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Who is the South African Millennial?

Are today’s travellers really that different from their parents? What do we really know about the South African millennial traveller? Nicholas Barenblatt, of Protea Hotels by Marriott and African Pride Hotels, provides the answers. By Bonny Feldman.

who-is-the-south-african-millennial-nicholas-barenblatt south african millennials Who is the South African Millennial? Who is the South African Millennial Nicholas BarenblattAs distinct trends emerge among the people that make up a business’s market, marketers must take note of the trends and create products and services that tap into those trends. Failure to do so can well lead to the demise of the business. Former giants in the mobile phone industry, Nokia and Blackberry, are perfect examples of this: both have lost significant market share because they failed to innovate when buyers were looking for new technology and advanced mobile services.

“We have been very conscious of this at Protea Hotels throughout our history,” explains Nicholas Barenblatt, Group Marketing Manager at Protea Hotels by Marriott® and African Pride Hotels. “It’s one of the factors that made us attractive to the global hospitality giant, Marriott International, which bought Protea Hotels in 2014.”

“We are at a stage now where our focus is on the millennial generation: people in their 20s and early 30s,” Barenblatt explains. “This segment is critical to us because they are our new market for the next few decades, so we need to evolve our brand experience to cater for their preferences.”

Research suggests that there are some distinct habits true of this generation. They are certainly more focused on the use of technology and social media than any previous generation. “Research from all over the world highlights this, and we see it among South African millennials too,” Barenblatt continues. “However, one differentiating factor is the extent of access to technology.

Whereas having a Notebook and a smartphone is de rigueur for our younger guests from the UK, USA, Europe and China, not all the South Africans have as much technology available. The fact that data is very costly and, coupled with internet, is not yet widely available in our country is also clear from the reaction to the free Wi-fi we offer in our hotels: whereas for foreign guests, Wi-fi is a given, many of our local guests are quite enthusiastic about the prospect of connectivity that won’t cost them a fortune.”

Barenblatt is also cautious about the risk of viewing millennials as a monolithic group. “In the South African context, one cannot ignore the realities of differing income brackets. The disparity between wealth and poverty is huge so we cannot view this generation as the same across the board.” The same is true of levels of education. Millennials from many countries are the most highly educated generation ever. Falling university throughput rates in South Africa reveal a different scenario for this country. “Ultimately, this could impact the size of the South African millennial travel market since the country’s growing skills shortages will mean that fewer local people will work in jobs that give them the means to travel,” Barenblatt cautions.

Where luxury travel is concerned, the South African millennial market is relatively small compared to its foreign counterpart. In fact, we still see the higher income level groups in South Africa being skewed towards people over the age of 35, i.e. non-millennials. “This is likely to change, though,” Barenblatt points out, “since these people will move into the job roles carrying big incomes as the years go by. We are also likely to see this change if we start experiencing economic growth in the country.”

As for other features of millennials internationally, Barenblatt’s experience points to the same health-consciousness seen internationally. People ask about healthy food options, and the hotel company has seen a demand for healthy activities. Responding to this need, some hotels are providing more healthy activities, such as mountain biking and jogging, for options over and above the usual hotel gym.

“Business must understand the target market,” Barenblatt concludes. “It’s what we focus on at Protea Hotels by Marriott.”

For more information visit theProtea Hotels by Marriott®  website at www.protea.marriott.com