How the Millennial Generation is Changing the Way we Travel

How the Millennial Generation is Changing the Way we Travel

Here come the Millennials!  Loosely defined as people born after the mid-1980s, Millennials currently account for 217 million trips, a number expected to rise to 320 million in 2020. According to David Chapman of the World Youth Student and Educational Travel Convention (WYSE), an expert on Millennial travellers, “These young travellers have accounted for at least 20% of international arrivals since the turn of the century and…likely to approach 25% before long.”

Gert Nieuwboer, general director of SNP Natuurreizen and creator of Millennial travel site, reminds us, “Tour operators and Millennials are not an easy match. Millennials generally compose their own trips, preferably on the spot using…travel sites, like-a-local, Facebook, reviews etc.). SNP, a classic adventure tour operator, is trying to reach to the Millennials with specialized products—at this moment, 10% of our travellers are Millennials.”

In order to welcome these new travellers, one must first understand them.

Firstly, Millennials (or Generation Y) travel more overall—on average 4.2 times a year, according to a survey by HVS Global Hospitality Services, as opposed to 2.9 or 3.2 for older generations, and 58% prefer travelling with friends. Important to note, “standard active holidays like walking and cycling holidays are ‘not their cup of tea’… that’s what their parents do,” Nieuwboer reminds us. “Millennials are about fast and varied activities: hiking, climbing, floating, canyoning, kayaking, MTB-biking, surfing, etc.”

The Fear of Missing Out is the malady of the Millennials. Stemming from the fear of being left behind when one’s friends are having more fun then you, the Millennials are continually looking for their next awesome adventure—a demand that the AT industry is primed to respond to!

Though budget-conscious, Millennials aren’t stingy. “You’d be making a huge mistake if you translate them as ‘cheap’. The 227 million young people that travelled in 2014 spent nearly USD 250 billion on travel,” Chapman states. “They will spend where they need to in order to curate that once-in-a-lifetime travel experience.”

Millennials also differ in wanting experiences, not souvenirs. Gone are travellers who fill their bags with knickknacks; instead, they want unique experiences, amazing photos, and cool stories to share on social media.

Generation Y hungers for authentic experiences and adrenaline rushes more than traditional historic landmarks—itching to get under the skin of their destination, break bread with locals, learn new skills, dive into a new culture.

“The top motivations for Millennials to travel, according to the WYSE Millennial Traveller Survey, are interacting with locals, experiencing everyday life in a destination, and increasing their knowledge,” Chapman confirms. “Where older travellers are likely to pursue relaxing activities…being in a calm atmosphere was actually one of the lowest priorities for Millennials.”

AT operators already prioritize unique experiences mixed with physical activities, meeting local people and going into nature, providing compelling memories and stories to take home. To cater to the Millennial generation, AT operators can create dynamic itineraries to meet their adventurous expectations. Nieuwboer at SNP states: “We’ve come up with two separate portfolios for the Millennials: 1. BED&2DO – a program of short adventures (2-3 days) in Europe booked on the spot to enrich their vacation; and 2. YOMADS, a program of adventure group tours for international young people with a strict age-cap (20-39). In addition, only uses social media for its marketing purposes.”

Speed is essential. Millennials want information now, and if online information takes too long to find, they will simply find a new site, often turning to information giants such as Google, Tripadvisor, etc. This isn’t ideal, as the operator has little control over the content. To adapt, operators should make all online information organised, easy to find, and up-to-date.

The expression “there’s an app for everything” isn’t a joke for Millennials—apps and mobile versions are essential for operators! According to an Expedia survey, 49% of Generation Y use smartphones to plan a trip, 40% to share while abroad, and 35% to book trips. The WYSE survey states mobile bookings have increased twofold this year, and on average Millennials check their mobiles every five minutes! As Millennials come from the age of technology, they expect instant email confirmation, mobile sites, immediate information, and digital tickets. They expect to use mobiles to find and book activities, change reservations, and even work.

They also have a higher trust in fellow Internet users. Reviews, opinions, personal blogs and social media have a strong influence. Reminding guests to leave recommendations or ‘like’ social media pages will help capture future travellers.

“Freedom is very important [for Millennials],” says Nieuwboer. “They don’t want to book their whole trip in advance; they want the ability to decide on the spot.”

Last (but not least!), sharing is key. Millennials need to ‘validate’ their lives by posting their trips online, thereby requiring sufficient Internet, cool photos, and experiences worthy of an Instagram photo and blog post. Previewing ways to allow guests to bring along cameras, utilize real-time social media reporting, and provide stunning photo ops is paramount. Social media sites that guests can ‘like’ or link to continues the experience afterwards. Chapman advises operators to “listen to Millennials’ needs and wants. It’s never been easier than with social media to listen and respond to your customers!”

“I think it’s safe to say that younger travellers are the trailblazers of travel,” Chapman concludes. “Their behaviors and preferences shape the products and services that the travel industry develops, many of which are later adopted by mainstream travellers. This is what I mean when I say that every traveller is a millennial traveller.


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Dawn Rainboltin is an associate for the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA), an association with over a 1,000 members in 80 countries worldwide. Members include tour operators, tourism boards, specialty agents and accommodations with a vested interest in the sustainable development of adventure tourism. Based in Lyon, France while getting her Master’s Degree in International Marketing and Global Tourism, Dawn works on the ATTA’s European team to deliver articles highlighting European trends relevant to the adventure tourism industry. Though American by nationality, she harbors a great love for traveling, adventure, and Europe, and has visited nearly 30 countries—mostly in Europe—including living abroad in England, Spain, Poland and now France.

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