Industry insights

Millennial Travelers – Preferences that matter

About 9 months ago I published a study on the preferences and patterns of Millennial Travelers in which I concluded that in most ways this large and influential group is a lot like the rest of us. More importantly, to the extent that salient differences can be detected, the size of the gaps between ‘them’ and ‘us’ (whatever that means to you), are shrinking because we are all becoming more Millennial.

In the subsequent months I have been searching for a difference between Millennials that the travel industry can latch onto to make inroads with this segment. The good news is that I think I found something worth pondering; the bad news is that it presents a challenge our industry is not ready to address. Oddly enough, this insight came to me when talking to a person in their 20s about yoga. Whereas I was interested in knowing what style of yoga they were into and what studio they went to practice, their orientation to the topic and the language they used was revealing. Instead of mentioning a specific gym or giving a set of cross streets, they talked about their ‘yoga teacher’ and indicated that they practiced with this person in several difference places. This conversation took place weeks ago, and it has taken me just that long to understand why this orientation is so unique.

For people who have spent a lot of time curating their personal brand (offline and of course online) the tendency to eschew a specific yoga shop in favor of a personal expert makes perfect sense. The yoga shop is impersonal, possibly corporate, and decidedly non-exclusive. Talking about a personal teacher or guide, on the other hand, is extremely personal and directly tailored to the needs of the individual student. More importantly, if this private guru has a unique brand or identity (which they no doubt will if a large portion of their students talk about them in this way), then the student gets to associate with that brand.

So what does this reveal about Millennials, and what does it mean for travel? In truth, maybe more than I have figured out at this stage, but for starters it definitely bears on the personalization theme that runs through our sector and it might well have implications for the travel agent community. Personal service delivery for a Millennial may be a lot less about what was actually provided, and much more about how the service was rendered and with whom the relationship exists. I doubt very much that a Millennial traveler will proudly proclaim that ‘ABC travel agency helped book a trip to Bora Bora’, but I would not be surprised to hear them say that ‘Gina, my travel lady, found the perfect over the water suite in French Polynesia’.  The difference is subtle but important.

The key lesson from our Millennial study is that travel companies should aim to win these travelers by recognizing that they are not a single monolithic set, but that they should instead seek to understand and satisfy their unique personal preferences. Maybe the same approach needs to work for the impersonal collective of experts we call the travel company. Instead of building up a single travel brand – ABC travel agency, for example – travel companies would do well to brag about having access to well known travel gurus. In other words, travel brands need to build the individual eminence of their employees and then foster a meaningful connection between specific employees and specific customers. In this revised model the travel company becomes the conduit for connection between two interesting and unique individuals.

As an industry, we are a long way from facilitating this sort of relationship. The good news is that many of the basic tools that would help bring about this type of interaction have been proven. What is more, it is easy to imagine that this type of personalization would not only be interesting to younger travelers, but that it could transform the way us older folks see travel brands too.

IBM Institute for Business Value, Global Travel & Transportation Lead

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