What the travel industry needs to know about the Millennial Traveler

The travel industry is scrambling to adapt to the Millennial Traveler. Most initiatives involve weak attempts at low-hanging fruits, like “let’s build a mobile optimized website” and “let’s do more with social media.” These no-brainer initiatives are table stakes to compete today, not ways to win in a new environment. The world has changed and it is time for the travel industry to stop being so slow to adapt. Here is what the industry need to understand about us, the Millennial Travelers.

Experiential Value Drives Spending

The travel industry criticizes our generation for not spending money on travel. This could not be more wrong. Our generation travels more often and further than any generation in history. The difference is how we spend money. We refuse to “waste” money on commodity offerings or things we can figure out ourselves. We will stay at a hostel, but eat a Michelin-star restaurant’s tasting menu. We will spend $1 on street food, but drink a $15 cocktail at a speakeasy. We will skip the hotel pickup upsell and call an Uber instead.

Struggling hotels are a perfect example of this. We want to stay out of our room and in the city exploring. Therefore, lodging is a commodity that doesn’t matter – unless it is an experience – which is why AirBnB is doing so well. When you stay at a local’s house, lodging evolves from a place to lay your head to part of your travel experience. You tell your friends about it. Baby Boomers had this desire for experience with services and luxury. The helpful concierge, the all-inclusive package, and the fixer that drove you around town made you feel like you made it in this world. You worked hard for 51 weeks and now someone will work hard for you. Millennial Travelers get this feeling by staying in a local’s home and immersing themselves in a neighborhood like they live there.

How to adapt: Focus on providing an experience and less on traditional services. Personalize something for the guest, show them something behind the scenes, or find a way to hook them up. Do something that creates a memory.

Self-expression and “Posticipation”

In the past, Baby Boomers showed off to their friends with a new state of the art kitchen appliance and a white picket fence. Millennial Travelers show off with their experience. It is the same psychological driver of importance, self-worth, and expression – it is just less material. Where you travel, how you travel, and what you do while you’re there says a lot about who you are. Are you the adventurous foodie that found the local street-food scene? Are you the person that gets to meet the chef at that exclusive restaurant? This self-expression is far more important than selecting a TripAdvisor Top 10 listing and having a satisfactory experience.

Anticipation for a trip has always been as exciting for travelers as the actual trip. But now, the post-trip experience is also just as fun. Posting photos on social media and sharing your tips with your friends are all an extension of the travel experience. You get to re-live your memories for even longer. I coined the term (as far as I know) “posticipation” (double meaning with post-trip and posting of photos) to explain this phenomenon.

How to adapt: Make sure your experience fits into Seth Godin’s tribe model of “people like us, do things like this.” And as much as this is a cliché, show a more local and authentic experience. Don’t forget to make sure your experience is Instagrammable too.

Autonomous Discovery

Millennial Travelers value freedom. We want to do what we want, when we want. For better or worse, we will often figure out Foursquare or Eater’s top restaurants nearby on our phone (or wander until something catches our eye) instead of asking for recommendations since it prevents FOMO and makes us feel like we discovered it.

How to adapt: Build trust with credibility, not control. Make your business attractive for the wandering outsider. Provide connectivity to support these activities. And from a marketing perspective, focus on having a strong presence on all the platforms the Millennial Traveler will use for discovery. Local travel and hospitality providers focuses far too much on TripAdvisor and Booking (although important), and far too little on Instagram, Foursquare, Yelp, and travel bloggers.


Hope my thoughts on the Millennial Traveler helped! If you liked it, please check out my travel app TripScout, follow me on Instagram, and sign up for my free newsletter.

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What the travel industry needs to know about the Millennial Traveler