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Teenagers are extremely comfortable when it comes to technology.

It doesn’t take a genius to work that one out. Anyone with a teenager in their family will understand how essential smartphones and games consoles are for the way they socialise and communicate with each other. Social media is as central to their lives as the telephone and newspapers were to their grandparents.

In fact, recent research we conducted with revealed that 95% of teenagers own a smartphone and 65% believe that technology has a positive impact on society.

So far, so unsurprising.

However, the surveys and focus groups that we conducted with more than 500 teenagers aged between 13 and 17 also revealed more eyebrow-raising findings and provide the hospitality industry with much to ponder.

The good news is that, while teenagers are dab-hands at digital communication, they also crave face-to-face contact when it comes to their leisure time.

Less than half of the teenagers we asked (45%) agreed that hanging out with people online is as good as meeting up in person. Our focus groups were peppered with phrases such as: “I go out to socialise and have fun with my friends. It’s about having fun and making memories” and “Facetime is the next best thing, but it doesn’t beat in-person.”

Teenagers want to go out to socialise, and the reasons that attract them to a venue are much the same as the generations before: atmosphere, quality food and drink, good value, a backdrop that will look good on social media…

OK, so maybe the last one is a newer thing, but it serves to highlight an important point: while technology is not the be all and end all of a visit to a venue, it is a significant factor that should not be overlooked.

The trick for operators is understanding how to ensure technology enhances rather than dominates their guests’ experience. Here are five findings from our research that should help operators achieve exactly that.

1. Cash is no longer king

In fact, according to the teenagers we spoke to, it may not even be a thing for much longer. More than half (56%) don’t believe that anyone will use cash to pay for things in 10 years’ time. Whether that’s prophetic or not, operators should invest more into cashless payment options, explore payment apps, and potentially look into the world of crypto currencies.

2. Social media marketing

Having a Facebook account that gets updated once a month isn’t going to cut it. Teenagers live on social – 68% of teenagers ‘always use social media’ –  and are likely to find you there first. In our survey we found that 42% visited a venue after seeing it online, so your reach, engagement and the impression (as well as impressions) you make, are only going to grow in importance. Operators will need to keep on top of emerging platforms and ensure that their venue provides a backdrop and theatre that is worth posting about. If operators nail this, they will be welcoming content creators and influencers into their business who could do a large part of their marketing for them.

3. Experimental entertainment

Entertainment in hospitality has evolved over the years while staying true to its traditional roots. Tech advances have given games such as darts and crazy golf a new lease of life and enhanced viewing and listening experiences when it comes to live sport and music. We do not anticipate a virtual reality headset on every available table anytime soon, but that’s not to say operators should not look at the opportunity in these areas. More than 90% of 16 to 24 year-olds class themselves as gamers (according to Statista), so it would be unwise to overlook this market. As one 17-year-old male told us: “I think I’ll want to try new things, I don’t want to be stuck in the past.”

4. Super slick integrated systems

Some forms of tech are simply a given. You have to have good Wi-Fi for a start. Similarly, as we have noted above, cashless payment is pretty much an essential too. Much of society has come to expect table service, the ability to book online and scan to see an online menu. Providing fully integrated systems will allow staff to focus on customer service and ensure guests receive the optimum experience they crave.  Further to that, teenagers will not just be your customers but also your workers. Virtual and augmented reality may have a place in your entertainment offer, but equally, they could play a part in staff recruitment, training and virtual tours of the business.

5. Tailored offers and deals… but tread carefully

How data is collected by businesses is a source of some conflict for teenagers. On one hand, we have 58% of teens telling us they are more likely to buy a product if it is tailored to them specifically, while on the other, only 33% are comfortable with brands keeping track of them by the things they buy. Even fewer, 27%, are comfortable with data being gathered from their social media accounts. They seem to want brands and businesses to understand them but without their online habits being monitored. This is an area where operators will have to make smart and considered judgment calls.

While there is bound to be a degree of ‘suck it and see’ to find out what works in individual businesses, it is clear from our research that the next generation of customers, thankfully, are keen to socialise and interact face-to-face.

Technology is bound to play a big role in enhancing that guest experience.

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