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Millennial travel

Millennials love to travel. They travel more often than other generations for business (4.7 times each year) and leisure (4.2 times per year). They already spend roughly $200 billion a year on travel as 22% of all travelers, and that spending will only increase. Millennials spent 20% more on travel in 2014 than 2013.

This is good news for the hospitality industry, but only for companies who understand Millennials’ unique travel expectations. Millennials are not driven by the same travel needs as other generations. Millennials want to gain experience, recognition, and value by saving, earning, and learning while traveling.

Technology, Trophies, and Trauma

The Millennial generation has been shaped by three forces: Technology, Trophies, and Trauma. They are digital natives born with free and reliable WiFi, and are helpless without their technology.

Constantly connected to social media and their smartphones, Millennials’ love of technology pervades all areas of their travel. Nearly half (49%) search for travel on their smartphones. Millennials are highly engaged with social media while searching for travel destinations (87% of Millennials use Facebook for travel inspiration, and over 50% use Twitter and Pinterest).

While traveling 97% of Millennials use social media, and 75% post to social networks at least once a day while traveling. In place of participation trophies, Millennial travelers count “likes,” “favorites,” and retweets on their social media updates. While sharing their travel experiences, Millennials are also influencing their peers. They discover new travel opportunities through peers writing on personal social media, but also through company review sites like TripAdvisor, Yelp, and Airbnb.

Millennials claim this user-generated content (a product review, blog post, or status update written by a consumer rather than a company) influences their decisions more so than any advertisement (84%), while 71% typically share their opinion of a product because they think other consumers will value the input. 

Raised by helicopter parents, rewarded for even the smallest achievements, Millennials expect trophies for everything.  After receiving so much praise growing up, Millennials crave attention and recognition for everything they do—this is the generation that photographs their lunch, after all. There is Instagram after all. This “Pics or it Didn’t Happen” mentality is both shaped and supported by their relationship to technology.

Millennials also grew up in a world shaped by the traumas of the 9/11 attacks, two ongoing wars, back-to-back recessions, natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, and man-made environmental disasters. The rug has been pulled out from under their feet again and again, and so they crave stability.

These influencers (the three Ts: technology, trophies, and trauma) have already changed the way Millennials live and spend, and are shaping their travel habits, too.

Because they were so often rewarded growing up, Millennials value things that appeal to their sense of uniqueness. This has made Millennials less interested in packaged travel, like the cruises and beach-and-bars vacations of older generations. They want custom travel experiences that reinforce their individuality. Two-thirds (66%) of Millennials value unique experiences while traveling, compared with 50% of older age groups. They demand personalized treatment from travel companies, and want customized options when traveling internationally and domestically.

Industry experts have acknowledged this need for unique travel and created new brands, like brite spokes, exclusively to create custom, experience-focused trips. New apps and websites are making custom travel excursions easier to incorporate into larger trips, too. The website Spotted by Locals uses vetted “Spotters” to create mobile and online city guides from local perspectives, while Vayable uses Millennial insiders to create and lead personalized, private tours in art, fashion, design, eating, drinking, architecture, history, outdoors, or cultural experiences.

And, of course, Millennials can avoid traditional lodging by staying in one of the 1,000,000 Airbnb locations spread across 190 countries.

Obtaining Value While Traveling

Millennials came of age during the Great Recession, took on student loans from $20-30K, then faced unemployment rates nearly 10% higher than older generations after graduating. They may have even had to move back in with their parents after college.

Financial concerns cause them to delay major life events, like homeownership and marriage. To say Millennials are thrifty is an understatement: because of the financial traumas they’ve grown up with, they don’t want to pay full price for anything, ever, including travel. Millennials want to gain value from their travel, either by earning/saving money or by Learning something new.

Millennials check an average of 10 sources before making travel purchases to make sure they pay as little as possible. While traveling, they expect to earn rewards to use for other trips: 77% of Millennials participate in rewards programs, while 78% report being more likely to purchase from a brand with a rewards program. 

Millennials also squeeze more value from their business trips by extending them into personal vacations: 62% of Millennials did so in the last year, compared to 51% of Gen-Xers and 37% of Baby Boomers. Instead of paying for hotel rooms, Millennials might use websites and apps to discover alternate, cheaper accommodations, pay for their lodging with labor exchange, like Organic Farming, or stay for free while couch surfing.

Learning and Earning and Paying for Travel

Millennials also expect to gain value by learning while traveling. A vast majority (78%) of Millennials indicated they prefer to learn something new, such as a language or skill when traveling. Millennials want to break from traditional tours to explore and learn from the communities they visit, from the culture to the food.

In a recent study, 70% of Millennials stated they expect their travel destinations to offer immersive, interactive, and hands-on experiences for these reasons. Several hotel chains have paired Millennials’ preference for learning while traveling with their desire to make the world a better place by offering “Reading Road Trips” into local schools and “Give Back Getaway” programs with two-and four-hour opportunities to package and distribute food to families in need. Both programs are easily incorporated into larger vacations, giving Millennials opportunities to learn as part of traditional accommodations.

The Bottom Line
Meeting the needs of Millennial travelers as they form lifelong spending habits means more than starting a Twitter account and offering free WiFi.

The same factors that have shaped Millennial thinking and spending have changed their travel expectations. The technology, trophies, and trauma Millennials grew up with have led to their desire for experience, recognition, and value while traveling.

Reaching and retaining this growing customer base requires companies to appeal not to just one of the travel drivers—or even meeting them all individually—but in finding areas where these influences overlap to create unique, shareable, and valuable travel experiences.

The G Brief is the digital magazine published by Urbaneer Creative. We’re a boutique consultancy focused on helping clients better understand and engage the Millennial generation. Reach out to see what we can do for you.