Start Thinking about Millennial Travel as a Mindset, Not an Age Group
Much is being made of what will soon be the largest age cohort in the United States, the vaunted millennial generation. As with younger generations in past eras, it is easy to fall into a narrative of stereotyping without seeing the larger picture. To cast Millennials with a broad brush that plays up the follies and freedom of youthful, care-free lifestyles without understanding that they have both new and traditional views on everything from politics to travel is a marketing misstep. For the travel industry, we think the bigger story is that the mindset of Millennials is not only quite varied within its defined age range of 18–34, but more importantly that the group's behaviors are being mimicked in some important ways by travelers of all ages.
Who are Millennials?
Well, if you're between the ages of 15 and 34, you are officially a Millennial. For MMGY travel studies, we omit the surveying of 15–18 year olds, leaving us with a look at 84 million individuals that have both common traits and quite diverse habits. For starters, there is no age group in history that has endured a more significant life transition across several decades that saw mind-blowing technological and social change. And as this group represents quite different life stages, from student to ambitious job seeker, to young spouse and/or parent, we also see travel and shopping habits that are informed by these life changes. Consequently, behaviors vary quite substantially as Millennials grow older, and they certainly do not fall into one monolithic bucket. A recent study from the National Association of Realtors even indicates older Millennials are moving to the suburbs. Yes, the suburbs. Consider, too, that Millennials with families spend twice as much on travel as couples in the same age category. Or how about the fact that mobile device interactions decrease significantly for Millennials over the age of 27. Or that Millennials are starting new businesses at the highest rate in 20 years. The point is, if you are picturing your young consumer as a bearded, thousand-texts-a-day, living-with-their-parents nomad, you are completely missing the mark. As marketers pivot to take advantage of this demographic, spending 500% more on this one age group than all others combined, it is vital to understand the nuances of their behaviors if you want to win their hearts and wallets.
Yes, younger Americans are more likely to check their mobile device first thing in the morning and it's the last thing they do at night, and they certainly have tendencies to explore both technology and the world in a more inquisitive way. In fact, while over one billion vacation days go unused in the U.S. each year, don't blame Millennials. They use their available days off at the highest rate and set aside those days for travel. They also utilize social networks and shared-economy suppliers at the highest rate. But guess what? They use brick-and-mortar travel agents at the highest incidence (likely due to their relative inexperience), plan to take a cruise at the highest rate (51%) amongst US travelers and even show a pre-disposition to take, god forbid, a staycation at roughly the same rate as an international trip. Indeed, they are a diverse and eclectic group.
So what about Millennials represents a new mindset being embraced by all travelers?
The generation that has used both VCRs and streaming video services, played Nintendo 64 before they moved on to XBox Live and remembers 9/11 as one of its defining life moments has defined itself in some meaningful ways that pervade society overall. Three of the most important of these truths include the adoption of shared services; the way in which people now openly share information with both close friends and complete strangers; and, finally, the widespread societal move to collect experiences as a far more important social currency than collecting physical things.
1) Shared Services
AirBNB and Uber were started by Millennials, and in the beginning they were primarily consumed by Millennials. But not so today. According to the MMGY Global 2015 Portrait of American Travelers®, intent to use a shared travel service in the GenX and Baby Boomer age cohorts is getting close to par with the younger set, and even Matures (65+) are increasingly turning to the non-traditional as travel service of choice. VRBO has been around for decades, but Millennials have brought a new mindset to the utility and "hipness" of these alternatives and driven their growth across all demographics.
2) Open Sharing of Information
Whether it's Snapchat videos from last night's big party (or even worse) or offering Instagram endorsements for the best hotels and attractions, Millennials have made it acceptable to share much more online and, moreover, share unabashedly their experiences and opinions. From our traveler panels, we know that 25% of all Facebook travel posts are entirely about "making friends and family jealous." We also see in our research that online reviews from perfect strangers can often affect travel decisions to a greater degree than interpersonal conversations with family; this is a phenomenon started by Millennials during their formative years.
3) Experiences Trump Things
Previous generations in both the GenX and Boomer age cohorts collected things (and some still do). Whether it be the sports car, vacation home, art and wine, or jewelry, the success of wealth in the 80s and 90s was flaunted in social circles as owned extravagances. Not so with the new, upwardly mobile youth. In many cases today it is more important to visit Kenya than it is to wear the latest Jimmy Choos. Partly due to a truly new spirit amongst 20- and 30-year-olds to see the world and share emotional memories with a larger world view, and partly because these experiences can be merchandised online as ego-currency. Increasingly, we see this as a common motif with older consumers, too – the creation of experiences that are new, unique and shareable.
As you consider how to engage the tastemakers and influencers of the consumer landscape, it is right to pay close attention to Millennials. They're a growing and sustainable customer base. But it is crucial to see the nuances of this group's behaviors as well as their influence that portends a change in the way in which all travelers see the world.