Digital natives. It’s an odd sounding phrase but one that is rapidly gaining momentum in discussions across today’s travel and tourism industry. As the travel business diversifies and more specific segments of the general market appear, digital natives is perhaps the newest demographic in this wave. Slightly younger than the millennial generation - which is most commonly considered to be born between the mid 1980’s and mid 1990’s - digital natives are those travelers born even more recently and who grew up in an age where digital technology always existed.
The internet. Smartphones. Mobile applications. These technologies have been part of the digital native experience and have shaped what this generation expects out of their travel experiences. Because these technologies are so familiar to digital natives, travel companies - in particular travel agents and tour operators - need to adapt how they appeal to this generation.
But how? What aspects of travel are most important to digital natives? What do they value? Where should travel companies place their emphasis on attracting this new breed of traveler? Here are a handful of characteristics travel companies should be mindful of when attempting to reach digital natives.
The Sharing Economy
The rise of the sharing economy in today’s travel industry via Airbnb and other shared-lodging platforms is an added value for digital natives who seek alternatives to costly hotel rates and fees. Whereas ten years ago hostels and other shared-lodging opportunities would have been essential to digital natives, the internet has allowed for young tourists to secure comfortable, luxurious accommodations for a fraction of the price of big hotel chains. For travel companies to remain competitive to digital natives, discounted room rates for lodging with fewer amenities - shared bathrooms or even micro hotels - can be key to driving digital natives back to hotels. In addition, many digital natives are willing to sacrifice location for more reasonable rates - for example, lodging near the airport versus in the center of the city.
Importance of Authenticity
As with millennial travelers, authenticity and experiencing the heart and soul of a destination is a key driver in where digital natives decide to visit and for how long. In part due to necessity - digital natives obviously don’t have the resources luxury travelers enjoy - digital natives are willing to trade time and convenience for truly unique cultural experiences that highlight the traditions and heritage of the place they’re visiting. Much like how they appeal to other, more adventurous market segments, tour operators should capitalize on the cultural relevancy and individualized nature of the tours and activities they promote offer - for example, digital natives may have little interest in visiting an art museum, however, a local food market may provide a more significant, meaningful cultural experience.
Connectivity is Key
Because digital natives grew up in an era with access to mobile technology and the internet, these tools are like second nature to them. This means digital natives are always connected, always on-the-go, and very much concerned with the ability to interact with friends - and companies - via social media, mobile applications, and real-time chat services. Not only do digital natives share their travel experiences often as they’re happening via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, they also expect travel companies to utilize these platforms as well. Whether it’s completing a booking or troubleshooting a delay or cancellation, travel companies must leverage 24/7 connectivity to reach digital natives where they spend a majority of their time: online.
Through these steps, travel companies can be well outfitted to understand and interact digital native travelers. Establishing successful customer relations strategies with this demographic will go a long way in helping travel companies cement lasting relationships with digital natives as they continue to grow and become a more economically influential segment of the travel industry. In short, appealing to this segment of the market now can pay dividends for travel companies in the near, mid, and long-term future.