Generational disruption and other buzz words…..

An old joke in the ‘80s and ‘90s was “ I bought a video recorder that was ‘so simple, a 5 year-old could program it’. I ended up having to get my 5 year-old to program it as I couldn’t’.”

That five year old is now likely a Millennial generation adult and is having a major disruptive effect on the whole of the tourism industry.

The Millennial generation now comprises around 25% of the US population according to the US Census Bureau and they travel a great deal. PhoCusWright reports that 71% take at least one trip of three nights or less, 42% travel internationally (compared with 28% of older travelers), and they are twice as likely as older generations to take longer trips of 14 nights or more.

The Millennial generation also travel differently than previous generations in that they don’t always stay in hotels. They stay with friends and they use services like Airbnb. They don’t always use taxis, car services or rental cars – they use Uber and Lyft.

Unlike previous generations, they may take more trips but spend less. They are more connected, with 90% owning a smart phone – compared to 57% of older travelers – which 66% use to shop or buy travel. They use a wide variety of sources for their research and booking from OTAs, review sites like TripAdvisor and of course peer advice shared through a whole raft of social networking.

According to Samantha Worgull of ‘Hotel News Now’ and PhoCusWright, Millennials tend to book at the last minute with 23% booking less than one week before departure.

They seek experiences and want to share those with their peers and families through social networks. Experience is the whole raison d’etre for their traveling. No matter if this foodie, eco-tourism, adventure or pure excitement. The simple fact is that this group want to do more than lie on a beach.

To return to the old joke about video recorders, those same adults who sought advice from their children are now Boomers and are again seeking advice from their Millennial offspring. They want to where and how to buy their travel. They want reassurance that Airbnb or Uber are safe.

Marcello Gasdia, senior analyst of consumer research at PhoCusWright said during a recent conference “Millennials have been the trend setters, they are the ambassadors of technology.”

So, this is the disruptive influence the Millennial generation is having on the whole tourism industry:

They book late
They look for value
They seek experiences
They share their trips with others
They research intensively
They influence older travelers

How does this affect the traditional providers of tourism products?

For airlines and hotels the loyalty of the Millennial traveler cannot be guaranteed. Many fewer are members of loyalty programs, 22% compared with 41% of older travelers. The inference is that they may not trust the advertising and promotion of established companies blindly. They are more likely to take advice from friends and independent reviews, and change their booking habits accordingly.

Travel agents as we knew them are largely a thing of the past, particularly in the USA. In Europe and Canada the situation is slightly different but certainly the old style travel agent is dead. In their continuing quest for value, On-Line Travel Agents (OTAs like Expedia) are well in the mix to seek bargains and value. Anything that is not an ‘experience’ like a conventional hotel room or condo becomes a commodity, to be booked wherever the best deal can be found – preferably at the last moment.

The last minute tourist is still looking for the destination experience, the tour (hopefully not conventional but personally led by a local!) or activity will probably be left until arrival when the weather and local area has been checked out. Tour and activity booking specialist TripShock! confirm that most of their bookings are made after a guest arrives in the destination. Where does the Millennial tourist find the information? Again, peer advice or advice of a local. Local tourist boards (CVBs, Chambers of Commerce and similar organizations) are seemingly trustworthy sources, particularly in areas where the likes of TripAdvisor or Expedia do not have much content (Virtually everywhere except places like Orlando, New York or Las Vegas!).

The problem with local tourist organizations is that on the whole they further refer visitors to individual tour providers for follow up. Given the attention span of website visitors, they want to get advice and book there an then, not have to make lists and do even more research.

Experience from tourist organizations in New Orleans shows that if they offer advice and reviews and then enable on-site, immediate booking it results in more bookings for local businesses, happy tourists and a bonus of commission payments to the tourist board.

Disruption is a current buzz-word, but the Millennial generation has disrupted life in the tourism industry worldwide. Not only by their different travel habits and use of technology; their search for ‘experience’ and value, but also their influence on the other generations of traveler. Particularly the Boomer generation. The important factor with this group is that they have more opportunity to travel and have a higher disposable income. They also learn fast when it comes to technology.

The Boomers also learnt, back in the day, to listen to their offspring……

Not willing to just sit on the beach......
Not willing to just sit on the beach……

A free gift……

I recently celebrated yet another birthday. They appear to come alarmingly more frequent. As a kid I used to count the birthday cards but now count, with amazement, the number of good wishes I receive via social media. The greetings come from the world over as my friends and family get spread further and further.

In the old days of course, one had to make a great effort of keeping a birthday book, buying a card, the correct value in stamps and remembering to put the card in the mail. These days, thanks to technology, we’re reminded automatically and all it requires is to post ‘Happy Birthday’ and to add an emoji or an imaginative sticker, gif or what have you.

That’s not to deride the process as I for one really (no, honestly, REALLY) like to wish my friends the best on their birthdays and appreciate being able to do so easily and across the world. The technology is a huge help to my memory and I love (thank you Mr Zuckerberg) being able to maintain contact with contacts from school, various workplaces as well as family, wherever they may be.

However I digress from what I intended to write.

I also received messages from a number of businesses that want my business. Starbucks for example. I’m a gift card spending , app using, loyalty card carrying Starbucks follower and of course they have my birthdate. So I get the message offering a free coffee. I know that this is an automatic system that just pings off the email, and I know that the free coffee costs virtually nothing. I also recognize that I probably won’t even claim my gift. But it makes me feel good none the less. My ego thinks they really care, even if my marketing brain knows different.

So, tourism people, when that client registered on your website did you collect the birthday information? More to the point, when that traveler made a booking six months out from their travel date did you contact them during those months other than to send them a balance invoice?

Back in the 70s and 80s the travel agency I worked in used to make a calendar entry for all their clients bookings and regularly sent out postcards to the clients saying ‘only two months to your trip’, or ‘are you packing yet?’. We even considered sending postcards from their destination to keep the excitement going. It was a chore, delegated to the office junior, but mighty effective. We also sent out cards after the vacation asking how the trip had been, and later reminding them that as six months had past, they needed another break! The customers loved it and kept coming back.

These days all that information is easy to collect automatically (no need for the office junior!) and scheduling the emails, FB messages etc., requires little or no work. Cheap too – no postcards, stamps, addresses to look up or trips to the mail.

My free birthday gift to all of you in travel and tourism is to make use of your databases. Send out messages reminding people about their forthcoming vacation, thank them for their past trip (no, not the customer satisfaction survey, but a genuine ‘thanks for visiting and we want you back’ message), or even a ‘we’re missing you’ email.

For DMOs, when your collecting likes on Facebook, or addresses in your database, follow up with a message asking if they’ve booked? Send them Holiday Greetings – personalized of course – from The Sunshine State, The Red Fish Coast or wherever you are.

Yes, it’s corny. Yes, the customer knows it’s automatic. But they also, deep inside, appreciate it.

It’s like thanking them for their good review of TripAdvisor. It shows you’re listening and that, behind the technology, you do actually care.

Oh, and in case  missed it – Happy Birthday!Birthday Cards