Millennials just want to be happy. So what is the ‘industry of happiness’ doing about it?

"Her Flying Red Shoes"  by Faisal Akram (Source: Wiki Commons)

Research on Millennials consistently points to their desire to attain happiness ahead of the other priorities in life. This opens up a golden opportunity for the travel and tourism industry.

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 the economic crisis? Is it social media and #FOMO (fear of missing out) that it creates?  Perhaps it’s school exam systems or busy parents who don’t have the time to sit down and talk about it all?

Of course feelings of uncertainty and insecurity about your identity and the world around you has always been part of growing up. But then previous generations didn’t face quite the same anxieties over peer pressure, body image, school grades, job prospects, debts and everything in between that young people face today. And yes, while social media is a great connector, it often helps to reinforce, rather than reassure young people about those anxieties. At the same time,  growing up in the era of 24-hour news and social media has made Millennials more aware of what’s going on in their immediate community of friends as well as major events further away. This has produced a generation that’s more fired-up about global issues and ready to step in to participate than their parents were. At the same time, it has made this generation (and their parents) acutely aware of how the global economic crisis is affecting them, and could affect them in terms of job prospects and future financial security.

Under pressure

"Her Flying Red Shoes"  by Faisal Akram (Source: Wiki Commons) So it’s not surprising when research like Voxburner’s Youth Trends 2015 (covered here by my friends at ICEF Monitor) highlights  a generation that feels under pressure to “succeed in life’ (79% of 16-24 year olds), or is worried about being financially stable (75%) or able to find a good career (73%). When Viacom asked Millennials around the world ‘will you earn more than your parents in the future?’, in Australia only 15% of 15-24 year olds, and 17% of 25-30 year olds thought that they would – and that’s in a country which did pretty well during the crisis years. Across the developed world the global economic crisis has produced real wariness over what the future holds. Today, even an expensive education doesn’t automatically lead to a well-paid job with good conditions.

– How do you define success?

– ‘Being happy’

In the face of this uncertaintly, Millennials are adjusting their expectations from life. I think that’s what’s behind the number one response that Millennials gave in the Viacom survey when asked ‘How do you define success?’. By far the top answer was ‘being happy’ (73%) followed by ‘being part of a loving family’ (58%) and much further ahead than material things such as ‘being rich’ (36%) or ‘driving a nice car’ (just 5%). Perhaps this generation has started to realise that with the best will in the world, top jobs are tough to get (and not always pleasant), fame can be more trouble than it’s worth, and flashy cars and homes don’t impress their peers like they used to in years gone by.

Travel is the antidote

Insights like this can teach us important lessons about this generation’s priorities when it comes to travel, and how travel marketers can respond. In the first instance, there’s a big opportunity to position travel as the key to attaining that happiness, ahead of other big purchase decisions on property or cars. In essence, this means converting the ‘dreamers’ into ‘travellers’, making sure your destination is front-of-mind when that conversion happens. This challenge was highlighted by Sally Balcombe, CEO of VisitBritain in her recent interview with Skift in which she made it clear that ‘creating the urgency to visit now’ is something all DMOs are looking to do in a crowded marketplace. In 2013 G Adventures surveyed over 2300 people and found that nearly 3 in 4 respondents said that travel was more vital to their happiness than getting car, a house, having a baby or getting married. This sounds like the Millennials talking!

The same survey also found that it’s ‘new experiences’ that make travel so pleasing. This points to another important lesson – that while this generation might be stressed, the answer doesn’t necessarily have to be relaxation. Remember we’re talking about the youth market here, so highlighting adventure, action, curiosity and fun is essential.  It’s all about disconnection from stress through the experience of trying new things, meeting new people and learning new skills. It’s important not to undervalue the value of travel in teaching new skills and boosting the confidence of an anxious generation looking for reassurance, something I’ll address in my next post.

With all this in mind, perhaps it’s time to consider how your brand proposition is really speaking to this generation and offering the promise of happiness, in whichever form that comes. When we read about Millennials and travel, we tend to read a lot about their use of technology, their love of social media and a funky hotel, but it’s important to remember that there’s a much wider bank of knowledge available on the Millennial generation’s emotions, life experience and anxieties that can help us to develop the products and create the marketing messages that will really hit the right notes with Millennials.

Putting it into practice

In my work with tourism boards and travel brands I make a point of widening the focus to what else is going on with Millennials as this helps them to gain a wider perspective on what this generation is about and use this as a starting point to think more carefully about the products that they’re offering.

I look forward to coming back to this subject in future posts, and if you’re interested to learn more, just drop me a line via Twitter @genctraveller 🙂


VisitBritain launches innovative campaign in China

Great Names for Great Britain

Last week VisitBritain embarked on the latest stage of its campaign to attract more Chinese visitors to the UK using images of the country to open potential visitors’ eyes as to what they can find when they arrive in the country.

Many UK places, people, things and attractions still don’t have a Chinese name yet. Some already do, for example Great Names for Great Britain‘The Beatles – Pi Tou Shi 披头士 meaning ‘Gentlemen with long hair’ or Buckingham Palace – ‘Bai Jin Han Gong 白金汉宫 or ‘a white, gold and splendid palace’. Launched via VisitBritain’s social media platforms in China, this ‘GREAT names for GREAT Britain‘ campaign asks people across China to invent names for 101 iconic British things, with prizes for the suggestions that prove most popular.

Earlier this year when I compiled the study The Rise of the Young Asian Traveller for the Pacific Asia Travel Association, the UK didn’t even enter the top 10 on the destination wishlist of young Chinese respondents to our survey. This suggests unfamiliarity with what the UK has to offer, something which this campaign is clearly set up to change.

Check out the video which explains how some Chinese participants reacted when they saw some images of the UK for the first time:


While Chinese arrivals in Britain grew by 10% between 2012 and 2013 (and spending was up a whopping 64%), the UK still only received 12% of the number of Chinese arrivals that France did in the same year. In Europe, Britain trails behind Austria, Italy and Switzerland in the number of Chinese visitors it receives, largely because of the extra cost and complication of applying for a UK visa as opposed to a Schengen visa which gives access to all countries within the Schengen zone.

While Chinese visitor numbers are clearly not at the levels they could be, in some way the visa situation encourages those Chinese visitors that do make the trip to spend longer in the country and make more visits outside of London than other visitors (especially from Asia) typically do.

The UK government has received sustained criticism from major businesses such as airlines and retailers who are worried that the country is seriously lagging behind neighbouring competitors in terms of visa issuance. Recently the government announced the introduction of a super priority visa that, in exchange for 600 GBP could be issued within 48 hours. The UK government is also reportedly looking for ways for other EU member states to accept UK visa applications at the same time as their own Schengen applications, simplifying the process for potential visitors. The campaign is also being launched in cooperation with the UK immigration authorities who will use the opportunity to explain the revised application procedures to potential visa applicants.

My take on the campaign:

The £1.6m 10-week long campaign is VisitBritain’s largest ever campaign in China. Upon a first glance it seems set to be a promising campaign for the following reasons:

  • It introduces a large numbers of attractions, places, people and British things to a new Chinese audience in one go.
  • It is social-media based, using Chinese social media platforms (you’d be mad not to use these tools when launching a major ad campaign in China today). This increases reach cheaply and effectively.
  • It encourages dispersal outside of the capital. London’s icons are always first to come to mind by visitors who don’t know the UK so well, so that’s why many visitors aren’t brave enough to venture outside of the M25. By showing that visiting Britain consists of much more than seeing Buckingham Palace and Big Ben, Chinese spending is more effectively spread around the country (though this process involves much time and education). It’s also worth noting that many studies show that locations that are outdoors with fresh air and beautiful landscapes are rapidly becoming popular among Chinese outbound travellers eager to escape overcrowding and pollution in their home cities.


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Travel and Tourism in Japan: Back to the Future (2 of 2)


Welcome to my second of two blog posts about my recent visit to JATA Expo and travelling in Japan.

In my last post I discussed some of the ideas that emerged from the opening session of JATA Tourism Expo 2014, particularly as the authorities in Japan seek to learn lessons from former Olympic hosts on how to boost tourism with the aid of the Games. Here I share some of my personal observations abIMG_1514 out Japan’s own preparedness for the Games, which are only six years away.

Every host has its own challenges to overcome in putting on the Olympics, even if they don’t always admit openly to what those challenges are. Given the huge numbers of international visitors that an Olympic Games attracts, the tourism sector in any country represents the face that visitors see (beyond the glitter annd fireworks of the opening ceremony), and is expected to play its part in overcoming these challenges, preparing for the rush, often years in advance.

On this first note, it was interesting at JATA Expo to observe the patriarchal language of the Japanese authorities (‘we will create a master plan, and it will be implemented’) against the more sanguine reflections of Chris Rodrigues of VisitBritain and John O’Sullivan of Tourism Australia: ‘this is what we thought would happen, but things turned out differently, and that’s OK…’)

Secondly, in terms of source markets for Japan in the coming years, it’s clear that Japan needs to continue to nurture its emerging markets, directing what it has to offer at the markets that are showing greatest promise, while remaining true to the qualities that have helped the country beat its own records in arrivals growth over the decades. In Asia especially, Japan is seen as the home of ‘Asia cool’ and this is partly why, as Hideki Tomioka of the Japan National Tourism Organization explained to me, Japan puts a lot of effort into targeting a younger audience in Asia in its marketing campaigns.

Korea is closer than you think

Thirdly, the Japanese can’t ignore that Korea is a close competitor in this ‘Asia cool’ market, so it’s up to Japan to do everything it can to convert those aspirations into bookings by making the most of its big modern cultural assets (music, fashion, film and TV, manga….), and putting its own young people at the heart of this process.

Street performers in the thriving, youthful South Korean capital

Street performers in the thriving, youthful South Korean capital

Having visited Korea the week before my arrival in Japan, it was striking to note the differences in what the two countries had to offer ‘Gen C Travellers’ (the connected generation), especially those towards the younger end of the spectrum. In the streets of Seoul, the smartphone rules. Millions of young people flow through the streets and the metro with their Samsung in hand and Beats headphones in their ears, on an even greater scale than you’d typically see in London or New York. With 4G and Wi-Fi in every corner of the city, the smartphone offers the answer to all needs.



Back to the future

Tokyo isn’t the same. Sure, there are smartphones around but it’s been more than a decade since I’ve seen so many flip-open mobile phones (not to mention fax machines or payphones!). Wi-Fi isn’t as easy to find as you’d think, especially outside of hotels. Instead, a whole array of complicated and expensive mobile phone rental schemes exist for overseas travellers wanting to stay connected throughout their stay. Over 80% of Japanese travellers still book their trips via phone or in person at traditional travel agents. When arranging check-in for some hotels in the south of the country, we were asked to fax our itinerary in advance!

In short, the country which was seen from afar as being at the forefront of technological innovation in the 80s and 90s appears now to be frozen in that very period.

Who rules the roost

The demographic composition of the delegates attending JATA Expo (especially those who were in charge) also demonstrated firmly that it older men who dominate all the major positions in the biggest travel corporations, not to mention the quasi-state corporations of Japan Travel Bureau, Japan Rail and so on. That may not be surprising to those who know Japan well (and Japan certainly isn’t alone in Asia, or in the world in this regard), but I wonder how much Japan’s strict adherence to this system stifles the kind of innovation that the country’s tourism industry needs in order to present its freshest and most appealing face to the world, especially younger audiences across Asia?

In my experience, Japan is a fascinating country to travel in (not least because of some of the factors I highlighted above) and without doubt, the Japanese exquisite attention to detail and genuine, heartwarming customer service more than makes up for frustrations about not being able to get a fix of Facebook every so often!

The questions I raise in this article are more about the structure of the travel industry in Japan and whether the country can really learn from what works elsewhere in order to help keep visitors satisfied.

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Travelling in Japan: Back to the Future (1 of 2)


Welcome to my first of two blog posts about my recent visit to JATA Expo and travelling in Japan.

The Japanese are moving from being travellers to becoming hosts as an ageing Japanese population travels less and the rest of the world visits more, seeking to satisfy its curiosity about this unique island nation. The opening session of JATA Tourism Expo 2014 revealed this, and a lot more about the state of travel and tourism in Japan today.

Following an invitation from UNWTO, last week I presented at the Japan Association of Travel Agents’ annual tourism expo in Tokyo. The event was on the scale of BIT Milan or FITUR Madrid, with several thousand participants hailing from 150 countries, a trade fair with one international hall and 4-5 domestic halls (which I found quite telling) and a series of educational seminars taking place on the sidelines.

The authorities in Japan are strongly encouraged by the country’s recent inbound tourism growth which pushed international tourism arrivals to over 10 in 2013. This has undoubtedly been driven by the boom in arrivals from neighbouring countries (not least China and Korea, despite their recent political scrapes), though arrivals from Southeast Asia are growing too. The country was also voted top dream destination in Asia (and 4th overall) by young travellers in my recent report The Rise of the Young Asian Traveller.

Furthermore, the growth from Asia has been accompanied by a mild resurgence in bookings from the traditional long haul markets of the US and Europe. The growth of tourism as an export is undoubtedly positive news for a country which has found itself in the economic slow lane (or even at a standstill) for many years now.

This yearGenCJapanese‘s edition of JATA Expo is the first since Tokyo won the bid to host the 2020 Olympic  Games and this was a hot topic across the conference, including the opening round-table session where the Chairman of VisitBritain Christopher Rodrigues and the Managing Director of Tourism Australia John O’Sullivan were invited to give share some of the main lessons that their respective tourism industries learned from the Games that took place in London and Sydney. Here are some of their top tips:

  • Hosting a mega event like the Olympic Games highlights the importance of the tourism sector to the general population (something the tourism sector has traditionally struggled with). It’s important to make the most of the opportunities that this presents.
  • If you plan in the right way, the benefits to tourism infrastructure can be considerable too, with improved transport and communications.
  • As well as keeping the official journalists and news-teams happy, it’s essential to look after all the non-accredited media who turn up to discover the country and the games too, providing them with access, footage and other materials for them to use. As bloggers occupy an increasingly important space in tourism promotion, this group is likely to grow in the future! Remember: The opportunities for exposure don’t just happen during the two weeks of the games!
  • Dispersing visitors throughout the country is a challenge – you have to make Olympics and non-Olympics visitors aware that the rest of the country is open for business, or people will plan to avoid the crush.
  • You have to try to fight against sudden price-rises and spare airline and hotel capacity being held by those who are trying to unfairly capitalise on the Games.

While the Japanese are famous for pulling together to solve common problems in innovative ways, the challenges outlined above are particularly big. If handled in the right way, they could give the Japanese economy the shot in the arm that it needs (in spite of the heavy investment needed to provide facilities). In my next blog post I’ll discuss in more detail some of the more immediate hurdles that the country needs to overcome in order to set it on the path of boosting its tourism revenue.

Peter Jordan, Founder, Gen C Traveller

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A smart and symbolic move: easyJet launches a dedicated homepage in Chinese

easyJet Chinese homepage

Yesterday easyJet caused quite a stir among the global travel easyJet Chinese homepageindustry by launching a dedicated homepage in Chinese. Even the Prime Minister had something to say about it during his visit to the country.

easyJet already has dedicated home pages for customers booking their European travel from Brazil, Russia and the US and according to the airline the move to provide a booking engine in Chinese was prompted by a 25% rise in bookings from China during 2012.

For me, this move is a smart one. Destinations and providers of tourism products and services from the tiniest mountain village to the great capital city across Europe have been scrambling to attract the fêted ‘high-spending Chinese traveller’. However there are so many basic ways in which destinations are falling short and providing signage and service in Chinese has so far been one of them. By providing a booking engine in their native language the airline is making a clear statement that it is open for business for the Chinese traveller in Europe (and now beyond). The move has also brought the company into line with VisitBritain’s China Welcome programme.

The move is also symbolic. The easyJet brand has long been identified with the savvy independent traveller. While easyJet flights are also bookable by travel agents through Amadeus’s distribution system (a move made largely to capture the business market), the budget carrier has traditionally been associated with independent travellers looking to compose their holiday their way, as opposed to being subject to tour operator charter flights or the legacy carriers (those currently bringing Chinese visitors long-haul to Europe and, until now, presumably providing the bulk of European internal flights). If increasing numbers of Chinese travellers have been booking with easyJet it’s because they too are increasingly prepared to compose their trip their way, travelling independently or in small groups.

easyJet A319For Gen C Travellers and upscale independent travellers of all ages, easyJet is a fascinating brand to watch, given its role in stirring up the airline industry since its launch over 15 years ago and given the way it currently projects itself to the independent traveller. Just take a look at the hotels, cities, experiences and products reviewed in the company’s in-flight magazine.

As Chinese visitors make repeat visits to Europe, looking to broaden their horizons from the obligatory dash around eight countries in one week, they are showing an increasing propensity to branch out and use previously unfamiliar services, brands and routes. This interesting report ‘Chinese Tourists in Europe from 2017’ by the mega travel company Tui helps to explain this concept.

In future posts I’ll be discussing some of the commentary about young Chinese travellers and sorting the fluff from the substance as the travel industry races to attract the Chinese yuan!

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