Who are the millennials and why are they important to your travel business? It’s certainly no problem finding articles identifying millennials by the numbers: did you know they check their smartphone 45 times a day, and are 50+% more likely to ditch search engines and email in favor of social networks to find brand content? Or that 44% of them praise or flame product and services experiences with text messages and 38% of them use social media to do the same?
In fact, millennials are a widely diverse group, and any implication it can be accurately characterized by various data points is misleading.Demographically speaking, the group is defined as those born between 1980 and 2000 – or 15 to 35 years old. Does any doubt fifteen year old girls check smart phones 45 times a day? Does anyone believe 35 year old men do the same? The age band is simply too broad to support general assumptions about specific behaviors, not to mention it also covers the span in which people mature to adulthood: young adolescents go into the group and mature adults come out.
Adult millennials are important to the travel industry and your travel business because they are the next wave of customers. As such, it’s a good business strategy to capture them as customers now and focus on retention, rather be forced to peel them away from the competition over time.
How different are Millennial Travelers?
Adult millennials travelers are the new wave of travelers, replacing baby boomers – those born during 1946 and 1964, ranging in age between 51 and 69, who are now becoming senior travelers; a valuable but declining travel market.
In order to inspire millennials and capture their disposable income, the travel industry must recognize that this group has not only grown up with technology, but also with life events and conditions common to preceding demographic groups. An effective engagement strategy will focus on what makes this new customer segment unique and also on what it has it common with others.
Technology: there’s no question this group brings an uncommon technology comfort and use level to the travel industry. However, it would be a mistake to view technology as a change agent for travel preferences and buying patterns, rather than being a powerful enabler for decision-making and purchasing. In terms of technology, the singular distinction for millennials is how rapidly smartphones and tablets have penetrated the world during their lifetime: computers took 13 years to reach 40% of consumers while the Internet took 5 years – yet smartphones hit 40% in just 2.5 years.
The biggest impact of technology on the travel industry is not in transformed customers but in transformed business models, those transformations began with desktop computers and Internet connections. Only the rate of these transformations during the millennial timeline is different.
Disposable Income: Every generation has struggled with disposable income during the ages of 21-35; it’s a commonsense reality of young adulthood. Money is tight until careers begin to climb; it’s tight again as young marrieds save toward a house and continues as their children arrive. Millennials, however, have matured during historically poor economic times. Their low disposable income is changing the timing of those lifecycle decisions: careers are stunted by the economy; many young people have yet to move into apartments – much less buy houses; numbers of marriages and children are at all-time lows. Lack of disposable income is unique to this group and – far more than new technology – has created a new travel customer.
Inspiring Millennial Travelers
So, if a thin wallet is a more powerful change agent for this group than the smart phone in their hands, how can travel companies inspire and turn them into customers?
Facebook: Facebook should be part of a travel company’s marketing plan; it’s popular with millennials and promoted posts can turn 12% of viewers into website visitors. Facebook supports booking widgets and is an effective way to share travel content and media with a wide audience. Inbound marketing is another essential social media marketing channel that leverages blogs, twitter, LinkedIn, etc. to build and manage the sales funnel.
Instagram Hashtag Contests: who’s better suited to a photo contest than a travel company? Encourage people to post travel pictures on Instagram with a contest hashtag, then display all the pictures on the company website or Facebook page. The displayed pictures can be shared, liked and voted on – with sharing and liking increasing the reach and impact of the contest on awareness and traffic.
Discounts, Promotions & Progressive Bargains: with scarce disposable income, millennials are motivated by discounts. For example, retail stores report combining Facebook posts with discounts spiked responses from 12% (see above) to 40%, a tactic every travel company should consider tailoring to its products and services. Design promotional travel packages aligned with millennial lifestyles: target travel windows such as summer breaks, spring breaks or holiday periods – then market them with social media channels. Create progressive travel bargains tied to the number of friends and family joining your customer on trips and excursions.
Publish Customer Experiences: what recommendation could be more powerful than a customer’s own blog post and media illustrating the amazing travel experience they had with your company? Seek out and make it easy for customers to submit content based on the recent travel bookings. As with the Instagram contest, encourage accepted guest submissions to cultivate shares and likes among their online community – extending the reach of this content far beyond current travel website traffic.
Easy Customizations: make it easy for customers to customize their travel. With millennials, customization doesn’t just mean different bells and whistles to make a trip unique, it can also mean mixing and matching splurges and belt-tightening to deliver value that’s meaningful for that specific traveler. For example, many in this demographic group prefer to spend nights in a windowless cruise cabin – then spend days on more expensive and localized shore excursions. The more your company makes these offsetting choices intuitive and a natural part of the buying process, the more customers it will find in this demographic group – along with like-minded friends.
Avoid Technology Missteps: this new generation is so comfortable with technology they rarely even notice its presence. But they do notice its absence and especially its misuse. One of the most grievous technology missteps is a nonresponsive website: one that functions well on a desktop or laptop screen; marginally on a tablet screen and poorly on a smart phone. Given today’s design tools, there’s no excuse for a site to have this failing – but many do. Unless your company has a responsive travel website, it’s not open for business with a large segment of the Internet audience.