Today, travel doesn’t just stand for getting from one destination to another for millennials. Traveling is a part of their identity — a vital experience that helps them understand, grow and continuously reinvent their sense of self. In fact, it is so important to this generation that young adults rank travel as more important than escaping from their student loans, buying a “big ticket” item, improving relationships with family and friends or even starting a family of their own.
International travel is more accessible than ever before. Considering inflation rates, the real cost of travel has dropped significantly and brands like Airbnb that are disrupting the traditional travel market have created more opportunities for millennials to see the world than generations before them. This shift has altered the travel paradigm. Older consumers tend to consider travel a luxury. Millennials, on the other hand, view travel (especially international travel) as a vital component to their personal growth and life experience.
Considering the vast power this consumer group wields in the travel industry, it is imperative for brands to better understand who these millennial travelers are and what they expect from their travel experiences.
Experience is key
As millennials get older, their desire for shareable experiences has increased. These experiences range in magnitude and price but all have one thing in common: the experience millennials are looking for is not a commodity product. It is not something that can be packaged and sold on a store shelf or purchased in an online checkout cart. According to the latest research from Barkley, 55% of millennials agree that travel is all about discovery and adventure. As a result, when millennial travelers hit the road, they don’t see themselves as tourists — they are experience pioneers.
Millennials are digital travelers
Millennials are digitally native consumers who have been raised on Wi-Fi and have grown up with a smartphone in their pockets. For these consumers, digital connectivity is often considered as vital as any other basic human need, such as food or shelter.
Millennials have always had the luxury of accessing the infinitely informative digital universe to support their travel customer journey when it comes to travel planning, whereas older generations remember calling hotels to make reservations or working with a travel agent face-to-face for planning excursions. As a result, millennials are not merely embracing digital tools and resources, they’ve come to expect brands to leverage technology that removes friction, adds efficiency and simplicity and enhances their overall planning experience. According to Barkley, 75% of Millennials currently have travel apps on their phones.
We can no longer consider this generation of consumers to be young, impulsive buyers. Instead, we should view the millennial traveler as one of the savviest group of travel planners we’ve seen. For example, a millennial traveler may forgo the five-star hotel and instead opt for the cheaper two-star in order to budget for a cooking class and culinary immersion with local tastemakers.
This kind of confidence and willingness to research and weigh options has been the driving force behind the “travel hacking” trend. Travel-hacking millennials are making use of travel apps and online travel agents more than any other generation and they utilize the sharing economy to bypass the typically expensive taxis, restaurants, tours and lodging for more accessible, but still legitimate, alternatives.
By understanding the characteristics of the millennial traveler, brands can then determine how to gain their attention and loyalty. This is vital not only due to the sheer size and interest of this consumer group but also because of their impact on other generations of travelers. Millennials are, without question, influencing consumers up and down the generational line. Consider this: a 53-year-old woman may not be a millennial as defined by her age, but she is just as excited to order room service by emojis as her 23-year-old daughter. To advance in the face of this evolution, travel brands must maintain agility in a constantly evolving market.
Editor's note: This article originally appeared on April 20, 2017, in Marketing:Travel.