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’.
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 across 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 famously 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.
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.
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