Wooing millennials with exotic experiences that aren’t too costly

Janet Morrissey
Launch of IMAX VR's New Virtual Reality Experience Deadwood Mansion by Glostation at the Flagship IMAX VR Centre in Los Angeles on November 15, 2017
Getty Images | Tommaso Boddi

When Nicola Todd, 29, and Eva Mehesfalvi, 31, decided to visit Manhattan from England recently, they wanted a hotel that would be light on the pocketbook but big on the New York City experience.

So instead of springing for a place with oversize rooms and round-the-clock room service, they chose the Moxy Times Square, which offered small but stylish rooms, quirky décor, lightning-fast Wi-Fi and eclectic lounge and bar areas, all at an affordable price.

"I wanted something that felt very urban, very New York, something with a little bit of character," Ms. Todd said. "I feel a lot of the Hiltons and Marriotts are very cookie-cutter. No matter where you are in the world, they all kind of feel the same."

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The Moxy Times Square, however, is part of the Marriott empire. Marriott is just one of a growing number of companies that are rolling out product lines to attract the cash-conscious millennial. It now has 20 Moxy hotels around the world and plans to open 90 more by the end of 2021.

Millennials, broadly defined as those born in the last two decades of last century, have, as a group, tended to put more emphasis on experiences. And this has become a challenge for businesses.

"The Kardashians paint a false picture of millennials," said Joan Kuhl, founder and president of Why Millennials Matter, a New York research agency. "I don't see this group with a lavish affluent lifestyle."

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Millennials, many of whom saw their parents struggle with jobs and mortgages during the recession, generally have less interest in buying the big house, flashy sports car and designer clothing that previous generations sought as status symbols of success. Nevertheless, they will pay for the right experiences and technology.

"It's where you go on vacation, what you do and what technology you have," said Allen Adamson, one of the founders and managing partners of Metaforce, a brand marketing and consulting firm, and one of the authors of "Shift Ahead: How The Best Companies Stay Relevant in a Fast Changing World." Those experiences need to be "Instagram-worthy," too. The quirkier, flashier and more offbeat the experience, the better, he said.

And businesses are catching on.

IMAX, for instance, rolled out six virtual reality theaters in New York, Los Angeles, Shanghai, Manchester and Toronto over the last year as a pilot project to attract millennials. And it has plans to open four more.

IMAX charges roughly $10 for a 10-minute VR experience, which is far cheaper than the $1,500 or more needed to buy an in-home VR technology system with a high-end PC and headset. A visitor steps into a pod, snaps on a VR headset and is virtually transported on a 360-degree journey that can include flying over volcanoes, diving into the world of criminals and hit men from the John Wick films, or stepping into the shoes of virtual game superheroes like Batman and Wonder Woman.

Afterward, the players receive a video of their VR experience, which they can share with friends on social media. "Millennials want really special experiences and ones that are hard to replicate," said Rich Gelfond, the chief executive of IMAX.

When it comes to automobiles, many millennials don't care about high-end cars the way that previous generations did, but they do want the in-cabin technology and luxury features that often go with them, said Sam Russell, Buick's marketing director.

So Buick started marketing the brand as "attainable luxury" to attract younger buyers, and it added features normally seen in cars like Mercedes-Benz, Lexus and BMW to many of its models in recent years, like 4G LTE Wi-Fi, Apple CarPlay and Ionizer air purifiers.

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As for the Moxy, its very existence is aimed at millennials.

"We're delivering a killer experience at a price point that's affordable," said Toni Stoeckl, global brand leader of Marriott's Distinctive Select Brands.

To keep rates down, Moxy's rooms are tiny, averaging only 183 square feet. But its lounges, bars and public spaces are large and encourage a social atmosphere, where guests can mingle and even play board games with friends and strangers. Guests check in electronically through their phones or through the hotel bar instead of at a front desk. There are special events, like midnight pajama parties, where guests are invited to the bar for a nightcap, as well as yoga classes, tarot card readings and "ConBody" events, where ex-convicts lead prison-style boot-camp fitness classes.

At the Moxy Times Square, a neon-pink light marks the entryway and art graces the ceiling and walls. And its five rooftop dining and nightclub spaces, operated by the Tao Group, contain a rotating carousel bar and outdoor mini-golf course with a clear view of the Empire State Building.

"It's funky and quite quirky," said Karl Fegredo, 27, from London, who recently stayed at the hotel.

Even Moxy's hotel openings are edgy and memorable. At the Moxy New Orleans party, snake charmers, tarot card readers and sword swallowers took part in its "Freak Show" theme. The Berlin Moxy "coming out" party featured drag queens, dominatrixes and tattoo artists as part of an S.&M. theme.

"Moxy is about transforming yourself in a playful environment," Mr. Stoeckl said.

Many brands hope that by capturing millennials now, they can turn them into lifelong customers.

"I think everybody understands they really need to home in on millennials," Mr. Gelfond said, "if they want to create a successful long-term business."

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This article originally appeared on The New York Times.

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