The travel industry needs to understand the mindset of its Millennial employees, not just its customers

millennials-planning-soc
Standard

As Millennials occupy a larger share of the global workforce, is the travel industry doing enough to adapt to the mindset of Millennial employees, as well as its customers?

It’s conference season again, a frenetic time for those of us who work in the travel industry as events, forums and seminars pop up in rapid succession in different corners of the globe. As well as connecting people and bringing them up to date with trends, most of the big tourism industry conferences and exhibitions include a seminars and workshops dedicated to the people – i.e., the workforce- who make the industry work day-in, day-out.

However it has always seemed to me that such workshops seem to be tacked onto the programme as an afterthought, with students only allowed into the big exhibitions on the closing days and seminars dedicated to human resources shunted to fringes of the conference schedule. I suppose this happens because these big events are mostly geared towards marketing and product development, with other aspects of business operation taking second place. Still, it’s ironic for and industry which, as we are often reminded, is about ‘people to people relationships’ and which needs skilled, dynamic, tech savvy and globally-minded employees more than ever.

At the end of last month I attended an event in China that got me thinking. I had been invited to speak at the UNWTO-PATA Forum on Asia Tourism Trends & Outlook, a two-day event in the picturesque city of Guilin in southern China. Joining a panel on emerging consumer trends in the travel industry, I was asked to paint a picture of how Millennials as consumers are shaping marketing and product development in tourism. This is something I’ve spoken about widely, and you can find more resources on my own website).

On occasions, as is common in such events, some older speakers and members of this very international audience seemed to refer to Millennials as almost another species; an incomprehensible tech-addicted tribe who seem only to pose a threat to the way things have progressed in the travel industry until now.

Most of their comments weren’t meant negatively, but I could detect a note of apprehension among some of the older delegates about quite what this tribe was doing to the travel industry. Would their addiction to technology lead to a shift towards preferring virtual experiences vs. real life? Would artificial intelligence (eg. computers answering queries instead of humans) wipe out more jobs and the essential ‘human’ dimension to customer service? Will anyone put the brakes on sharing economy services (driven at least early on, by Millennials as both users and providers) which circumvent regulations and marginalise traditional tourism businesses?

We don’t yet know the full answer to those questions, though while it’s easy to get excited about gadgets and startled by the rapid progress of start-ups, surely it’s also wise to come back down to earth and consider the here-and-now. It’s also probably wise not to tarnish a whole generation with one brush and instead work out why Millennials exhibit certain patterns of behaviour and approach their consumer decisions in a certain way. Besides, Millennials are diverse – we’re talking about a whole age segment from 15-35 years from all corners of the globe, after all.   millennials-planning-soc

Later in the programme, Hong Kong Polytechnic University presented a panel with four young participants who were just starting out in the travel industry as employees. The speakers, all Millennials from Australia, China, Germany and South Korea were quick to draw parallels between their experience as Millennial customers and employees as travel companies. The key lesson was that businesses that want to recruit and retain talented young staff increasingly need to reflect on their behaviour as sellers, as employers and as investors too, because potential Millennial employees pay attention to all these things and are ready to call out behaviour which they find distasteful, immoral or unfair. Millennials as consumers, employees and investors themselves are showing similar patterns of concern when spending their money and deciding where they’d like to work. After all, Millennials grew up as the first wave of social media users and amid the era of 24-hour news. As a result they are far more in tune with the impact of their actions on the local community and those further afield, not to mention their own health and wellbeing.

Leonie Bowles, a former UNWTO colleague of mine, and now Lecturer at University of Queensland made several interesting observations as a Millennial herself and as someone who works with tourism students:

  • Millennials are interested in social entrepreneurship and want to make a difference. If you can’t offer them that, they’ll create it themselves, or seek it elsewhere.
  • Tertiary education matters. Prospective employers should engage with higher education institutions and use the opportunity to ask young people about their values, work out what really matters to them and what they want to do in the future.
  • Through seeking to create a positive impact on their local community (in Australia, volunteering among young people is at an all-time high), Millennials are oten creating change and improving the lives of others where nobody was bothering before, or where public services have ceased to get involved.
  • Social entrepreneurship (as well as many other sectors such as startups, NGOs) are now career propositions which often seem more attractive than the corporate world since they seem far more cutting-edge and offer the chance to make some demonstrable impact. As consumers, Millennials are also prepared to pay more for goods that come with good, honest and fair credentials.
  • Rewarding Millennials doesn’t have to cost a lot of money in terms of salaries (though this is a generation under pressure). Non-monetary compensation; time off to engage in local initiatives, personal development and the opportunity to build life skills all help to build loyalty among employees.
  • Businesses need to demonstrate flexibility, individuality and empowerment. Organisations by their nature rally against change, but they it’s only by striking out and being different that they will stand out as good prospective employers.
  • You don’t have to be a Millennial to work well with Millennials but if you take the time to listen to them and understand their point of view, it can pay back hugely.

As I listened to this group talk honestly, and without arrogance or a personal agenda about how travel and tourism businesses could show better understanding and support for their Millennial employees in return for a healthy dose of passion and a desire to make a difference, something important occurred to me: Having Millennial employees who want to give their views known on how the business is run isn’t a threat, it’s a privilege. This will prove essential for helping employers to adapt, and survive in the future.

Still, the challenges for the travel industry are clear. Of course many of the start-ups and huge online businesses that have emerged in recent years depend on having a young, dynamic tech-savvy workforce, and put in place respectable measures to retain them. Trivago seems to be a good example. There are many smaller companies too, and I have many friends and colleagues in the travel industry who go out of their way to bring inexperienced young people into their organisations and put them in a position where they can flourish.

Still, on the whole, changing HR practices to suit the next generation of employees can present a huge challenge. Earlier this year I was invited to explain to the members of the Air Travel Action Group (made up of the world’s biggest airlines, airport groups and aircraft manufacturers) in the Group’s annual report how they would need to change their thinking:

As an industry defined by punishing schedules and the challenge of delivering profitability, the air transport industry may struggle to meet millennials in the middle when it comes to fulfilling those expectations on social responsibility and a better work-life balance, especially since they are now shared across the globe. Breaking down the silos and gender imbalances that still persist within the industry will be vital too since millennials’ attitudes towards diversity are strikingly different to older generations.

Airlines work hard to show a welcoming, diverse face to their customers, but can the same yet be said of the image they present to their potential employees? They can surely do more to show that they respect and welcome differences in age, gender, race and sexuality because millennials increasingly expect it. In short, if recruiting the best talent is necessary to remain competitive (after all, employees are one of the few elements that truly stand out in an industry which offers a standardised product) then the industry will have to take note of millennials’ deeply-felt aspirations and demonstrate what it can do to help this generation meet its personal and professional ambitions in a meaningful way.
(View the full report here)

Do you think there is a fundamental difference in the way that businesses in the tourism sector engage with Millennials as customers and as employees? Which industries risk falling behind?  There is clearly much more to discuss on the similarities and differences in the way that travel and tourism businesses interact with Millennials and I hope to return to the subject soon. In the meantime, I look forward to hearing your own opinions.

When ‘the hell of other people’ is part of the tourist experience

Standard

The problem of overtourism is being intensified by bad behaviour. Will this just continue to get worse, and what can destinations and visitor attractions do to keep the peace?

This is the second of three posts which will deal with the consequences of tourist overcrowding or ‘overtourism’ in cities and what can be done about it.

In recent years, each peak tourism season in Europe’s most popular city destinations has brought with it a higher tide of tourists, frequently peppered with stories of scandalous behaviour and exasperation by local residents. In some cities residents have even set up protest groups to pressure local authorities and raise awareness about the impact of tourists on their daily lives. This has gained them much exposure in the local, national and even international press, and probably caused some embarrassment for the authorities concerned.

All of this matters for the tourism industry as overcrowding risks disappointment for visitors (in a survey of tourists in Barcelona this year, 58% thought that there were too many tourists in the city) damage to the destination’s brand, and confrontation between local people – some of whom gain a lot from tourism and some of whom suffer as a result of it. When temperatures soar and visitors fill the streets it’s logical that local people will ask ‘where’s the limit?’, ‘do we really have to put up with it?’, and ‘what can be done?’.

In some cases, a cap on visitor numbers, regulated by paid entry by ticket (as scheme started this year by the villages of Cinque Terre in Italy) may make sense. However in the case of large cities, it’s much more difficult to impose a cap on visitor numbers and calm the rising tide of what Hosteltur calls ‘turismophobia’. Instead cities have to work out different methods to control visitor flows and modify behaviour. What is clear is that this is not just a problem for local authorities to manage but one for all stakeholders (residents, local authorities, tour operators) must help to solve.  After all, we’re dealing with people being, well, people, and the question of getting deadly serious with holidaymakers who are trying to enjoy themselves is actually quite a complex one.

When great attractions aren’t so attractive

The question of ‘whose job is it to educate tourists?’ has occurred to me more frequently since I worked on the study Stepping Out of the Crowd, a major piece of research that looked at the implications of future tourism growth.  The report forecasted massive growth in outbound travel from Asia (and China in particular) in the coming years. We took a sample of over 1,000 people aged 16-35 from 13 outbound markets in Asia who had travelled overseas in the past 12 months.

Stepping Out of the Crowd, Copyright PATA 2016

Analysing how Asian Millennials feel about visiting crowded attractions (Copyright Pacific Asia Travel Association 2016)

As the graph shows, we asked about visits to popular attractions, and what they most disliked about the experience. The red, orange, brown and yellow bars indicated ‘dislike’ from strong dislike to minor irritation, while the blue bars indicated that they didn’t know or weren’t bothered. ‘Disruptive behaviour by other visitors’ was what caused the most irritation, followed by slow-moving crowds and the risk of crime such as pickpocketing. Other aspects such as waiting in line or having limited freedom to move around also caused irritation, and this was made worse by rude staff. Meanwhile, aspects such as having to walk a long way or pay a higher ticket price or endure long visiting time (perhaps accepted as more inevitable) were more acceptable. You can find the full results by obtaining the report from the Pacific Asia Travel Association.

The sliding scale of bad behaviour

Clearly, when it comes to disruptive behaviour by other visitors, the word ‘disruptive’ could mean a lot of things. In fact, many different actions could be placed on a sliding scale all the way from ‘outlandish and dangerous’ to ‘people being people’. Here’s my sliding scale, starting with the worst:

  • Downright dangerous. Tourist behaving very badly, risking death. These are the stories that usually hit the headlines. Examples include jumping from bridges in Venice, or (see Guardian article). You don’t have to be a savvy local to know that what you’re doing is really stupid and puts yourself and other people in danger.
  • Outlandish or offensive. Also involving a serious lack of common sense resulting in media exposure, this type of behaviour causes offence to local people, especially if it means violating a local cultural norm in a local way, or damaging some type of local heritage. Examples include getting naked (those Italians in Barcelona), the Brits who stripped off on the sacred Mount Kinabalu in Malaysia, or the Chinese guy who etched his name on to an ancient pyramid.
  • Being seen (and definitely heard). Many visitor attractions such as places of worship, art galleries and museums require their visitors to maintain a respectful level of silence so that people can concentrate on what they’re looking at, and reflect in silence. People shout, talk loudly, argue or behave aggressively for lots of reasons, but obeying the rules where silence is required, is mostly about common sense. So what to do about people who don’t obey these rules?
  • Photography. In my opinion, photography is in a league of its own. The use of smartphones and real-time sharing has meant that arguably the majority of tourists feel compelled to capture what they see on camera. Recent inventions such as selfie sticks and Go Pros help tourists to do this, but arguably they also make people a little bit more daring and self-obsessed when it comes to getting that magic shot. This leads to the very modern phenomenon of death by selfie, or even posing for a photo like the German tourist who fell from Machu Picchu mountain this year.

    Selfie sticks
    : Even when tourists are not standing on cliff-edges with them, carrying a selfie stick is rather like waving a golf club around, so it’s also not surprising that airlines or major attractions such as the Palace of Versailles have banned them, or people like this guy have become an online sensation:

  • People just being people. Being a tourist can be a tiring business. Long hours on your feet, bombarded with new sights, sounds and smells, and the need to be alert to your personal safety and the behaviour of others the whole time. Sometimes it’s tempting to sit down on the nearest step, patch of grass or shaded street, and chat with friends rather than keep moving or find a café. This leads to people collecting in large numbers, blocking walkways or steps in order to find shade or sit down causing pedestrian or traffic congestion.

Aside from people just being people, it must also be said that the problems of bad tourist behaviour can sometimes be linked to certain kinds of businesses and activities that operate in popular tourist hubs, such as beer bikes, Segway tours, pub crawls or the proliferation of certain types of ‘trashy’ or more down-market stores that are not linked to the traditional image of the city.

So, as we can see, the problems associated with overcrowding and bad tourist behaviour are quickly becoming more diverse and challenging for destinations but one thing is clear: this is something that all types of destination –whether they currently suffer from congestion or not- will have to plan for, and tackle in an intelligent way so as not to damage a significant stream of income for their local economy. In my next post I’ll talk about some interesting ideas on how to do this.

In the meantime, why not follow check out the rest of my blog or follow me on Twitter?

Could ‘Paris Syndrome’ spread to your destination?

Peak season in Paris
Standard

Excitement turns to disappointment when cities fill with tourists, making local people angry and visitors look for someplace else.

Peak season in Paris

This is the first of three posts which will deal with the consequences of tourist overcrowding in cities and what can be done about it.

“Headaches, palpitations, depression and suicidal thoughts”. Those were some of the symptoms doctors identified in the early 2000s among visitors to Paris – in particular Japanese – who were overcome with disappointment to find that their experience of the French capital didn’t meet with their dreams. The problem became so serious that in 2004 the Japanese Embassy in Paris set up a special helpline to support disappointed visitors through episodes of what became labelled as ‘Paris Syndrome’. That was over a decade ago. With armed soldiers now patrolling a city on edge, and some of the major monuments looking pretty tarnished, how would those Japanese visitors cope today?

Last week I was in Paris and happened to visit two of the city’s most popular tourism hotspots: the area around the base of the Eiffel Tower and the steps in front of the Sacré Coeur. Despite the latest reports suggesting that tourism arrivals in Paris have declined this summer as a result of recent terrorist attacks, this was still high season in the city and tourists were everywhere. The experience didn’t quite provoke Paris syndrome, but it came close. While roaming soldiers has become a sad but perhaps inevitable side to life in Paris, it wasn’t the only thing that punctured the romantic atmosphere.

No filter: one of the Sacré Coeur fountains mid-Augusts

No filter: one of the Sacré Coeur fountains, one morning, mid-August

The area at the foot of the Eiffel Tower had become a large dustbowl (it had lost its normally tidy grass since giant screens were placed there to show the Euro 2016 football in June) and was crowded with tourists waving selfie sticks while illegal hawkers pestered anyone and everyone non-stop as they tried to sell souvenirs and alcohol. The following morning the steps of the Sacré Coeur in the morning were more serene, but rubbish floated in the fountains, and hawkers and pickpockets circled among the crowds.

Where’s the breaking point?

The problems affecting Paris are certainly not unique to Paris, as many other popular tourist hubs around Europe are starting to discover. In fact, the residents of Paris have probably become used to the rising tide of tourism more than most (that’s not to say they like it). So while these problems are not new, there are a number of factors which are causing this problem to become more urgent:

Firstly, overall, international tourism arrivals are increasing. In fact, the UNWTO’s long term forecast to 2030 suggests that from now until 2030, an average of 43 million additional trips will be made each year. If some of the world’s tourist attractions are already at saturation point, what’s going to happen when these new tourists join the back of the queue and find they can’t get a ticket?

Secondly, city tourism bureaux used to be able to maintain some degree of control over tourist numbers by limiting hotel licences. In this way, a city could only accommodate the number of tourists that its hotels allowed. Tourists also used to hang out in the city centres or cluster around the main attractions. Of course this has evaporated as peer-to-peer rentals through platforms such as Airbnb have allowed tourists to stay above, below and to each side of local residents in private apartments, and increasing numbers of tourists seek to see their chosen destination through the eyes of a local, albeit with a leisure traveller’s frame of mind.

Finally, there’s ‘the sheer hell of other people’. When Jean Paul Sartre wrote in in his 1944 play ‘Huis Clos’ that “Hell is other people” I don’t think he was referring to drunken tourists (however it is possible). Nevertheless, this is the way that many residents of European cities have started to feel about the spaces in which they live, and their daily encounters with tourists who are going to more extreme lengths to generate fame online by doing dumb things. Examples include the Italian tourists who ran naked through the streets of Barcelona, or the increasing numbers of tourists who are jumping into Venice’s Grand Canal. In fact, Barcelona and Venice –both popular with weekend city break and cruise ship visitors – have both featured in the international press and the resulting coverage has arguably damaged each destination’s brand promise. However lots of cities have to deal with tourists behaving normally or badly, while trying to keep the peace between visitors and locals.

I’ll discuss this complex situation in more detail in my next post.

In the meantime, follow me on Twitter @genctraveller

How has aviation shaped a generation?

Standard

Working, studying and partying abroad has never been easier, and it’s been Millennials who have benefited the most from this.

For much of my work, I tend to look at the travel industry and consider the way it is changing (though perhaps not as quickly as it should) to adapt to consumer trends, especially those led by the Millennial generation.

The air transport industry is certainly having to adapt, especially when it comes to the way it engages with consumers through marketing and customer service.

easyJet A319

Recently however, I received an invitation from the Air Travel Action Group (ATAG) – an industry association representing the world’s major aircraft manufacturers and airlines – to look at things from a different perspective. They wanted me to help answer the question: “how has aviation shaped the Millennial generation?”.

After all, over the past two decades, Millennials have been the first generation to

witness the arrival of ticket-less travel, the boom of low-co

st airlines and the simplification of travel formalities, as countries around the world have taken great steps towards removing visa requirements and passport checks. Air travel has certainly become a lot more affordable, completely altering Millennials’ approach to studying, working and of course, partying overseas. This has been

captured with much success and rolled out across Europe in easyJet’s recent tagline ‘Generation easyJet‘. Meanwhile, the boom in low-cost airlines across Southeast Asia has given many consumers (predominantly Millennials) their first taste of international travel. To these young consumers, airlines such as AirAsia aren’t only about transport – they’ve quickly become a lifestyle brand too, offering many other branded products and consumer services (something I’ve written about before on my own blog Gen C Traveller).

However, while all these things have helped to shape Millennials’ attitudes towards global mobility, looking ahead, the picture isn’t necessarily so rosy. In fact, I believe that in the future the air transport industry faces major challenges in connecting with this generation, both as customers and employees.

Today, air transport is becoming more about getting from A to B than from having an exclusive experience, yet that’s what Millennials will spend their money on, if they feel it’s worth it. With tough schedules and long hours, air transport could struggle to meet the expectations of Millennial employees who look more for compassion and flexibility from their employers.

FC_ATAG_AviationBenefitsBeyondBorders

All of this, and more is set out in a two-page article in ATAG’s annual report Aviation Benefits Beyond Borders which was released recently in New York and has already hit the headlines. It’s available for free direct download here (see pages 69-71). 

Meanwhile, if you’d like some practical tips on marketing to Millennials, check out thefree guide I produced with my colleagues at Toposophy.

This post originally appeared on the Toposophy Insights blog. Take a look atTopsophy.com/Insights

How to Make LGBT Travel Matter to Millennials

Mountain picture
Standard

What can destinations and businesses that are looking to attract the LGBT market learn from wider Millennial travel trends?

Last week’s IGLTA Convention in Cape Town brought together delegates from several continents and many different corners of the travel industry. Many of the speakers who weren’t lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender themselves, or hadn’t worked much with LGBT specific businesses remarked how innovative and forward-thinking they find this particular market segment to be.

I would largely agree with that. While it’s important not to generalise, it’s true that many, many LGBT travellers -especially those from mature outbound markets- are early adopters of technology, adventurous and keen to place travel as a priority in their life.

That is not to say, however, that destinations and travel brands seeking to cater to LGBT travellers don’t face their own challenges, or won’t in the future. Following my successful workshop at the IGLTA Convention in Los Angeles last year, IGLTA asked me to return and this time explore this question more deeply: If LGBT Millennials around the world are increasingly happy to identify themselves with their peers (who in-turn see their sexuality as more of a non-issue today), what does that mean for travel companies and destinations who develop and market gay-relevant vacations?

The big questions:

  • Is the LGBT travel industry keeping up with the pace of change in Mountain pictureMillennial attitudes?
  • Will established LGBT destinations remain attractive to emerging market Millennials?
  • In the future, to what extent will sexuality really define vacation choice?
  • What travel criteria will LGBT travellers always have when selecting destinations and travel services?

Just as with the wider group of Millennial consumers, I believe that it is essential for the LGBT travel industry to take lessons learned from youth consumer psychology and the way Millennials travel in general, if they want to tap into the interests of this diverse, niche (but often lucrative) market of travellers. In the presentation below I’ve set out some of these wider lessons to be learned in Millennial traveller behaviour and invite you to think about how they apply to your business.

JUMP TO THE PRESENTATION:

FC CPT Presentation

The big answers:

There’s no quick answer to helping such a broad, diverse industry to adapt to a generational shift in consumer attitudes. However, I’d like to outline here, three major courses of action which should help destinations of all kinds adapt to this profound change:

  • Make travel matter to Millennials. As I outlined in my recent posts ‘Millennial Marketing: going beyond the schmaltz’ and ‘Helping a generation under pressure’, it’s vital to put forward products and experiences that are well adapted to Millennials’ spending behaviour. Selective spending (mixing budget and luxury experiences) is increasingly common, and of course there are so many other constraints on the modern Millennial’s budget. So before you worry about making LGBT travel experiences matter to your Millennial audience, consider how they view what you’re offering in terms of their priorities in life.
  • Innovation – Just like everyone else, LGBT Millennials are becoming more adventurous and seeking authentic experiences that help to connect them with the real soul of the destination. How can you provide such experiences, ensuring that they are open, understanding and welcoming to all?Use the wider lessons in ‘what matter to Millennials’ (the rise in self-improvement, health awareness and the desire to acquire life skills is just one example) to craft your LGBT travel product into something useful and meaningful.
  • Personalisation – Fortunately, all types of gay culture are becoming more mainstream (and vice versa) and the increasing visibility of ‘tribes’ within the LGBT community certainly provides powerful opportunities for the personalization of travel products and marketing that Millennials crave.However don’t forget the essentials: How’s your digital strategy in general? Are you really reaching your target consumers through the channels that they use? Where does your product sit on their path to purchase?

 

Looking for more resources? Check out the rest of my blog here on Genctraveller.com as well as my bibliography.

If you’d like tailored support on adapting your business to reach LGBT Millennials, or are looking for more insights and ideas you can reach me anytime via @genctraveller

How travel and tourism brands can help Millennials, a generation under pressure

Youth-unemployment-cut
Standard

Travel isn’t just about hitting ‘escape’. Destinations and travel brands need to empathise with Millennials to help them build the life skills and experiences that they crave.

Earlier this month I outlined a number of reasons why the reality of life for Millennials in the mature outbound markets of Europe and North America isn’t as rosy as their Instagram feeds might suggest (view post: ‘Marketing to Millennials: Going Beyond the Schmaltz’)

In sharp contrast to much of the upbeat commentary about Millennials you may have occasionally stumbled across in the media, tried to shine a light on the darker reality for Millennials; the atrocious economic situation they’re faced with, career paths built on unstable ground, unmanageable debts and social-media induced anxiety about how everyone else is coping better than they are.

So why is life so tough for Millennials? As The Guardian put it earlier this year in its series about this generation, ‘it isn’t that members of Gen Y, with smartphones and cheap air tickets in hand, are about to edge back into the Dickensian workhouse. The tide of technology is not about to go into reverse […]. The concern is rather that all the old paths that allowed their parents to get ahead – careers with prospects, home ownership and decent pensions – are one by one being blocked off. Today’s young adults enjoy greater social, sexual and cultural freedom than any before them. But in hock to debts, to landlords and often unstructured work, the one freedom they are lacking is the freedom to make their own luck’.Youth-unemployment-cut

Of course, the reality for the vast majority of Millennials lays somewhere in the middle of the extremes painted by the media. Still, my argument in this post is that it’s wise to look beyond the ‘schmaltz’, show a certain empathy with the real situation of how young people are living today and to try and put forward solutions that really help. Fortunately, for a generation that is faced with the need to compete in the global workplace, enhance life skills, develop social intelligence, improve cross-cultural understanding and just gain more self-confidence with which to face the world, can you think of a better answer than travelling?

Faced with the rather depressing list of real-life elements that Millennials have to battle with, it can be hard to know where to start and to know which factors will be more relevant than others when trying to build that empathy into an engagement strategy. Some of those elements will offer more direct clues of what products or solutions could be offered, others will simply give pause for thought. Here I have offered some recommendations on how destinations and travel brands can react to some of Millennials’ emerging character traits.

Stop the world, I want to get off!

It’s no coincidence that the world’s major corporations are investing big money in learning how to recruit and retain Millennials. Why? Because the future of the world’s biggest companies depends not just on a steady stream of young customers, but bright young staff too. Yet this highly mobile, restless generation is wondering whether the 40+ hour week is really what they want from life. Search ‘Millennials’ and ‘work’ and it won’t take too long for you to find a lot of hand-wringing articles discussing how Millennials are a needy generation, craving instant job satisfaction, fast promotion, flexible schedules and a lot of hand-holding.

As the generation that grew up in the shadow of the global economic crisis, Millennials in the developed world have witnessed the traditional rewards of work – a decent salary, prospects for promotion, support from well-trained supervisors, and a pot of gold at the end of it all (ie. a good pension) – crumble away pretty fast. In other words, the existing model of study, steady job, healthy retirement has become a lot less reliable. Millennials Generation easyJetacross the developed world largely believe they are unlikely to earn more than their parents, hence for many –especially older Millennials who have had a taste of the world of work- this has given rise to the philosophy of ‘I may as well enjoy myself now’. This is a trend that I believe that easyJet has latched onto strongly with its ‘Generation easyJet’ campaign.

Heading into a highly competitive world of work

At the same time, research is showing younger Millennials to be quite serious, studious generation. Various speakers at the Youth Marketing Summit in London last year made it clear that the ‘sex, drugs & rock n’ roll’ youth stereotype is precisely a stereotype because it’s more relevant to today’s parents (Gen X and Baby Boomers) than to young people themselves. Instead, aware of the challenges of getting through endless school exams, winning a university place and then a foot on the job ladder, research presented at YMS showed younger (UK) Millennials to be a serious, nervous group, keen to take opportunities for improving academic knowledge, as well as the kind of soft skills that are likely to help them build self-confidence and give them the competitive edge in the jobs market.

Blurring the lines

As I described in my Toposophy guide to Putting Your Destination on the Millennial Map, bleisure travel (business + leisure) is firmly on the rise and it’s Millennials who are leading the trend. However, it’s especially common among a growing tribe of Millennials – ‘freelancers’, or putting it nicely, ‘independent contractors’. You’ve seen us, hunched over a laptop, nursing an over-priced coffee and refusing to budge from the corner of your local coffee chain (we’re in the corner because that’s where the ONE AND ONLY electricity socket is).

On a serious note, a combination of economic circumstances, technological change and personal choice has given rise to more and more independent contractors, and as automation and the on-demand economy continue their unstoppable expansion, this tribe is only set to grow. Putting aside for a moment the rather worrying question of what this all means for the future stability of work and social security systems, the start-up generation (yes, those ‘digital nomads’) is footloose and able to live and work where it suits them most. Avid users of sharing economy services and addicted to tech solutions, they tend to be highly influential and attract a trail of capital, so consider them as trailblazers for regeneration (and responsible for rising rents, everywhere from Berlin to Bucharest to Barcelona to Belfast).

Mobile devices: bringing those who are far away closer, and pushing those who are close further away

The smartphone has, without question, become the essential tool to getting through modern life. Social media has become the go-to place for news, advice, fun, gossip, planning and nurturing friendships. Unsurprisingly, younger Millennials (who had social media in their lives from an earlier stage than older Millennials) can get severe FOBO or ‘fear of being offline’, yet studies are also starting to highlight the effect of a life lived online.

As Skift’s Portrait of the Millennial Traveller (2016) observed ‘Millennials are also social-media-stressfamously known for being mobile and social media addicts. Yet many marketers are finding what they really crave is deeper real-life human connections when traveling’. Essentially, many, many young people today are lonely, yearning for face-to-face interaction with parents, siblings and friends who are able to offer the depth of support and compassion not available through digital connections. I believe that while separating people (especially young people) from their devices is neither practical nor desirable, many people of all ages are now seeking (craving) experiences that put personal connections (fun, recreation, communication) first with technology taking a back seat.

It goes without saying that whether through structured or un-structured situations, travelling provides so many different ways for Millennials to re-connect with loved ones in person, make new friends and practice the ‘social intelligence’ skills that can boost their confidence and be of real use in finding a job and surviving in the world of work.

Selective spending

And now for the big question… money.

In my last post I painted a portrait of a cash-strapped generation that’s under pressure from the high cost of rent, student debt, wage stagnation and much else. You might be forgiven for thinking that travel would be relegated to the bottom of the priority list for spending, but then think back to my first point – this is the YOLO generation and the money that’s not going towards houses, cars, redecorating, new TVs, high-end fashion and savings (pension? what pension?), is more often than not being spent on experiences, rather than material things. Combine this desire with the ability that the internet provides to break down and then pick and choose every experience during a trip, this gives the effect of what Josh Wyatt from Generator Hostels calls ‘curated spending’ (source). This means that for a generation less attracted to the notion of conspicuous consumption, it’s perfectly socially acceptable to carefully mix budget and luxury along the journey if it means getting access to the type of experiences that will bring personal satisfaction, and strengthen the Millennial customer’s brand on social media.

QUICK TIPS:

What does all the above mean when it comes to targeting Millennials?

  • Understand what your product or destination really means for Millennials in terms of where they at in their lives. Is it for a quick escape or a long-desired career break?
  • Understand that these escapes can come at any time (check out my post about Last Minute Leisure). Consider where Millennials are gathering their inspiration for life-changing journeys and consider where you are (and where you need to be) on their path-to-purchase.
  • Understand that Millennials don’t compartmentalise work/study/leisure/fun, especially where travelling is concerned, so you need to adopt the same mentality. See the section on ‘bleisure’ travel in my Toposophy guide to ‘Putting Your Destination on the Millennial Map’
  • Hard experience builds soft skills. Highlight the value of offline experiences, and how your destination or brand makes those truly special. What opportunities do you offer to meet local people, make friends (or romance), or re-connect with loved ones? How can you help Millennials towards their goals of self-improvement?
  • Drop old pre-conceptions about budget vs. luxury travellers. Millennials are less and less consistent in that regard. Instead, consider how your product, service or destination is ‘unique’ and how it will help strengthen the traveller’s ‘personal brand’.

Looking for more ideas, or want to chat about these insights? Talk to me via @genctraveller

Millennial marketing: Going beyond the schmaltz

newsimg_deb-green-deal
Standard

For Millennials, life isn’t as rosy as you’d think

Sorry to shatter the illusion, but unemployment, spiralling debt, careers without prospects, the generational wealth gap, social-media induced stress and general life-anxiety also affect Millennials’ consumer decisions and by extension, their travel behaviour.

When it comes to writing observations about Millennial-aged consumers, there’s a tendency to accompany such writing with a filtered photo of happy, good-looking Millennials. They’re usually of diverse backgrounds and sharing a joke around a picnic table or, of course taking a group selfie. They’re all wearing big smiles, have perfect teeth and simply ooze health and prosperity (spoiler: they’re stock-photo models).

You know the type of images I’m talking about, and maybe like me you’re also guilty of using them in your presentations when trying to capture the essence of ‘Millennials’. It’s an easy trap to fall into, and to be honest these days I try to keep them to a minimum, in favour of illustrating the diversity of this generation and the different stages of life they pass through during this crucial period of their lives.newsimg_deb-green-deal

Which brings me onto the subject of this post: namely, that not everything is perfect for this generation, in fact far from it. Therefore in order to be effective at communicating with Millennials, you have to understand the bad stuff that’s happening to them, as well as the good.

Before I go any further, I want to highlight a point that must be understood properly if we’re going to understand Millennials’ consumer behaviour in a proper, measured way. That is: not all Millennials are the same.

During my presentation ‘Six Trends that Will Change the World’ at WTM London last year I illustrated this point in different ways. Between the ages of 18-35 you can go through the gruelling obstacle course that is school, part-time work, university/college, internships, first major romantic relationships and much else. Think of Millennials who you know, and you can quickly see how diverse they are. There is also a significant difference between the life events and of Millennials from different countries especially between Millennials from mature and emerging outbound markets.

These similarities and differences between Millennials were neatly outlined by Robert Guest in The Economist in January 2016: ‘All generalisations about such a vast group should be taken with a bucket of salt. What is true of young Chinese may not apply to young Americans or Burundians. But the young do have some things in common: they grew up in the age of smartphones and in the shadow of a global financial disaster. They fret that it is hard to get a good education, a steady job, a home and—eventually—a mate with whom to start a family’.

Furthermore, last week Deanna Ting published a very good article in Skift, asking ‘Do Millennials Really View Travel Differently?’ The article was posed as ‘a daring thought’ and suggested that actually Millennials’ attitudes really aren’t that different to those of previous generations that the same stage in their lives, and that other generations are quickly starting  to adopt similar patterns of consumer behaviour to Millennials. It also suggested that for this reason it might not be worth the time or effort of catering to Millennials specifically. I would argue that actually Millennials’ worries are some of the key characteristics that define this generation’s consumer habits and, by extension, their travel behaviour.

So where did it all go wrong?

Over the past decade, Millennials growing up in the more mature outbound markets of North America and Europe have, to a greater or lesser extent been affected by the following:

  • High levels of unemployment. During the crisis, unemployment among younger people rose faster than it did for older adults.
  • Unstable career paths: Careers, especially those traditionally considered ‘safe’ in the public services are becoming characterised by uncertainty, wage cuts and poorer conditions
  • Rising cost of higher education: For many young people graduating in the US or the UK it is now normSmashing-Piggy-Bankal to be in five or event six-figure debt before starting a first job. Debt repayment is also to be factored in with the higher cost of living

 

 

 

  • Unstructured work: Young people are disproportionately subject to short term employment, zero-hours contracts, dependence on internships or the need to raise income through the on-demand economy (short term accommodation, car sharing, food delivery etc). This has the effect of making earnings unreliable, and incomes unpredictable.

 

  • Pensions are in crisis: For many young people, a pension is the last thing on their mind as they struggle to meet rental costs, repay student loans or a rising cost of living. Many companies have also shut generous final salary pension schemes, leaving Millennials to make their own arrangements (which many are not)

 

  • Wage stagnation: Even during the current (apparent) economic recovery, wages have remained stagnant or have not risen in line with inflation

 

  • High cost of borrowing: This has made it much more difficult to purchase the large-ticket assets (such as houses or cars) that their parents were able to obtain at relatively lower cost at the same stage in their life

 

  • Drastically-reduced supply of affordable housing: In the major cities where better jobs are to be found, rising demand and falling supply (as houses are bought and let out on the market by baby-boomers) has had the effect of pushing housing beyond the reach of young professionals, and increasing the cost of renting, which in turn reduces the ability to save for a deposit. Hence the label ‘generation rent’

 

  • A vanishing pot of gold waiting at the end… As baby boomers live longer, governments are expecting them to take on a greater burden of paying for their own care, which reduces the amount or even likelihood of inheritance for Millennials

Against this backdrop, is it any surprise that Millennials are showing deeper levels of stress and anxiety? As I’ve explained in my post on happiness and Millennials, there are lots of theories about quite what is making Gen Y (at least in the Western world) such an anxious and apprehensive generation.

Is it all down to the economic crisis? Perhaps it is social media and #FOMO (fear of missing out) that it creates?  Or maybe it’s school exam systems or busy parents who don’t have the time to sit down and talk about it all? Growing up in the era of 24-hour news and social media has also made Millennials more aware of how the global economic crisis could affect them in terms of job prospects and future financial security.

Of course feelings of uncertainty and insecurity about one’s identity and the wider world has always been part of growing up. But then previous generations didn’t face quite the same anxieties over peer job prospects, debts, body image, school grades, and everything in between that young people face today.

While social media is a great connector it often helps to reinforce, rather than reassure young people about those anxieties. Some say that it has, in effect replaced the traditional social settings (such as bars, clubs or associations) where people used to mingle for news, gossip, advice and support.

On that dark note I’m going to bring this post to a close. Next week I’m going to discuss some of the ways in which the economic scenario I’ve described is affecting Millennials’ consumer behaviour, and how travel brands can react to this challenge.