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How Are Millennials Using Travel Technology?

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Ninety-seven percent of Millennials use social media while traveling and 75% post to social networks at least once per day.

If you have looked at your Instagram feed lately you will see that vacation season is in full swing with pictures of exotic beaches and beautiful landscapes that would make anyone envious. In our 2016 report on travel, we found that 97% of Millennials use social media while traveling and 75% post to social networks at least once per day. It’s been a few years since that was published and the technology has rapidly changed since then, so I was curious of how Millennials are using technology to travel now. I spoke with the CEO of the travel management company Cadence, Wendy Burk, to see what trends she has seen in the travel market.

Jeff Fromm: What ways are technology affecting the travel industry? How will it be used by Millennials and older generations?

Wendy Burk: No one is going to be surprised to hear me mention Instagram right off the bat, but this technology has made wanderlust contagious. Based on a quick search, there are currently 300,000,000 posts tagged with the world “travel,” which averages out to 100,000 posts every day for the last eight years. The tool’s sheer mass can turn an unveiled destination into a tourist hotspot, and it gives consumers the power to create, not just follow, global travel trends. The travel industry has taken notice and nowadays, a traveler’s followers aren’t the only ones looking at their current travel posts. The hotel is likely observing their activities hoping to wow them in exchange for their loyalty, while their travel advisor is checking in to find peace of mind that their client is having a share-worthy experience. Social media (the more “live” the better) is creating a more authentic picture of an experience, and people want to see reality, not stock photos. Ironically, at the same time, we have artificial technology eliminating the need for human contact. You can text via the Four Seasons mobile app for room service, Alexa for Hospitality is being rolled out as an in-room concierge with Marriott International, and there’s facial recognition on Royal Caribbean cruise ships for speedier lines. This is great for efficient customer service when all goes well, but people still crave connection, so if they are using AI in the room or on the ship, they’re going to want to fully immerse themselves in the destination’s culture and rhythm.

Fromm: What is Cadence doing to implement and support new technology? What are other companies doing? What is working or not working?

Burk: A few years after Instagram first came out, we actually presented it at a companywide meeting for our travel advisors. We took a photo of the audience from the stage with an iPhone, uploaded it to Instagram, and on the screen, revealed the same live photo on the Internet, all within a matter of seconds. They were wowed, and subsequently hooked. Instead of hoarding decades of travel photos in boxes or online albums, these seasoned luxury advisors are now sharing their exclusive travel experiences and connections with their entire network in real time. Of course, today’s social sharing is a lot different. Now it’s about refining content, introducing storytelling, replacing website stock photos with Instagram feeds, and even implementing strategies for conversion. For example, we recently added the “Book Now” Instagram feature to set up consultations with clients and will be rolling it out to our advisors, but are keeping our eyes open for the day travel can actually be purchased through the tool.

Fromm: What is the “Millennial need” for the travel industry? How are companies making this happen?

Burk: While Millennials grew up with technology that some of our older generations of advisors and clients simply don’t need, they are the perfect advisor for a client of any age who needs to instant accessibility and more savvy communication. For example, imagine hearing, “I’ll tag you in a few properties that I think you’d like,” as opposed to an email with descriptions and links to different properties or an in person meeting. There is a client who would love that interaction! Also, Millennials tend to be more experiential, aspirational travelers who crave authenticity. They’re drawn to more boutique, genuine experiences and could inspire a client to go outside of their cookie-cutter experiences. For example, skip the hotel restaurant and book a unique culinary experience with other travelers, like a London supper club or Tokyo market tour through Eatwith. We’ve been very proactive in getting young blood- in fact, over half of my in-house employees are Millennials. We worked closely with college students in hospitality programs and have opened our doors to apprenticeship programs for young professionals. Some of our travel advisors have been with us so long that their children have grown up and are ready to take over!

Fromm: Why is now the time for the travel industry to rethink its practices?

Burk: When I started my career, I was in the age range Millennials are today. At this time, computers were just being introduced to the market and airline reservation systems were finally starting to replace hand written tickets. Even though I have seen so much change, nothing compares to the past five or ten years. If our industry is going to remain relevant, we need to adapt to technology to stay within reach of the Millennial traveler demographic. They are online, on social media, and always (within reason) available, and they are not usually booking more than three months out. They need someone who is going to make things happen as seemingly spontaneously as the travel idea was to begin with… otherwise they are going to do it on their own. In addition, the older generation of travel advisors is eventually going to retire and it’s crucial that the next generation of talent is trained and ready to take over the momentum. Ironically, it’s the Millennials who are most likely to use a travel agent (and they are now traveling with children!) so as long as we prepare, this industry is going to thrive. It’s a really exciting time.

Fromm: What is the biggest difference in the way Millennials travel opposed to older generations? How much of that is due to technology?

Burk: Through technology, Millennials have access to a lot more information in a lot less time, which makes them fearful of missing out on an experience but also very in touch with what they do or do not like. Their actions are driven by emotion and inspiration, so it’s not uncommon to see someone booking a trip to Bali (having never considered Bali before) because they saw an amazing deal on flights. The older generations are more likely to have been planning the same trip for years and are more comfortable with the value and convenience of a cruise ship or an all-inclusive. On the contrary, a Millennial will steer clear of travel plans or styles that take away from their flexibility and freedom. Millennials are also used to instant gratification- they can purchase an entire vacation outfit from one Instagram photo- so it may be frustrating to be ready to book a vacation but potentially have to wait until the next business day to talk to a professional.

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