Augmented Reality: How Hospitality Can Connect with Millennials


The hospitality industry should be tuning out the disgruntled old foagies complaining that millennials are ruining the world.

Take it from the millennial writing this column: We don’t spend money on real estate, invest it in the stock market or even buy cars (you’ve probably heard that narrative before). What we spend our money on are experiences. What does that mean? Chic restaurants. Postcard-worthy excursions. And vacations – lots of vacations, which certainly encompass the former two.

Hospitality has always been a booming but competitive industry. New York is said to have one million restaurants and bars. In terms of entertainment, Los Angeles remains second to none, and you don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the number of Michelin-starred restaurants in Chicago. And this doesn't even cover all of the vacation clubs, cruises and all-inclusive resorts in the most sought after vacation destinations across the globe.

The “hospitality pie” might look bigger but there are significantly more people fighting for a piece. So, the question perplexing marketers in the industry is simple: How do we entice millennials to our brand?

The pervasive narrative is that millennials have abandoned pieces of Americana: newspapers, books, traditional office culture and savings accounts.

And though the millennial generation is closely associated with technological advancements – social media, iPhones, streaming television – that narrative isn’t entirely true. Remember millennials like to “experience.” That means touching, tasting, seeing new things, all the time. We’re as in tune with the physical world as any generation, all of which begs one fundamental question.

Millennials yearn for physical tactile experiences but rely so heavily on the digital world – so how do we bridge the two together?

That essential question – being pondered upon in marketing departments across the hospitality space – is being answered by an emerging technology.

It’s called augmented reality.

Essentially augmented reality is the fusion of interactive digital elements – like informative overlays, 3D previews and life-sized teleconferencing – into our real-world environments.

That definition might sound a little too tech-focused. So, maybe it’s better to give some concrete examples as to what this means in the hospitality space.

How many times have you asked a waiter or waitress about the size of a dish?

Using Augmented Reality, you’d be able to visually display all guests’ virtual 3D food on their table before they order, simply by pointing their camera at a written description of the menu item. This allows patrons to see elements of a dish ranging from the actual portion size to how much it’s sauced to how the sides might present.

In addition, the application would also offer nutritional information to the customer to better provide an accurate representation of what they are ordering. Such technology is especially appealing to millennials, who have become accustomed to having myriad life options at their disposal digitally at all times. And millennials have shown they are not afraid to pay for premium amenities that increase their level of convenience and trust in businesses. To hospitality executives, that could mean an uptick in business by using technology to entice customers to spend more than they intended simply by providing them an advanced look at what they are ordering. 

This kind of technology not only enhances the experience for the millennial consumer but also could actually save restaurateurs money. The dual-effect of this idea is not only to create an opportunity for additional engagement with a restaurant menu but also to cut down on orders sent back.

If you don’t like a dish that’s over-sauced, you’ll know before you order it. Efficient, and savvy.

This developing technology will be mainstream by as early as 2021. Since it’s already here now though, operators of hotel and cruise experiences could too see augmented reality boost their business.

Both find themselves struggling to remain relevant at a time when disruptors like Airbnb and VRBO are offering cheaper lodging options that allow millennials, in particular, to spend their vacation dollars on other experiences while in a locale.

But imagine this: Guests can point a smartphone at a map of your hotel and surrounding areas and see additional information about its amenities, local places of interest and nearby excursions, enhancing the use of the map itself. In turn, making the guest experience more convenient and enjoyable.

A hotel uses augmented reality to actually demonstrate how it differentiates itself from an Airbnb. Augmented reality can further help advance that exploratory experience. For example, you can point a smartphone at a map and get additional information about that place. Think: The drink list at a poolside bar or details about a resort’s spa.

For cruise lines? Point out all the nooks and crannies of a boat that often take travelers a week to find – the hidden bars, great places for snacks and all the specialty restaurants. Or experience the ample activities aboard through augmented reality so you can better plan your days and prioritize the activities in which you’re most interested in participating.

Certainly millennials have changed the world a great deal – the way in which they interact the most paramount among them. But an industry that has seen growth as a result of the generation shouldn’t complain.

Instead they should roll out the red carpet. Albeit digitally. And guess what? Anyone can walk a red carpet right on their phone – using augmented reality.

  • About the author

    Aaqib Usman is a serial entrepreneur and the Founder of Midwest Immersive, a cutting edge interactive multimedia studio specializing in augmented reality, groundbreaking projection mapping techniques, and advanced audio-visual software. His passion for these emerging technologies, coupled with the art of storytelling gave Aaqib the foresight to see the potential of how combining the two can create brand experiences never seen before. National and global brands like Adidas, Cadbury, Invisalign, Nike, Lurie Children’s Hospital, Make-A-Wish Foundation, and 1871 partner with Midwest Immersive to "bridge the physical and digital together."

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