Millennial marketing: Going beyond the schmaltz


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.

Last minute leisure

Last minute leisure

The time lapse from dreaming to booking to escaping just got even shorter – and it’s Gen C Travellers who are driving this new trend.

‘The early bird catches the worm’ has bLast minute leisureeen the mantra of the travel and tourism industry for many years now, driven by the rise of online booking that encouraged early bookers to take advantage of the lowest fares or cheapest hotel rooms. As a result, travel companies such as airlines take last minute bookings – whether online or at the airport sales desk as a sign that desperate travellers are willing to pay a premium to get to where they want to go. But what if a new trend in traveller behaviour was to challenge the approach of penalising the last-minute traveller?

Recent research on traveller spontaneity has revealed that in the UK 19% of travellers (6 million people in total) use their mobile phone to book getaway breaks on the day of travel and over half (59%) are booking getaway breaks in the same week they depart. (which commissioned the research) also reported that more and more customers book hotels between 6pm and midnight for stays that very night, taking last minute living to a whole new level. Just in the last quarter of 2014 the company reported that mobile traffic and bookings had ‘increased significantly’.

Research by a company like Lastminute whose model is built on spontaneous bookings is hardly likely to show that customers prefer to book earlier, however these figures do highlight some wider issues for the travel industry driven by increased use of mobile devices in planning and booking travel:

Make no mistake – Gen C Travellers, the connected generation, is driving this trend in spontaneous booking.

  • Connectedness is at the heart of this trend: constant connectedness while on the move makes it possible for Gen C to book with confidence at the last minute
  • Real-time updates and wider experience in shopping online and receiving goods on the same day gives consumers increased confidence in booking big-ticket items with shorter lead times
  • Price comparison websites show thousands of results at a time from a whole host of providers. It used to be that trips required huge amounts of planning but unless there’s a major event on, a basic web search is pretty much guaranteed to bring up somewhere to stay, and if flights, hotels, and activities are packaged and presented to make one-touch mobile bookings easier, this further increases convenience and thus consumers’ confidence in booking in this way.
  • Shorter lead times make planning more difficult for hotels and airlines. However, those who are agile enough could stand to win as they offer spare capacity and sell off perishable stock (ie. hotel rooms that can only be sold once before they go out of date.

With January upon us, it’s hard to miss the usual splurge of online, TV and newspaper adverts aiming to encourage January holiday bookings for the summer season. But what about the increasing numbers of travellers who make their booking just six hours before departure, rather than six months?

Reaching these travellers will mean that the game of catching these consumers’ imagination and encouraging them to book just got much much shorter. Rather than carry out a drip-drip process of inspiration and enticement over a period of months, the key will be to work with those companies that offer last-minute deals to make the journey from inspiration to booking occur within a matter of hours.

And where are spontaneous bookers (often bored, desperate 9-5 office workers) likely to be trawling in the crucial few hours before booking? On social media of course. Thus round-the clock social media management has just taken on even greater importance in the world of destination promotion. Loyalty schemes will also have to adapt to this trend because if they don’t then a more nimble provider will get in there with an offer first.

A few more interesting facts from Lastminute’s research:

  • A third of British travel and leisure spend is spontaneous: of the 5.62 annual holidays and short breaks they take, 2.13 were booked less than three weeks before departure. And out of every £3 spent last year by Brits on travel and leisure £1 went to spontaneous trips and outings (£1,933 out of £6,073).
  •  Over half of Brits (56%) say the best decisions they had ever made were spontaneous (OnePoll survey commissioned by, with 2,000 adults in the UK in July 2014)
  • 44% of Brits have booked a holiday or break completely on a whim (OnePoll survey commissioned by, with 2,000 adults in the UK in July 2014)
  • Almost a third of Brits (32%) say they totally rely on their gut feeling when making a decision (OnePoll survey commissioned by, with 2,000 adults in the UK in July 2014)
  • Brits think about just quickly getting away spontaneously almost five times per week (Yougov survey commissioned by, with 2,200 adults in April 2013)

The top 10 most common decisions made on a whim by Brits:

(OnePoll survey commissioned by, with 2,000 British adults in July 2014)

  1. Booked a holiday / break
  2. Bought a television or big gadget
  3. Dyed my hair
  4. Went out one night which turned out to be the most amazing night ever
  5. Quit my job
  6. Started a whole new hobby / passion
  7. Just packed the bags and went to a place I always wanted to go to
  8. Asked someone out on a date
  9. Got a tattoo
  10. Been unfaithful

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6 Ways Airbnb Changed Hospitality and the Vacation Rental Industry

Airbnb August 2014

Hotel chains and industry associations might be lobbying to regulate sites like Airbnb out of Airbnb August 2014existence, but you can’t deny that the site has forced change upon the industry. Like flying with low-cost airlines –another model that disrupted the status quo and forced incumbents to change their practices the site wouldn’t exist if people weren’t comfortable with using it.

Originally published by Skift last week, this article lists the ways in which Airbnb has shaken up the hospitality industry. As I discuss below, there are lessons to be learned for consumers and traditional accommodation providers. Read on to see my take on Skift’s analysis of the sharing economy giant.

Article starts:

Sharing economy companies have truly changed how we visit destinations, how we stay there, and how we move around.

Services such as Uber and Airbnb have taken the best of the web, mobile, and social to create travel products that allow people to find rides or places to stay with an ease that was previously unheard of. Their success has shown the errors of regulation in some areas, as well as demonstrated that hubris and a disregard for local laws isn’t the hinderance to success that one would assume.

Here’s how Airbnb made things better:

Transactions are safer and easier: Amounts are kept by the service until a stay is complete and all parties are satisfied. Prior to Airbnb, getting a vacation home or short-term rental involved payments that were fraught with red flags: Western Union money transfers to a guy in central Florida, a cashier’s check left at a bodega, all the money upfront for an unseen beach house on the Jersey shore.

At Airbnb users are given a level of comfort and security by being able to pay for transactions with credit cards, having amounts set aside until the trip is complete, and being able to dispute charges or request refunds. It’s not perfect, but it’s closer to a hotel-like experience than what existed before it came on the scene.

Feedback is transparent: Vacation rental sites were really just modern classifieds before Airbnb emerged. An owner or real estate agent would buy space, post their listing and the space was theirs. There was no easy way for guests to leave comments or share experiences, and no way for future guests to get advice from previous ones. And God knows how long ago those photos were taken.

But since hosts do not own their listing page on Airbnb, guests can rate and review without fear. Hosts can review back, knowing that bad guests will be called out by other hosts. That’s the advantage of Airbnb’s model: take a cut of the transaction rather than sell space.

Discovery is easy: Searching on Airbnb is like or Starwood. You see rooms, locations, prices, amenities, and so on upfront. Sorting is an ease, and there is original content from local experts explain destinations. Since guests are often looking at lodging outside of city centers, the big maps tell you right where you’ll be. Guests can read about hosts and see previous guest reviews to determine if they’re staying with someone who knows what she’s doing, or just some dude trying to dump his crappy studio on some poor tourist for the weekend.

Pictures are nice: Looking at pictures on some old-school sites results in a “what were you thinking?” moment. Airbnb still offers to send professionals to your house to photograph the place in many markets. Genius. There’s a reason why users spend more time on Airbnb than any other travel booking site: It’s half travel planner, half real estate porn. Want to see the inside of a cool Venice, California bungalow? A Paris pied-à-terre? Go to Airbnb. It’s a Pinterest with direct booking.

The flip side is also true. When a host can’t be bothered to take a good picture, they may not be bothered to clean the sheets or empty the fridge. Or they are truly scary.

Cities are bigger: While we reject Airbnb’s characterization of what their typical hosts are like, we agree completely with their arguments for how they’ve made cities bigger. New York’s most popular neighborhoods are not the ones with the most hotels; Harlem has one good hotel, but 1,000 Airbnb listings. A simple search on Airbnb by neighborhood in other markets tells the same story.

This tells us a lot about how people like to travel now. They don’t always want to be stuck in a central district with other tourists (although many do, because that also means better transport and services) and they’re seeking out alternatives.

Rentals are safe: We’ve ignored the stories about Airbnb orgies, call-girls, and destruction because they’re so fringe as to be not worth covering. The Airbnb squatter? Fascinating but rare. If you’re a user or a host you can almost always rely on the review system to alert you of bad actors and you can pick and choose based on the criteria that’s important to you.

We pay for the Associated Press, Reuters, and news feeds from papers across the U.S. and can tell you that there’s not a day goes by when there’s not a crime at some hotel — murder, child trafficking, Crystal Meth production. But it’s a rarity at Airbnb. This will likely not last for ever — the social graph can only protect you so far once you become wildly popular — but it has worked so far.


My take:

My interest in this subject is overwhelmingly driven by what consumers get from the experience, and why they are using sites like Airbnb in ever-greater numbers. When easyJet launched in 1995 offering flights for just £1, people said it couldn’t be trusted and started to strongly question where the flaws were. Still, like online shopping and other game-changing models of the internet age, consumers used it, liked what they got, and went back for more.

Crucially, their decision wasn’t always motivated by low-prices (though that’s central to the premise). Flexibility, a fresh approach to customer service and airlines projecting themselves as another part of consumers’ lifestyle brand mix were also important. Today, consumers (especially Millennials) are displaying similar motivations and patterns of behaviour. They are discovering a brand and a way of consuming that fits with their lifestyle and values.

Making cities bigger

What also stands out from Skift’s article is a reminder that Airbnb has ‘made cities bigger’ in the sense that the focus of tourism activity has widened to the suburbs as consumers opt for lower prices on the outskirts, and an opportunity to discover outlying districts where hotels might be scarce but the way of life is a genuine reflection of the destination. For consumers seeking authenticity, a chance to meet local people and consume-local, again Airbnb offers this in spade-loads. While the site definitely takes a hefty slice of commission from service (accommodation) providers, the money renters receive invariably goes to help with household costs, rather than into the pockets of large corporations, as this article in El País about its impact on those renting rooms in Barcelona described last month.

A happy medium

While sites like Airbnb have clearly taken root, it is important not to get caught up in the hype or overlook their flaws. The site might be slick and professional, but renters are amateur businesspeople, some of whom like those on the High Street, aren’t very good. Sharing economy sites, local authorities responsible for hotel taxation and traditional accommodation providers are still yet to find a happy balance and an adequate regulatory means of protecting consumers. For the time being however, consumers – with Millennial travellers leading the way- will continue to use services like this in ever-greater numbers knowing that ultimately they have the power to denounce poor service when things go wrong.

Defining Millennials


In order to make products and services appeal to specific groups of consumers, marketers frequently classify consumer groups according to certain characteristics, of which age is a common denominator with labels applied to different generations. Assuming that people start to make independent consumer decisions once they reach their late teenage years as they start to acquire some degree of financial independence, ‘Millennials’ are currently the youngest generation of independent consumers.

Among the first to use the term ‘Millennials’ were William Strauss and Neil Howe, whose 1991 book, Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069, was widely recognized for its contribution to the analysis of cohort differences in U.S. history and their potential impact on the future. In Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation, published in 2000, Strauss and Howe focused on those born in or after 1982.

Today the Oxford Dictionary neatly describes Millennials as ‘those people reaching young adulthood around the year 2000’ while resource site LiveScience offers the following, more detailed explanation:What is Gen C?

‘The term Millennials generally refers to the generation of people born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s. Perhaps the most commonly used birth range for this group is 1982-2000. The Millennial Generation is also known as Generation Y, because it comes after Generation X — those people between the early 1960s and the 1980s. It has also been called the Peter Pan or Boomerang Generation because of the propensity of some to move back in with their parents, perhaps due to economic constraints, and a growing tendency to delay some of the typical adulthood rites of passage like marriage or starting a career’

Descriptions of their behaviour or the phenomena of their time (the predominance of the Internet in daily life, the global economic crisis, the election of President Obama) are never far away when defining Millennials. The Urban Dictionary is much more searing (and funny) when it comes to describing Millennials’ personality traits. Some contest that the ‘Millennial’ is dead as a concept – you can check out more about that theory and my response to it here.

The diagram above takes in the widest definition of the Millennial generation in terms of birth years and ‘consuming years’. These children of Generation X and the grandchildren of the post-WWII generation are already starting to have their own children, and already the labels ‘Gen Z’, followed by ‘Gen Alpha’ are being tentatively applied to these consumer groups of the future.

Travel products and services for the Millennial generation

In the context of travel and tourism, ‘youth travel’ has traditionally been applied to the industry that has built up around the needs of the younger traveller, however it’s not a clear concept to grasp for those looking to cater to a specific generation of consumers who have such game-changing characteristics as this one. For this reason ‘Millennials’ and ‘Gen C’ serve as a particularly useful label for the current generation of young travellers.

Besides, the products and services that have built up to serve young consumers are now being avidly consumed by older generations too, raising questions over the term ‘youth travel’ as an effective label for travel products aimed at this consumer group.

A generation that’s changing the rules of the game

One thing is for certain, and that is that the Millennial a generation comfortable with disrupting the norm. Being the first generation to have grown up in the era of ‘internet everywhere’, Millennials are highly connected, technologically advanced and globally conscious and far more open to trying out new products and concepts than their parents or grandparents ever were.

This is partly why the sharing economy – a phenomenon which is tearing up the rule book for traditional tourism providers in particular – is flourishing as Millennial consumers flock to benefit from the value and convenience it offers for accessing a whole range of products and services.

Travel, tourism and the Millennial generation: learn more

In future posts I’ll be discussing the approaches that travel brands have made towards targeting the Millennial consumer and asking how effective they are at appealing to the masses of Millennial consumers out there.