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Come As You Are

It's nice to feel wanted. I have to admit, for much of my life, I've felt my generation--Generation X--has not garnered much attention. Whether it is from marketers, historians, or cultural critics, Gen-X has always been betwixt and between, not quite measuring up.

Like it or not, we've been over shadowed--by Baby Boomers on one side, or Gen-Y on the other. While a plethora of books expounded on the cultural significance of the 1950s and 1960s, much less has been written about the 1970s and 1980s (Can anyone say malaise?). And while Gen-X grew up with the PC (I had a TRS-80), Gen-Y grew up with Sega and Nintendo. Go ahead and explain Pong to a kid today.

Finally, for at least a brief moment in time the focus is turning to Gen-X. At the front and back of this issue, visionaries at the largest (Holiday Inn) and smallest (NYLO) of hotel brands are recognizing that guests born more or less between 1964 and 1981 (the exact dates are somewhat in dispute) represent a significant cohort that has fundamentally different expectations from a hotel stay in terms of service amenities and design. Of course there is far more to their strategies than a simplistic focus on a single generation, yet there can be little doubt that today, Gen-X is at the center of a great deal of activity in the industry.

On a personal level, I can see that the approaches both companies are taking make a great deal of sense. The approach of NYLO's rethought and redesigned hotel is fascinating, and much of the technology Holiday Inn has built into the eHost system appeals to me on a personal level. Whenever I stay at a hotel, the first thing I do is explore the surrounding area (although I also tend to avoid hotels situated near highway interchanges). In the past, I hadn't given a great deal of thought to staying at a Holiday Inn, but I would be genuinely interested in trying the eHost systems, and that of course is the point.

Still, as much as I like the attention, I would caution hotel (and restaurant) companies from trying too hard to woo Gen-X travelers (or at least me). We simply may not be worth the effort. It reminds me of a joke Woody Allen told at the beginning of Annie Hall and attributes to Groucho Marx (and Freud), "I would never wanna belong to any club that wants me for a member." Now that you want me, I may not want you.

Attracting Gen-X guests will not be easy--especially for hotels as they ratchet up the technology amenities--and before you know it you'll need to retool and focus on the following generation with its own set of demands. "When you are trying to attract that age group you have to realize that technology is an expectation in all aspects of the cycle," Lalia Rach, associate dean at New York University recently told me. "Still, it is how you use that technology. Is it window dressing and is there a deliverable? It has nothing to do with a wow factor."

Hotels need to tread carefully before embarking down the path of chasing Gen-X. While I hardly feel equipped to speak for an entire generation, I do know that having too narrow a focus can lead to a short-term solution when long-range planning should take precedence. Now that you have me, I am less and less sure I want the attention after all... nevermind.

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