The Rise of the Millennial Traveler

by Greg Oates + Skift Team - Jan 2014

Skift Research Take

With Millennials expected to soon surpass Boomers in overall travel spending, hotels, booking sites and destination marketing organizations (DMOs) are retooling their product, branding, business models and communication methods. Here’s what they should prepare for.

Report Overview

Millennials: The Connected Generation / Courtesy: Aloft Hotels

With Millennials/Generation Y expected to soon surpass Boomers in overall travel spending, hotels, booking sites and destination marketing organizations (DMOs) are retooling their product, branding, business models and communication methods. However, many established players in the travel and hospitality industries are simply applying cosmetic changes to outdated methodologies. This is due to an under-appreciation of the magnitude of changes looming in the future, and a lack of true understanding about the root factors underpinning the motivations of Millennial travelers.

Presently, a large percentage of hotels and DMOs believe that technology and social media are the answer to engage Millennials. That’s true, but it’s only half of the answer. According to keynote speaker Jason Dorsey (The Gen Y Guy), Millennials are not necessarily technologically savvy; they’re technologically dependent. That dependence is merely a conduit through which to dream, research, share and experience travel. It is not the travel experience itself.

The biggest travel trends today, especially for Millennials, revolve around personalization and connectivity. The successful travel provider in the future will incorporate technology to deliver the ultimate travel aspiration for Millennials: Highly personalized experiences shared within larger connected networks of like-minded travelers—both real and virtual.

In other words, Millennials want more, and they’ve redefined “more.” They want the freedom to do what they want, when and how they want to, and they want to share those experiences with friends, family and colleagues when and how they want to.

Chris Klauda, a VP at travel and hospitality market research company D. K. Shifflet & Associates, discussed this in the The New York Times last year. Describing the Millennial desire to connect online in hotel lobbies versus guest rooms, he said, “We coined the phrase ‘isolated togetherness.’“

Michael Tiedy, senior VP of brand design/innovation at Starwood Hotels, puts it even more succinctly: “Millennials like to be alone, together.”

We call it the rise of independent social travel.

Executive Summary

Millennials: The Connected Generation / Courtesy: Aloft Hotels

With Millennials/Generation Y expected to soon surpass Boomers in overall travel spending, hotels, booking sites and destination marketing organizations (DMOs) are retooling their product, branding, business models and communication methods. However, many established players in the travel and hospitality industries are simply applying cosmetic changes to outdated methodologies. This is due to an under-appreciation of the magnitude of changes looming in the future, and a lack of true understanding about the root factors underpinning the motivations of Millennial travelers.

Presently, a large percentage of hotels and DMOs believe that technology and social media are the answer to engage Millennials. That’s true, but it’s only half of the answer. According to keynote speaker Jason Dorsey (The Gen Y Guy), Millennials are not necessarily technologically savvy; they’re technologically dependent. That dependence is merely a conduit through which to dream, research, share and experience travel. It is not the travel experience itself.

The biggest travel trends today, especially for Millennials, revolve around personalization and connectivity. The successful travel provider in the future will incorporate technology to deliver the ultimate travel aspiration for Millennials: Highly personalized experiences shared within larger connected networks of like-minded travelers—both real and virtual.

In other words, Millennials want more, and they’ve redefined “more.” They want the freedom to do what they want, when and how they want to, and they want to share those experiences with friends, family and colleagues when and how they want to.

Chris Klauda, a VP at travel and hospitality market research company D. K. Shifflet & Associates, discussed this in the The New York Times last year. Describing the Millennial desire to connect online in hotel lobbies versus guest rooms, he said, “We coined the phrase ‘isolated togetherness.’“

Michael Tiedy, senior VP of brand design/innovation at Starwood Hotels, puts it even more succinctly: “Millennials like to be alone, together.”

We call it the rise of independent social travel.

Introduction

Promo from Contiki Vacations / Courtesy: Contiki Vacations

Promo from Contiki Vacations / Courtesy: Contiki Vacations

During the annual World Education Conference for group travel planners in 2011, Paul Snyder, VP of corporate responsibility for InterContinental Hotels, said, “You know, when it comes to trends in tourism, we in the large hotel industry are always the last to catch up.” As you will see in this report, the large chains are making significant strides to stay relevant with the next generation of travelers, fueled by a mounting body of research surrounding Millennial travel trends.

With travel behaviors shifting so quickly, ignoring those trends runs the risk of obsolescence. As Jeff Bezos, founder/CEO of Amazon was quoted in the Washington Post last year, “All businesses need to be young forever. If your customer base ages with you, you’re Woolworth’s.”

Technology has given us the opportunity to explore the world both live and virtually, anytime and anywhere, through an endless variety of professional travel websites, amateur travel blogs, travel apps, peer review platforms and social media.

That is fueling a constant, unquenchable demand for content. The most innovative travel suppliers are providing that content for those ubiquitous communication streams based on the travel experiences they offer. For Millennials, who’ve grown up during the digital era, they are engaging with these suppliers and their content through an incredible amount of online research.

How companies communicate to Millennials is often as important as what they communicate. Travel suppliers with robust digital theaters incorporating high-impact blogs, product/service reviews and real-time social media immediately define themselves as relevant to Millennials, aka, “Generation Now.”

Driving all of this is the quest for “authentic travel experiences,” which has become a rampant cliche but its importance cannot be diminished. Going back to the personalization megatrend in travel, Millennials want a travel experience that is curated by themselves as much as possible, combining a spectrum of people, places and events that cannot be replicated. The standardized travel product is dead and/or dying for this age group of travelers.

Millennial Trends

The next gen travel consumer / Courtesy: Marketing to Millennials

The next gen travel consumer / Courtesy: Marketing to Millennials

Marketing to a Generation That Can’t Easily Be Labeled

The volume of published information and opinion about Millennials/Gen Y, has exploded over the last two years. Oftentimes, it is either conflicting or oversimplified because the Millennial demographic is frequently labelled and defined as a homogenous whole. Or, Gen Y is simply disregarded, defined solely by their usage of social media.

The age range of Millennials depends on who you talk to, spanning those born from 1980 through 2000. For those years, U.S Census Bureau statistics show that Millennials (approx. 85 million) exceed the number of Baby Boomers aged 50-75.

The purchasing power of such a large group heading into the near future is massive.

“In as few as five years, Millennials will enter their peak earning, spending and traveling years,” said Christine Barton, a partner at Boston Consulting Group and lead author of the report, Traveling With Millennials (March 2013). “The window of opportunity for businesses to understand the unique travel approach of this generation and gain its mind share is closing rapidly. Companies will be more successful if they determine an effective Millennial strategy now.”

Equally important, Millennials are influencing travel decisions for older generations, making their impact even more substantial.

“This is the first time we’ve seen one generation affect another’s purchasing decisions,” says Jeff Fromm, author of Marketing to Millennials (July 2013) and contributor to the white paper: “American Millennials: Deciphering the Enigma Generation” (2001). He defines Millennials as those born between 1977-2000.

In the book, Fromm writes, “To predict what will be hot tomorrow, you merely need to look to what’s hot with Millennials today.” Fromm, in his 50s with three Gen Y kids, uses himself as example. In 2013, he chose three destinations for a family trip and his kids made the final decision about where to book. They ended up going to New Zealand, and except for the bungee jumping, Fromm participated in many of the same activities as his kids, with the same sense of awe and wonder.

Because of that, Fromm advises travel companies not to define this age group by age.

“When I talk to travel brands about Millennials, I talk about the ‘Millennial mindset,’” he says. “Because you can be born between 1977 and 2000 and not have a Millennial mindset. You can also be born before 1977 and have one, so it’s very important to be aware of that segmentation.”

Meaning, travel suppliers should develop their marketing outreach for multiple demographics based on the Millennial psychographic. Understanding those psychographics is the first step, but Fromm says it’s much broader than Millennials’ proclivity for social media.

“Thinking about social media first as a way to engage with Millennials is putting the cart before the horse,” says Fromm. “You should have a strategy first. My theory is that the big winners are high-participatory, high shareability brands that allow Millennials to cocreate the product or service itself, and cocreate the customer experience and cocreate the marketing, of which social media is a subset.”

That comes to the crux of the future of travel marketing and branding. The Millennial mindset reacts to two things: fresh content and how that content is distributed. Engaging consumers with authentic, topical content where they can participate in its creation and distribution makes them care about a brand.

“That way, you’re no longer a target audience, you’re a partner,” says Fromm. “As soon as travel brands consider their consumers as a partner and a media outlet, then they’ll have a chance with them.”

Traditionally, Millennials have been regarded as being less loyal to brands than generations before them. But is that because of the Millennial mindset, or brands without a Millennial mindset?

Articulating a Voice of a Generation

Millennials in Travel is a new national organization with a roster of local chapters around the United States. The organization is still growing organically as the founders find their place in the travel ecosystem. Already, companies such as the new Virgin Hotels brand, opening its first property in Chicago this year, and others like Mandarin Oriental and Standard Hotels are reaching out to Millennials in Travel.

“We are a career development and networking organization for young professionals in the travel industry,” says Joshua Smith, director of strategic development for Millennials in Travel. “We tend to think of travel as a need, something we expect to do. The world is smaller, it’s cheaper to travel…. But there is a lot of statistics and information out there that frustrates me in trying to generalize the generation.”

The rampant stereotypes associated with Gen Y in the national media pose a serious challenge with Millennial professionals. Common critiques revolve around a sense of entitlement and laziness, propagated by the numbers of young people still living at home and changing jobs frequently, among other things.

Smith says that behavior represents only a portion of Millennials. Two, it ignores the fact that Gen Y is presently purchasing a ton of travel.

According to AIMIA, a loyalty services company, 62% of Millennials in 2013 earned less than $50,000 per year, but nearly one in 10 brought home over $100,000.

Millennials In Travel homepage / Courtesy: Millennials In Travel

Millennials In Travel homepage / Courtesy: Millennials In Travel

“By 2020, our generation is going to represent half of travel spending globally,” says Katelyn O’Shaughnessy, national director of technology/communications for Millennials in Travel. “I think we’re still often viewed as children, but in the next 5-10 years, when we’re making top income and we’ve paid off our student loans, that’s when we’re really going to start venturing out all over the world.”

O’Shaughnessy says she is seeing an increase in attention from travel suppliers, “because the term ‘Millennial’ has been blown out of the water the last two years. And we’ve proven ourselves in the industry. We’re credible at this point.”

In terms of travel brands that resonate, O’Shaughnessy mentions some of the usual suspects. She is a fan of W Hotels, for example, suggesting, “No matter which W I go to around the world, I know it’s going to be a fun, hip place.”

Millennials in Travel is looking at creating a network of those types of hotels for like-minded travelers to share among their peers. “I think the biggest challenge in the industry for many Millennials is trying to find a resource for those hotels geared toward our generation,” says Smith. “And that’s something we as Millennials in Travel are looking at, and asking ourselves, can we be that resource at a consumer level?”

Smith suggests that travel suppliers who are collaborating with Millennials now will reap the dividends in the future.

“Mandarin Oriental has been a huge support for us, and they recognize the value of relationships,” he says. “Millennials don’t always have those strong brand alliances that our parents do, so this is an opportunity, and there are those who are taking advantage of that opportunity. We work with a lot of different hotels and some understand that and some just don’t get it.”

The Rise of User-Generated Content

One of the defining characteristics of Millennials is their reliance on user-generated content and user reviews. They’ve decided that UGC offers authority and authenticity about particular brands or experiences. According to Josiah Mackenzie, director of business development at ReviewPro, more user-generated content was posted in 2013 than the previous five years combined.

ReviewPro homepage Courtesy: ReviewPro

ReviewPro homepage Courtesy: ReviewPro

“What we’re trying to do at ReviewPro is take all of the consumer-created data and parse out what people are talking about, what they liked about a hotel and what they disliked,” Mackenzie explains. “And increasingly we’re working on a city level and understanding this destination versus that destination, and what are their strengths. So, if I’m a visitors association or some kind of destination marketing organization, how do I position my destination versus another one, according to what people have shared”?

Posted on the ReviewPro website, a survey conducted by the market research firm Dimensional Research showed 90% of respondents said that positive online reviews influenced their buying decision. On the other hand, 86% said that negative reviews have a direct impact on shifting their purchase choices.

This applies to all age demographics. However, Millennials are engaging with online reviews for another reason. Reviews provide specific, authentic information about the travel experience generated by, for the most part, people who participated in that experience.

“Millennials are looking to hack travel and get something special, based on their perception about what everyone else doesn’t have,” says Mackenzie. “They want to feel like they’re insiders, and kind of in on this little secret about how to get a discount, or where to find this great little restaurant in some kind of hidden neighborhood. They’re always looking for some level of inside information. It speaks to the Millennial trend of wanting something special.”
Voices about Millenials p2Voices about Millenials p1
Mackenzie said he polled some of his Millennial age friends for this trend report, asking them about their personal travel preferences. One wrote: “I dont just enjoy the attractions of any city, but I like to observe the rituals of that place. I want to join local people in their everyday rituals and think how I can form my own. I want to adopt a cafe, befriend a baker and get to know the street musicians.”

“So I think in the industry, maybe we call that ‘authentic travel,’ says Mackenzie. “I think that Millennials are very interested in pursuing a life well lived, and that’s one of the beautiful aspects about social media and online reviews. There are all these great creators out there that write about what it’s like to live everyday life in New York and London and Atlanta, which helps us understand the heartbeat of life in a neighborhood. And then we publicize that and maybe connect with those people in that neighborhood.”

Mackenzie adds that TripAdvisor has become a de facto standard for people researching travel. He says what’s most surprising is the sheer amount of online research in addition to TripAdvisor for general inspiration and fact finding. But when it comes time to actually make a purchase, that’s when travel reviews provide their most value.

“So say someone’s decided, okay, I’m going to visit Barcelona instead of Paris, and I’m going to stay in this neighborhood and at this budget, then the reviews are very influential in making that choice,” says Mackenzie.

Traveling with Millennials

Millennials favor JetBlue / Courtesy: JetBlue

The Boston Consulting Group joined forces with Service Management Group and Barkley to conduct a survey among 4,000 Millennials (ages 16-24) for a series of white papers examining different types of consumer behavior. “Traveling with Millennials” (March 2013) and “The Reciprocity Principle” (January 2014) offer data about the differences in travel and purchasing habits between Millennials and non-Millennials.

Here are some of the findings:

  • Millennial business fliers are 60% more Hispanic, 100% more Asian and 40% more women than the averages for non-Millennial travelers.
  • 28% of Millennials report taking four or more business flights per year, compared with 45% of non-Millennials.
  • Millennials fly more for conferences, training, recruiting and other one-off reasons related to career development. Non-Millennials fly more for developing and maintaining client relationships.
  • Although Millennials travel less on business than their older counterparts, they report spending the same on business travel because they book more international travel, buy more refundable non-upgradable tickets, book later and make more itinerary changes.
  • Millennials are 60% more likely to upgrade for extra legroom.
  • Millennials are far more dissatisfied with frequent flier benefits such as miles, status and rewards. They prefer to use loyalty programs to earn free/discounted travel, rather than use them for upgrades. Cashing in miles or points is much more prevalent among Millennials.
  • Millennials specifically mention JetBlue Airways and Southwest as preferred carriers, and they are four times more likely to pay for onboard WiFi.

Millennial business travelers are more likely to add on more leisure trip than the average business traveler—”a behavioral aspect of this group that could hold cross-promotional, loyalty reward, and comarketing potential for travel and tourism companies.”

  • Half of Millennials surveyed reported taking four or more overnight leisure trips per year compared with over 75% of non-Millennials.
  • Those in both groups who travel most on business also travel most for leisure. Millennial women travel for leisure more than Millennial men, however in both groups, men travel alone on leisure more than women.
  • Millennials are more likely than non-Millennials to travel for leisure in organized groups, with either extended families or networks of friends. Expect to see travel and hotel companies offer more small event services.
  • Millennials travel more than their older counterparts to visit family, and the presence of children in the household doesn’t change this. Female Millennials travel more than men for special occasions.
  • Millennials tend to see booking travel more as a game and respond opportunistically to low prices and interesting packages.
  • 75% of Millennials versus 47% of non-Millennials report having travel apps on their phones. Millennial women are far more likely to share photos on social media than Millennial men (42% versus 25%).

In January 2014, BCG published “The Reciprocity Principle,” discussing how companies should collaborate with consumers versus the top-down marketing funnel of yesterday. While it doesn’t focus on travel exclusively, the report is valuable to hotel and destination marketers because it highlights five key issues surrounding Millennial engagement.

Reach: Millennials are digital natives. Companies must use the full array of available media, as well as mobile devices, to reach these consumers and build brand awareness.

Relevance: Millennials are distributed among a wide range of life’s stages, and their brand choices are influenced by more and different kinds of people.

Reputation: Because Millennials identify more personally and emotionally with brands, it is important that brands maintain genuine reputations that reinforce the values that Millennials hope they project about themselves.

Relation: Companies must maintain a two-way dialogue with Millennial consumers. They must listen to them, incorporate their feedback and input, and quickly respond to them and their concerns.

Referral: To build brand loyalty and persuade Millennials to be positive advocates of their brands, companies must build an ongoing relationship through individual and online community communications.

Hotel Trends

The new InterContinental Davos, Switzerland / Courtesy InterContinental Hotels Group

The new InterContinental Davos, Switzerland / Courtesy InterContinental Hotels Group

The Kinship Economy

In March 2013, InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) published a white paper in partnership with The Futures Company announcing “The Kinship Economy.” The theme of the report highlighted growing paradoxes in the hospitality industry created by the emergence of new traveler demographics, including outbound travelers from emerging destinations and Millennial travelers. The Kinship Economy—or Relationship Economy—refers to how travel suppliers like IHG need to build relationships with guests by better personalizing their travel experience, while at the same time, maintaining the consistency required of any global brand.

In January 2014, IHG followed up with a supplementary report: “Creating Moments of Trust: The Key to Building Successful Brand Relationships in the Kinship Economy.” The purpose of this paper was to provide a solution to the paradoxes profiled in the first report. Almost 7,000 business and leisure travelers in seven countries were surveyed.

A New Breed of Traveler

In November 2013, HVS Global Hospitality Services published the white paper, “A New Breed of Traveler,” examining behavioral trends in today’s travel consumers. According to the report, the underlying dynamics fostering change in this era of travel are Rising Affluence, Globalization and Technology. The overall thrust is critical of the pace with which the hotel industry is adapting to Millennial trends.

The paper reads: “It seems that many hotels have barely changed over the last decades still consisting of the same in-room amenities, the same heavy curtains, the same check in process, the same small desk, and so forth. This is no longer a place where the modern day traveler feels at home.

Stating demand specifically from Millennials and new emerging markets, the IHG report says large global hotel brands are required to be more multi-dimensional, or “3D.” The paper reads: “The research highlights the importance of being global, local and personal to the next generation of travelers: the ‘new global explorers’ of travelers from emerging markets and younger Millennial travelers.”

IHG suggests that the way to respect global coherence, local relevance and personal differences is through delivering six “moments of trust.” These are basically a set of standard operating procedures that should be un-standardized somewhat respective to each individual hotel and destination.

According to the report, Millennials are more hopeful than their fellow Boomer travelers that this can succeed. It reads:

“Travelers also expect global hotel brands to be the most innovative. This is especially true for the younger generation of business travellers – 75% of the Millennial ‘laptop and latte’ business travellers (characterised by an attitude that their office is wherever they happen to be) think that global hotel brands do a better job [than independent hotels] at being innovative compared to 66% of all travelers.”

Booking Habits of Millennials

Since launching in 2009, the online hotel booking site Getaroom.com has amassed over 90,000 hotel listings, with about 60-65% of those located in North America.

“Millennials are a major demographic for us, it’s the fastest growing percentage that we see,” says Bob Diener, CEO/founder, who also co-founded Hotels.com in 1990s. “That’s why we have a lot of unique, independent, boutique hotels that people never heard of, and catering to this demographic is great because they’re more amenable to trying a new hotel.

“Hotels need to be much more sensitive to this age group because they’re much more communicative, we see a much higher percentage that are writing reviews and sharing on social marketing platforms,” says Diener. “For a hotel that does things right, it’s great. For a hotel that doesn’t, it’s not good.”

Getaroom.com features a lot of last-minute sales because Diener says Millennials love them. Click-through rates for promotions are much higher with Gen Y than other demographics, and they tend to make decisions faster.

“They’re also much more reliant on what people are saying on the reviews, and that does influence their decisions significantly, versus just relying on a brand,” says Diener.

Millennials and non-Millennials have different preferences for booking travel, both in terms of decision-making habits and the technology they use. In October 2013, Expedia and its business travel division Egencia released a survey comparing travel booking behaviors among different generations. “The Future of Travel” study was conducted among 8,535 adults in 24 countries.

The report states that 32% of those travelers surveyed under 30 report using a smartphone and 20% booked travel via tablet. For adults aged 45 years and older, those number fall to 12% smartphone and 9% tablet.

Furthermore, Millennials are far more likely to extend their business trip bookings to include additional leisure travel. A full 62% of 18-30 year olds have booked add-on leisure days, versus 51% for 31-45 year olds and 37% of 46-65 year olds. This provides a significant growth market for both hotels and destinations marketing to young professionals.

“Business travelers are early adopters of technology—Millennial travelers even faster—and all are on the move from device to device, from online to offline and back again,” says Rob Greyber, president of Egencia. “Keeping pace with Millennials and future generations of corporate travelers demands significant focus on mobile in order to sustainably engage them with the right information.”

In August 2013, Egencia unveiled its TripNavigator iPhone app. According to Egnecia, “The app helps travelers better navigate their in-trip experience by displaying a contextual, actionable view of the itinerary and integrating real-time trip alerts to reduce agony as travel plans change, expectedly.”

In another study by PGAV Destinations, a travel research and design firm, Millennials book on average 75 days before departure, versus 93 days for older generations. And according to the 2013 report, “Top 10 Trends of the Next Generation of Travel” by HVS Global Hospitality Services, Millennials research an average of 10.2 travel sites before making travel purchase decisions.

Lastly, Millennials are disproportionately driving business to last-minute booking sites such as HotelTonight.

“Three, five years ago we couldn’t have existed,” said Sam Shank, CEO/founder of HotelTonight at the 2012 PhoCusWright Conference. Shank added that 91% of HotelTonight users had not previously stayed at the hotels they’ve booked, suggesting that same-day, mobile hotel booking sites are driving incremental demand in the hospitality industry.

The Future of Mobility

“Third Space” is another emerging next generation travel trend. In theory, we have our personal life and our work life, and then there’s the Third Space where the two intersect. One of the earliest mainstream examples of this dates back to when Starbucks began offering high-speed Wi-Fi. Suddenly coffee shops around the world became a network of mobile plug-and-play hubs where people could work and connect in an enjoyable public environment.

The same scenario shifted seamlessly into hospitality with so many hotel lobbies evolving into busy social scenes. Today, hotels ranging from small properties like Ace Hotel New York to large corporate hotels like Sheraton Toronto Centre have large lobbies filled with dozens of people tapping away on laptops at long communal tables.

Marriott’s Workspace on Demand website Courtesy: Marriott Hotels

Marriott’s Workspace on Demand website / Courtesy: Marriott Hotels

The widespread attraction for this stems from our desire to make mundane work less mundane, while enjoying the comfort of energized surroundings where we can interact with others how we personally choose to. For many people, a lobby setting is also more productive than working in a business center or guest room.

Taking the trend one step further, hotels are building short-term, teched-out meeting spaces with modular, easily moveable furniture.

Demand is there. According to International Data Corp (IDC), mobile workers will account for over one third of the global workforce by 2015. That’s 1.3 billion mobile workers.

One example of this, Marriott is partnering with Steelcase and IDEO to develop individual and collaborative group spaces integrated into public areas.

‘[People] need more fluid work spaces and potentially more individual work spaces, but that allow them to still feel connected to other people,” says Beth Viner, associate partner at IDEO.

Building a Brand for Next Gen Travelers

In the mid-2000s, Starwood Hotels wanted to recreate the success of its W Hotels brand in the select service market. The company first looked at existing hotel brands for any acquisition opportunities, but none fit the required parameters. So Starwood launched Aloft Hotels in 2008 from the ground up with the same focus on global lifestyle trends as W, yet at a lower price point for the mid-tier, mobile hotel guest of the future.

All of the Aloft Hotels brand pillars were clearly designed to answer what’s deemed today as Millennial/Gen Y demands, although Starwood executives won’t define the brand as such. “Aloft is for the next generation traveler, someone who is an early adopter around tech, they’re self-expressors, and they’re very connected to music,” says Brian McGuinness, senior VP for Starwood’s specialty select brands. “Design is another passion point. Essentially they’ve grown up with the democratization of design through brands like Ikea or even Target, so they’re expectation of good design is important.”

Among all of Aloft’s signature brand initiatives, the alignment with the music industry is the most prominent, such as a recent collaboration with MTV Asia. The hotel group also sponsors the twice-yearly Live in the Vineyard music festival in California wine country, attracting singers like Gavin DeGraw and James Blunt. And Aloft partners with Nylon magazine on the annual Project Aloft Star competition where new artists have the chance to hook up with music industry execs.

In 2013, Aloft partnered with the Design Within Reach modern furniture store to provide off-the-shelf and custom-built furniture and furnishings. Aloft Hotel’s unofficial tagline is “Style at a Steal.”

“We looked at those iconic moments in the hotel that could demonstrate the importance of design and not to diminish it,” says McGuinness. “So whether it is the chandelier at the arrival moment or it’s an iconic chair that’s in the lobby, what we wanted to do was recognize how important our authentic design is.”

In the tech/mobile arena, 14 Aloft properties in the U.S. offer mobile Smart Check-In via Starwood Preferred Guest RFID room keys that allow guests to bypass the front desk completely.

“We have about 20,000 customers in it,” says McGuinness. “They have been given an RFID PG card, part of the Starwood loyalty preferred guest program. As they are recognized in our pilot program, they make their reservation as normal, whether it’s online or if you call an 800 number. The hotel sees that you’re coming in let’s say today, and that you’re in the Smart Check-in program. I would go ahead as a hotel associate and check you in at the hotel, and then I would text you your room number. So you literally can land in New York, go over to the Harlem hotel, and go directly to your room and use your SPG card to open that door.”

Millennial-Native Hospitality

Moxy Hotels homepage Courtesy: Moxy Hotels

Moxy Hotels homepage / Courtesy: Moxy Hotels

Operated by Marriott Hotels, the first two MOXY Hotels open in Milan and Munich in 2014, with another 10 planned for 2015. The budget chain is aimed squarely at Millennials with room rates ranging from $80-$110, room sizes just under 200 square feet, hybrid restaurant/bars, and whole a new attitude at Marriott.

“MOXY is the first hotel we’ve designed around the next generation of travelers, and we have a very strong culture of experimentation with this brand,” says Indy Adenaw, VP of brand consulting at Marriott Hotels. “We first tried to make the entire experience thoughtful, so the traveler feels like we thought about them every step of the journey. We also wanted to make the guest experience very spirited and lively. We want MOXY to be a fun hotel and something you actually draw energy from.”

Adenaw explains that the theme of the new brand revolves around providing the “Bare Maximum.”

“We are an economy tier but we are going to give you that absolute maximum for what you pay,” he says. “I can’t emphasize enough how much consumers told us that they were tired of the compromise between style and value. And so we kept on hearing if you can deliver style to me at a price that’s attractive, I will be deeply loyal.”

A big emphasis is placed on multi-zone lobbies that shift from quiet areas to buzzy social scenes around the lobby bars. Internal lingo at Marriott describes the separate but connected lobby areas as “One end talks, one end rocks.” The bar/lounge area will feature DJs and video walls with music and social media messaging, while the quiet side is designed for intimate conversation and chilling out with your devices.

The restaurant and bar concept anchoring the lobbies is called “The Now,” offering healthy grab n’ go food and sit-down hot meals relevant to the specific region.

“You would be surprised at how much time we spent just understanding our target guest,” says Adenaw. “Not only from a purely functional standpoint but really what they wanted to emotionally get out of a hotel and the travel experience. And I think we were surprised at how much they focused on certain things. We’re hearing: What I want is to be able to get out and see the city. What I want is to be able to go downstairs and have a very lively and energetic bar experience. I want to meet people, I want to be communal. I want to be fiercely independent when I want to be, but also part of a larger community when it’s active and when it’s social.”

MOXY Hotels epitomizes the independent social traveler theme. As the website promotes to potential MOXY guests: “You’re fabulous with company and fabulous on your own.”

Destination Trends

Austin CVB’s blog homepage Courtesy: Austin CVB

Austin CVB’s blog homepage / Courtesy: Austin CVB

Becoming an Insider

Austin has its pulse on America’s Millennial/Gen Y generation like few others because it’s a college town with an unmatched music scene, a pervasive counter culture, and the country’s most innovative media/tech/music festival: South by Southwest (SXSW). The city is an incubator for forward-thinking driven by its concentration of young professionals and creative energy drawing from the smartest minds around the state seeking like-minded collaborators.

Like all of the destination marketing organizations on the following pages, Austin CVB has evolved over the last few years with new digital communication programs to engage better with Millennials through visually-driven brand storytelling highlighting the city as the locals see it.

Jennifer Walker, director of marketing communications at Austin CVB, elaborates:

Skift: How is Austin CVB evolving to reach Millennials better?

Jennifer Walker: In 2011, we conducted a series of qualitative in-depth interviews to aid in the development of a new ad campaign. While the study did not exclusively target Millennials, we did come across a few findings of interest among this group.

While business travelers coming for leisure stay at large, familiar chains, younger visitors want to find the interesting local options. Younger visitors don’t trust official sites, they use Facebook and Twitter in addition to Google to get the inside scoop. They also use apps including Urban Spoon, Yelp! and Austinway to help them prepare for their trip. Younger travelers also share their experiences during their visit via Facebook, Twitter and texting, while the older contingent do it the old fashioned way, in person, when they get home.

Skift: How did the research affect your strategic marketing efforts?

Jennifer Walker: This research paved the way for development of a new ad campaign, but also it motivated us to refine existing marketing efforts while developing new tools to better reach this audience. For example, we evolved our Visitor Guide. We changed the name from “Official Visitor Guide” to the “Austin Insider Guide” and recruited local writers to contribute content, versus CVB staff. It’s also been redesigned to look and feel more like a modern magazine with quick, easy-to-read blurbs and tips for visitors.

We created an innovative online program called True Austin. The program uses local bloggers, who are experts on a variety of topics ranging from live music to food to sports, to help answer visitor questions essentially in real-time through Twitter, Facebook and email.

Skift: How else are you engaging with Millennials online?

Jennifer Walker: We recently launched our own blog, the Austin Insider Blog. We have staff write personal recommendations on various Austin activities and events, and we’ll be highlighting True Austin contributors here as well.

We’re highly engaged in social media and have several accounts we actively manage in-house. Instagram reaches a largely millennial audience where we share our Austin photos as well as curated Austin photos. We promote the #TrueAustin hashtag so that we can share other folks’ photos of the city.

Our Facebook account has nearly 150,000 fans, and we have four active twitter accounts. Our main account at @VisitAustinTX has nearly 60,000 followers, and we have seen much success in growth and engagement, including our @musicaustin account as well.

Marketing a Digital Destination

Contiki Vacations: In the Beginning

Contiki Vacations is a tour operator packing programs for 18 to 35 year-old clients, ranging from Auschwitz to Auckland for three to six weeks. The company launched in the 1960s when a young New Zealander grabbed a minibus and a group for friends for a road trip across Europe.

After half a century of catering to the Millennial demographic of today, Contiki is an authority at marketing and branding vacations aimed at gen Y. A big part of the Contiki travel experience pre/post is the Contiki website, including the Exchange blog, a well trafficked review section and a wealth of busy discussion forums. And check out the Pinterest-style Twitter stream on the homepage.

Visit Philadelphia is regarded as one of the most innovative destination marketing organizations in the U.S. based on its successful integration of three owned online platforms promoting the destination in different ways.

VisitPhilly.com is the main portal much like most DMOs operate. The popular Uwishunu.com blog highlights daily information about what’s happening in the city. And Philly 360 is another website celebrating local creative artists and entrepreneurs making a positive impact in the region, which was designed to show Philadelphia as a modern city offering much more than its vaunted historical attractions.

VisitPhilly’s focus on comprehensive, cross-platform digital communications was very much inspired by the behaviors and consumer appetites of Millennials.

“The city itself is 40% millennial, and our office is very much Millennial also,” says Paula Butler, VP of communications for Visit Philadelphia. “We kind of go out of our way to not just think about what media we go into but the message that we have that will appeal to Millennials…. For example, Philly 360 is aimed exclusively for the Millennial audience. It was designed that way, and it’s part of everything we do, but it’s separate also.”

Butler explains that Philly 360 spotlights the city’s trendsetters in music, design, culture and others.

“We focus on events, like our Roots Picnic festival that we sponsor, and the Made in America festival where we do contests that we sponsor,” says Butler. “That’s a big concert we do. And then it’s all about reaching out to this audience and making sure the photos and the video and the content all reflect this Millennial audience.”
Meryl Levitz, president/CEO of Visit Philadelphia, says the DMO’s focus on events, and the participation in them, provides a sense of community and content for the various online portals.

“To us, the word ‘social’ is as important as the word ‘media,’” she says. “And when you look at the number of people who have the word ‘events’ tied to their title, this is extremely important because people are realizing that the higher tech we get, the higher touch we have to get as well.”

Philly 360 homepage Courtesy: Visit Philadelphia

Philly 360 homepage / Courtesy: Visit Philadelphia

Visit Philadelphia produces a series of night markets around town, revolving around food and music. The popularity and buzz surrounding those really inspired VisitPhilly to update information for all of their events at Uwishunu.com on the go.

“The social engagement has to be as important as the media that surrounds it,” says Levitz. “And because of that, we know the information we do on the media side needs to be extremely timely, as opposed to VisitPhilly, which is kind of broad brush. Uwishunu and our social media are changing several times a day. And this is very important because the brand for Uwishunu is really Philly from the inside out. So it has that insider quality that people are looking for, and that social availability.”

Butler adds that getting the “most exclusive, targeted, timely, novel, beautifully visual media is really important.”

“We’ve made an eternal commitment to the visuals because we realized long ago in travel you have to show off the city,” says Butler. “Because the challenge for Philadelphia, was not that it had a negative image, but that it had a fuzzy image. And we realized content was going to be king, and then we realized the distribution of content was king, so if you had the best stuff it wasn’t enough to just put it on the table if nobody knew that the table was there.“

Targeting What Motivates

Tourisme Montreal homepage Courtesy: Tourisme Montreal

Tourisme Montreal homepage / Courtesy: Tourisme Montreal

Tourisme Montreal has one of the most multi-pronged digital platforms of any destination marketing organization, with its tourisme-montreal.org website supported by both a leisure blog and a meetings blog. The latter is the first of its kind, launched in early 2013.

The DMO is also a leader in social media, especially at YouTube with over five million views since the channel’s inception. The other channels are growing fast based on the quality of online content. Here is the growth from February to December 2013:

  • Facebook: 105,666 to 143,214 fans (26% increase)
  • Twitter (English): 25,117 to 39,400 followers (36% increase)
  • Twitter (French): 14,078 to 20,900 followers (33 % increase)

Part of what sparked the rise in visitations was a focus on travel behaviors particularly well represented in Quebec. That focus on experiential travel was motivated by what Montreal Tourisme was learning about Millennial travel trends. The leisure blog is bucketed into 10 travel niches, ranging from “Cutting-Edge” to Gastronomy and Fashion.

“We don’t talk about segments of travelers first anymore, we talk more about niches and motivations to travel,” says Emmanuelle Legault, VP of marketing for Tourisme Montreal. “And then within those niches, we look at the segment that would be interested in them, where there’s a good fit within the city and what we have to offer. So of course for some of those niches, for example for nightlife, cutting-edge, LGBT, culinary and so on, there’s definitely a fit for Millennials.”

From there, Tourisme Montreal works with area bloggers and lifestyle publications to create content that it says is more authentic than anything it could create.

“When we started building our communication strategies, we looked at the product itself, we looked at what Montreal had to offer, and then we started talking about Millennials that were a good segment for that product,” explains Legault. “And then we started thinking, who are we to present the destination and to show the USP of those niches? And how can we make sure that Millennials, who are all about authenticity and experiences, how can we get across our message but through another voice?”

Legault says Montreal started working with publications like the online music portal Consequence of Sound. The DMO invited the writers to scope out the indie scene of Montreal and talk with both locals and tourists involved in that scene.

“They are the experts,” says Legault. “And they’re the ones who talked to the Millennials, they’re the ones who have the good ear for the way Millennial talks about music. Another example is the culinary niche. As we know with Millennials, they’ll skimp on accommodations but they won’t on good culinary. So then we started working with sites like OpenTable to promote the brand, but in the most chic and inspiring way that we could.”

Another marketing initiative that sparked the jump in social media numbers since spring 2013, Tourisme Montreal created a “Montreal Moments” campaign and #MTLMoments hashtag used on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Postcard-size cutout frames were mailed to local influencers, and large cutout frames were placed around the city where people could pose and have their photos taken. The DMO then invited travel bloggers in all the various blog niches to write about their experiences and share them while including the hashtag.

The three priorities behind the campaign focused on creating something organic, decentralized and authentic. Using the hashtag as a metric, more than 24,000 photos were posted on Instagram, Twitter used topped 14,000 and YouTube views notched over a quarter of a million, resulting in 15% more views of the Tourisme Montreal website and blog. The dedicated #MTLMoments webpage alone attracted over one million views.

For meetings and conventions, meanwhile, the biggest value of the meetings-themed blog is the ability to communicate with meeting planners who are notoriously busy and approached by so many DMOs because of their significant purchasing power.

“We were surprised, we have found that a lot of Millennials are trying to break into the meetings market, who utilize social media, who read blogs, who don’t want advertorials to read,” says Legault. “So that’s why we decided last year that we should start a new blog and try to bring added value to our consumers, you know, bring them to our content, and then that gives us a chance to engage with them.”

The investment is starting to pay off.

What we’re seeing is a lot more time spent on the blog and a lot more comments than we used to get, so we’re starting to engage with them,” explains Legault. “The fact that we took an approach that’s more content oriented, and provides more added value to then, allows us to always be in the top of their mind. And then when they do have a question, they are contacting us to get more information.”

The Neighborhood DMO

The Fat Babies band, Chicago Courtesy: The Fat Babies

The Fat Babies band, Chicago / Courtesy: The Fat Babies

In 2011, the Choose Chicago destination marketing organization was one of the first DMOs in the country to create a robust blog written by area bloggers, revolving around things to experience in the city off the beaten tourist path. In October 2013, Choose Chicago supplemented that with a new Neighborhoods section on the official website promoting different communities and small businesses outside the central core.

As of January 2014, the Neighborhoods section has already logged 170,000 page views.

Both the blog and Neighborhoods section were not created specifically for a Millennial audience. However, ongoing enhancements to both are being shaped by what Choose Chicago calls a growing contingent of “Urban Enthusiasts,” which it says tends to consist of a majority of Millennial-age travelers.

“The Neighborhoods section is part of a larger citywide initiative to expand tourism throughout the city,” says Amy Pales, director of print/digital media for Choose Chicago. “A few other DMOs have created similar online initiatives, but I don’t think many of them have our comprehensive mapping system and wealth of places to experience in so many different communities.”

To explore the Neighborhoods section, visitors first choose one of 51 communities, each divided into places to Shop, Play, Eat and Stay. From there, they will come across shops like Penelope’s in the Wicker Park/Bucktown neighborhood, featured on the Google Maps-enabled microsite with a photo, short description, website and the opportunity to add it to a personalized trip planner.

Meanwhile, the “Chicago Like A Local” blog on the website also directs adventurous visitors to lesser known establishments across the Greater Chicago area. The popular Weekend Alerts posts are created by Choose Chicago staffers, promoting special area events frequented by locals. The rest of the content is written by paid bloggers, each with a specific subject-matter expertise.

“I love our blog,” says Pales. “We get a lot of compliments about it, and it portrays our city in another light. The bloggers are out there doing the things they’re writing about, they’re living those experiences, which brings a real freshness and authenticity to the content.”

Presently, Choose Chicago is researching potential new markets and audiences to target. Pales says, “We definitely see potential with Millennials within our overall group of target audiences, because we’re seeing a lot of traffic coming from them.”

Pairing Conventions with High-Concept Tech

BMW’s global corporate headquarters in Munich includes the BMW Museum and the futuristic, swirling steel BMW Welt welcome center. The inside of the Welt is the size of a small sports stadium filled with high-tech engineering exhibits and the space-age Double Cone, where BMW launched its slick all-electric “BMW i” series vehicles.

BMW Museum, Munich Courtesy: BMW Museum

BMW Museum, Munich / Courtesy: BMW Museum

Germany is in the business of exporting intelligence and innovation. During the last few years, there’s been a concerted push to use facilities like the BMW Museum to create experiential events for visiting meeting and convention groups, based on research into Millennial travel trends.

“In a crowded European market, we feel our competitive advantage is our vast infrastructure of knowledge-based companies in key industries such as transportation, finance, energy and high-tech,” says Laura d’Elsa, regional director US/Canada of the German Convention Bureau (GCB). “Last year we did a study to look at different meeting trends and demographic trends, including how Gen Y is changing the meeting and convention landscape worldwide.”

“What we discovered is that German expertise in engineering and technology is extremely interesting to Gen Y. And because Gen Y is so focused on experiential learning, we’re using corporate settings like the BMW and Porsche headquarters, and other high-tech companies to attract that demographic.”

Rob Davidson, senior lecturer in events management at the University of Greenwich, spoke last year at GCB’s Customer Advisory Board Meeting about targeting Millennial meeting/event planners. Davidson said it’s time to take meetings out of the convention centers and hotel ballrooms to explore creative venues that offer experiences aligned with the meeting objective.

In a written statement, the GCB summed up Davidson’s discussion:

Generation Y are ambitious and they value success, so this gives Germany a natural advantage as a place widely recognised for its high levels of expertise and performance in various sectors of industry and commerce. Germany’s growing supply of interesting and imaginative meeting and convention venues and hotels will have a direct appeal to younger event planners and participants. We know that they are very attracted to holding their events in buildings that are unconventional and unusual.

“Meetovation” Inspires Next Gen Planners

VisitDenmark Meetovation homepage Courtesy: VisitDenmark

VisitDenmark Meetovation homepage / Courtesy: VisitDenmark

In 2003, VisitDenmark launched “Meetovation: The Meeting Concept of the Future,” designed specifically around Millennial psychographics and the next generation of meeting planners. The program revolves around five pillars: Active Involvement of delegates, Creative use of the physical setup, Green and responsible thinking, Integration of authentic and local inspiration, and Measuring the Return on Meeting Investment.

“VisitDenmark has been leading the fight against boring meetings with different types of meeting concepts that create a better outcome of the time and money spent bringing people together,” says Ebbe Kiær, director of sales for BDP Event & Incentive in Copenhagen, who has been an active participant in the development and promotion of Meetovation.

One of Kiær’s group programs, which revolves around the local inspiration Meetovation pillar, is a short city tour guided by homeless people called “Poverty Walks.”
“Basically, we wished to create an experience that could focus on social exclusion and marginalization,” Kiær says. “These guides know the city’s rhythms, people and soul better than anyone. They will show you the heating grate at the Danish National Bank, and Library Park near the Government at Christiansborg Palace, where they sleep at night. You will come away with a new appreciation of urban living—a new way to look at a city.”

In effort to build support in North America, the NYC office of VisitDenmark created a MINDchallenge contest located at Manhattan’s Danish design store BoConcepts, where U.S.-based planners presented their ideas for the ultimate Copenhagen meeting, based on the five Meetovation themes.

Krista Reimer, the 30-something managing director of Blue Nest Events in New York, served Danish beer during her presentation.

“VisitDenmark’s MINDchallenge event was a great way to involve planners in thinking outside of the box,” says Reimer. “Millennials are looking to engage in more targeted experiences that incorporate the company’s principles in uber-exclusive ways. The old notion of behind-the-scenes is being replaced with in-the-scene. We want to go beyond just seeing something to actively participating and engaging in the experience.”

Key Strategies for Attracting Millennial Travelers

  • Research everything you can about Millennial travel preferences and behaviors. — Presently there is a massive amount of content focusing on Millennial consumer behavior, but not as much focused specifically on travel and hospitality. As more and more travel-related trend research is published, study as much as possible to understand the underpinnings of the Millennial mindset above and beyond their usage of social media. Social media is simply a manifestation of Millennials’ constant craving of up-to-the-second content. The specific content demands are what’s misunderstood by much of today’s legacy travel suppliers.
  • All Millennials are not the same. — A 34-year-old single mom in Pittsburgh without a college degree might have much different travel demands than a 25-year-old single male with a post-grad degree in Los Angeles. By stereotyping Millennials, travel suppliers are undervaluing the potential of attracting different travel segments and how to best align their marketing outreach proportionately. That said, many overarching themes do apply across the Gen Y demographic such as the consumption of media and the speed with which that occurs.
  • Collaborate with Millennials. — In companies with employees from multiple generations, senior executives should pay attention to their Millennial colleagues and constantly consult them for their opinions. Millennials need to understand their company’s corporate culture and their role in it explicitly, and how that culture aligns with their professional development goals. While this often rubs against the social and professional mores of older employees, it is a fact of business today. Listening to Millennial employees and taking the time to understand their feedback and contributions is the best way to retain and develop top employees.
  • Invest in next generation media communication and imagery.
    Millennials and growing ranks of older travelers are attracted to responsive, state-of-the-art websites and blogs, mobile apps and constantly updated photography and videos. For Pinterest-era, ADD-type Millennials, how content is presented is often just as important as the content itself.
  • Create a local travel blog. — As evidenced by the continuing growth of blogs curated by hotels, tour ops and destination marketing organizations, this type of communication to Millennials is a cost effective and highly productive way to reach them where they’re at. Blogs also drive traffic to websites through organic search, thus improving direct bookings and growing the customer base. Hire local bloggers to create content who write in an authentic, unbiased, experiential manner about things they’ve actually experienced. That type of communication when done well resonates with Millennials like nothing else.
  • Pay attention to user reviews. — Data proves that travel suppliers who answer and promote user reviews ramp up customer engagement and drive incremental sales. Millennials trust their peers more than anyone else, and that is only going to continue to accelerate across all age demographics.
  • Crowdsource on social media to increase two-way dialogue. — While everyone knows that Millennials are hyper-active on social media, many travel suppliers are not utilizing their social media channels to their fullest potential. Create promotions and contests requiring input from consumers, and submit requests for feedback about new developments and initiatives to better align product with today’s consumer preferences.
  • Focus on experiential travel. — One of the megatrends in Millennial behavior, Gen Y today are master multi-taskers who want to explore and experience everything they can, both live and virtually, before, during and after the actual travel journey. This intense curiosity is driven by social media and the awareness that seemingly everyone else is doing cool things, as communicated via the rampant sharing of travel experiences and reviews online. How FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) drives Millennial behavior cannot be underestimated. To remain relevant to Millennials, travel suppliers need to constantly create new, visceral travel experiences and communicate them often to improve the online sharing of those experiences.
  • Focus on the exponential business value of online sharing.
    The only way for any brand to grow in the digital era is to have other people do it for them. Travel suppliers can have the most advanced SEO-integrated website but if the content isn’t shareable, the content isn’t going anywhere, or at least not as many places as it could. As BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti says, “We don’t care what people click on. We care what people share.”
  • Be authentic and speak like a human. Please. — In the old era of top-down funnel marketing, companies have almost always created generic marketing-speak in consumer-facing media, sanitized by multiple PR and marketing departments before release. Authenticity is a major buzzword for the Millennial generation who can spot marketing BS a mile away, because they’ve grown up inundated with 24/7 marketing media in all forms. Disregarding this and the power of real, emotional, two-way participatory engagement with consumers is a straight track to obsolescence. This is a major challenge for older marketing professionals who are used to full control of brand communications.

Endnotes & further reading