now placing a lot of emphasis on putting new facilities and entertainment options in their Kid’s Clubs. Imagine you’re five years younger than you are today, what would you like to see at the Kids’ Club?
Chadi: Maybe a games console and it has to be free to use because otherwise you have to keep going to your parents for money and eventually they’re going to say no to you. Or football facilities. In the last hotel we went to there as a game that took coupons and it’s fine the first time, but after a while your parents are going to stop saying yes.
Sergio: A console would be good. One thing I don’t like about those places is that it always smells like feet because you have to take your shoes off when you walk in.
Jacob: Maybe a foosball table and I think younger kids should also be separated because little kids are annoying.
Saquib: Those areas need to be well supervised because kids can get out of control. I would like to see more surveillance and better first aid to take care of any injuries. Entertainment-wise, perhaps a movie room or computers games. To be frank, I don’t think parents would be opposed to paying for something like this. Atlantis has all these things at its kid’s club and I think they’re doing a good job.
Joan: An age limit for entry, a different section for teenagers and younger children as well as multiple similar kinds of gaming stalls so that everyone would have a turn to play.
Many hotels are changing how they interact with their guests, so for example now you can check in via mobile from the airport and use your mobile as a key when you arrive at the hotel. You can order room service and close the curtains with an iPad. Most of these innovations are based on research on people who are aged 20 – 30 and the hotel room has changed a lot over recent years in response to the perceived demand of this age group. As the age group below that, so how do you want hotels to adapt to your needs and preferences?
Chadi: Once we were on holiday and we had a room where basically everything was movable with wheels under it so you could move it to how you want it to be. There was a room divider too, so for example of you’re watching the match and the other people in the room want to sleep, you can just pull that across the room and it’s sound proof so they don’t get disturbed. And I also like the idea of a microwave in the room, with food downstairs that you can buy to microwave because sometimes you don’t want to have to get changed to open the door, or you want to eat it now and not later.
Sergio: We stayed in one place and you could open and close a cover on the pool and you could control it from the iPad. That was really cool.
Joan: I think it’s important that they don’t forget the traditional hospitality. People sometimes want to talk to another human being. It depends on the time of day, if I arrive at 3am and I’m tired and it’s been a long journey, I just want to sleep, but if you’re new to a place you may want to have a conversation with somebody from that country.
Jacob: I would like it if there was a system where you could rent films on the in-room TV. If they allow you to rent movies it’ll be a lot more flexible. Or if they worked liked airlines. Also not everybody wakes up when breakfast is being served so maybe you could order all day breakfast to be delivered to you at any time you want, in your room, and it is fresh and there is no time limit. You just have to order the day before.
What is your opinion of Dubai as a family holiday destination? What is good for families and what needs to be improved?
Sergio: It’s really expensive
Chadi: I think it’s fine but in Europe you can just go out and hang out and have something to eat for €5. Even in Mall of the Emirates they don’t have benches so you have to go to a café and eat or drink something. There is nowhere to just hang out.
Hari: There is nowhere to go after 10pm. You have to do something, you can’t just go to a nice place and chill out there with your friends.
Joan: The thing is that here everything is about malls and you can’t do anything if you don’t want to go to a mall. In other cities they have places to walk about outside in the fresh air and maybe graffiti streets and then art exhibitions. In Dubai, the 3D Street Art thing in JBR is cool but everything else is about malls.
Sergio: The shipping containers in Box Park are cool
Saquib: A lot of areas are quite remote and difficult for us to get to. Dubai is really nice as a destination but it’s difficult to get around. Dubai is quite small and it would be good to maybe link all the emirates together so people can visit all of them. I think it would attract more people to explore the rest of the country.
Nobody has mentioned the new Dubai Theme Parks. Are you looking forward to those opening?
Hari: I don’t think the UAE can do theme parks that well.
Saquib: Transport is a problem. It’s towards Abu Dhabi, like Expo, and there is no train or bus. The other is near Arabian Ranches and you can’t get there. Wild Wadi is easy to get to.
Sergio: For me it depends on how they make it. In Abu Dhabi at Ferrari World there is one roller coaster that is really good but the rest of it is bad. So they need to make it big enough and not too expensive and instead of making it just one ride have more than one roller coaster.
Joan: There isn’t much focus on local culture, so it would be good to see things for tourists which are more about the local heritage and history of the country. Perhaps more desert safaris and things like that.
On April 27 at 12.30pm Hotel News ME will be hosting the panel discussion “Capturing the Family Market” at the ATM Showcase Theatre. To register to attend, please email firstname.lastname@example.org