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Understanding Millennial Travelers

Dr Cody Morris Paris from Middlesex University Dubai

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Millennial travellers, loosely defined as those born between 1981 and 1999, will soon surpass Baby Boomers as the largest travel spenders. As a result, the travel and tourism sector has been working to not only understand this next generation of travellers, but also tailor their products and offerings to them.  In some cases, this ‘tailoring’ has resulted in cosmetic changes (such as ‘cool rebrands’ or a bit of snapchatting) rather than changes supported by a deeper understanding of the generation. There is no single real defining moment or characteristic of Millennial Travelers, or Generation Y. Instead, their travel behaviour is characterised and reflective of the world today. A world that is ‘smaller’, more connected and more open.

There are also many misconceptions about Millennial travellers. For example, millennials are not budget conscious, but they are value conscious. They don’t ‘go online’, as connectivity is a normal necessity of daily life. They don’t use travel agents in a normal sense, instead, they seek expertise and support to find authentic, original, and personalized experiences.

As a generation, there are some clear shifts in values, attitudes and behaviours from the Gen X’ers, and Boomers. Hypermobility, constant connectivity, technology dependency, independence, resilience, vanity, experience orientated, and social awareness are just some of the general characteristics of this generation.  For this generation, there is a blurring and rearticulating of traditional binaries of travel and tourism. The distinctions between being connected or disconnected, home or away, working or playing, alone or together, are now rearticulated into choices of being connected and/or disconnected, home and/or away, working and/or playing, alone and/or together.   In this sense, millennials are a reflection of the globalized, mobilized, and connected world we live in today.

The following five key characteristics of Millennials distinguish them regarding their travel behaviour:

Travel is a standard, not an exception – Millennials perceive travel more as a commonality than an exception. They are more comfortably mobile than previous generations.

Tech-savvy and dependent – Millennials grew up during tremendous innovations in information and communication technologies. They are dependent upon technology; in the same type of way that people are dependent upon cars….technology provides a means. Millennials expect to have connectivity, and may choose to disconnect.  Technology affords them opportunities for socially mediated, experience-driven, personalized, and independent travel.

Experientially Driven- Millennials are experientially focused and looking for novelty, realness, ‘off the beaten track’, and authentic travel experience. They want experiences that are unique and that they can share virtually…in other words, authentic but Instagram-able experiences!

Responsible travel- Volunteer and educational tourism – Being experientially-driven, many also seek out opportunities for learning and volunteering. Corporate responsibility and sustainability can also have more of an influence on the buying behaviour of Millennials!

Calculated and Resilient travellers– Risk are perceived in a different way by Millennials. They may make travel decisions (to participate in ‘risky’ activities or visit ‘risky’ destinations) that appear reckless. On the other hand, they are more risk-adverse in their spending.  When they see value, they spend.  When the see experiential opportunities they may be more willing to overlook potential risks.  And when risk turn into a crisis, Millennials are a resilient group of travellers… they will still travel, they’ll just shift what they spend or where they go.

Social nature – Millennials value independence, but they also desire sociality and social settings. They are particularly driven to share experiences with ‘locals’.   Millennials travel also tend to be very family and friends oriented and is often shared and mediated at-a-distance through social media. They share and co-creating experiences with their virtually proximate and physically distant networks…shifting between socializations in person and onscreen.

However, in the end, millennials are a reflection of the age we live in.  Grandparents are now sending travel selfies to their grandkids, parents are binge-watching cartoons online in hotels with their young children, hotels are optimizing mobile apps to improve their services to customers, and more responsible travel behaviour a something we need to all get behind.

Dr Cody Morris Paris is the Deputy Director of Middlesex University Dubai. He has published extensively on millennial travel, and his research has been recognized with several international awards.  His research on millennial travel has explored backpacking, flashpacking, technology use, voluntourism, educational tourism/study abroad.  Giannina Feldbauer is a post-graduate student on the MSc International Tourism Management programme at Middlesex University Dubai.  Her research has focused on risk perceptions of millennial travellers.