Millennials, the official term for the generation of people born between the early 1980s to early 2000s, are the largest generation in history, with more than 92 million Millennials born during this period. In the past five years, Millennials have been a widely discussed topic in the travel industry; you’d be hard-pressed not to have noticed how much impact they’ve had on the way that we, as an industry, do business.
But even though Millennials are changing the hospitality industry in ways that we might never have expected, many would prefer that we adapt more quickly. Unfortunately, that means that unless you were one of the few properties who adjusted quickly enough to suit the needs of the market, you are missing out on many bookings from this valuable demographic.
Before we explore how you can capture more bookings from this audience, let’s look at the characteristics that make Millennials such a valuable customer base for hoteliers worldwide.
First and most foremost, travel is more highly prioritized among Millennials than previous generations: 79 per cent of Millennials would like to visit all 50 US states and 75 per cent would like to travel abroad. As such, Millennials travel more for both leisure and business compared to Generation X and Baby Boomers and have the highest average spend per trip at $879. As a collective group, Millennials spend over $200 billion on travel each year.
Although many lament the financial prowess of the entire generation, Millennials make up 21 per cent of consumer discretionary purchases, which is estimated to be over a trillion dollars in direct buying power and a huge influence on older generations. When it comes to lodging, Millennials make up 70 per cent of all hotel guests.
That’s the good news. Unfortunately though, there is also significant bad news for hotels…
Unlike previous generations, 72 per cent of Millennials choose to prioritize experiences over luxury and material goods. This preference is the basis of the emerging Experience Economy, in which businesses must orchestrate memorable events for their customers, and that memory itself becomes the product. As such, Millennials often prefer alternative accommodation options to traditional hotels because they offer a more authentic, local experience while traveling.
In general, Millennials have lower incomes than previous generations, coupled with higher levels of debt, making them particularly sensitive to the value proposition of a product or service; in fact, Millennials check an average of 10 sources before making travel purchases to make sure they pay as little as possible.
Because of Millennials preference for value and experiences, hotels are losing market share with this highly valuable market; a recent survey by Morgan Stanley showed that 51 per cent of respondents who used Airbnb were under the age of 35 and forecasted that in 2016, Airbnb will have decreased US and European hotels’ revenue per available room (RevPAR) by nearly 1 per cent, and that in 2017, that dent will rise to 1.8 per cent, and it will be 2.6 per cent in 2018.
Not very good news, is it?
Now, let’s get to the really important stuff… how can your property increase its appeal with this valuable demographic of potential guests?
Tip #1: Embrace technology
One of the most commonly discussed characteristics of the Millennial market is the importance that they place on being always connected on their smartphone. When planning trips, the smartphone is once again one of the most important tools for Millennials, as 75 per cent of millennials have travel apps on their phones. In addition, it is important that your property’s website be responsive, meaning that it will automatically adapt to be viewed on all sorts of devices, including tablets and smartphones, as 90 per cent of millennials have researched travel on a laptop/desktop computer, 74 per cent have used their smartphone/tablet and 62 per cent have used only a smartphone.
Tip #2: The power of social media
Socially active Millennials are valuable guests for hotels because they often do significant word-of-mouth advertising on behalf of the properties where they stay, which can have a significant impact on a property’s occupancy and RevPAR, even after the guest has returned home; in fact, Millennials’ word-of-mouth endorsements have been shown to influence 16 per cent of Millennials to book travel.
Socially active Millennials are also more likely to review/recommend a property online, which is important because 89 per cent of Millennials trust recommendations from friends and family more than claims [made] by the brand. In addition, nearly half (44 per cent) of Millennials are willing to promote products or services through social media in exchange for rewards, making it important that hotels embrace channels that enable hotels to offer valuable savings to reward guests’ social activity, like Vir.al does.
During their trip, Millennials will often post photos, videos and stories from their travels and tag the location where the post occurred (your property!), so make sure that you are offering unique, beautiful settings, experiences and events to encourage social sharing. Being tagged in these posts increases your property’s visibility to other Millennials, which can have a significant impact on your bottom line, as 86 per cent of Millennial travelers were inspired to book a trip based on content they viewed online.
Tip #3: Loyalty and reward programs
Hotel brand loyalty is at an all-time low with Millennials, as 81 per cent of respondents do not consider themselves as being loyal to a specific hotel or hotel brand. Unlike previous generations, Millennials are willing to sacrifice luxury in their accommodation choice to ensure that they can still afford amazing experiences during their trip, but that doesn’t mean that your property needs to discount to boost bookings with Millennials. Instead, embrace loyalty programs to offer discounts and deals to value-conscious Millennial travelers; studies have shown that 78 per cent of Millennials are more likely to purchase from brands that offer loyalty programs.
If you don’t have a loyalty program for your own property, list your rooms with Millennial-targeted booking apps/websites that offer similar loyalty programs or rewards to potential guests for booking through the channel. For example, Vir.al offers bookers the ability to earn discounts and rewards by doing what they are already doing anyway: being active on social media.
Vir.al’s Take: Millennials’ travel preferences have forever changed the hospitality industry, whether we like it or not. To suit this new market’s preferences, your hotel should be leveraging the power of social media to build social media brand ambassadors for your property; offering engaging, exciting travel experiences – not just a room in which to sleep; improving your site’s booking technology; increasing your presence on all available online booking channels, including OTAs and apps; and improving/expanding your property’s loyalty programs. If you don’t, you risk losing many bookings and revenue from the Millennial market, which is expected to represent the number one consumer segment in the U.S. hotel industry by 2018, if not 2017.
So what are you waiting for? It’s time to embrace the Millennial market. Trust me, your bottom line will thank you for it!
By Mike Murray
Mike Murray is co-founder of TripCraft, a mobile technology company offering an innovative mCommerce platform for hospitality. At TripCraft, Mike oversees product development, technology, and business strategy while remaining a hands-on developer and architect of the company’s products. Mike has been developing innovative travel and technology solutions for over 25 years and his innovative thinking and systems can be seen powering some of the travel industry’s biggest names. Mike is founder of Vir.al, the new inspiration/hotel booking app/website. Vir.al is a new hotel booking app and website that capitalizes on today’s social media phenomenon to bring hotels and the valuable Millennial travel demographic together. Using curated, experience-based, destination-specific content, Vir.al enables users to create unique travel experiences, not just book a hotel room in which to sleep, and incentivizes them to increase their social media score in exchange for perks, promotions and status. Hoteliers can use the app’s back-end, which identifies socially active potential guests who are planning a trip to their destination, enables hoteliers to offer incentives to book and, as a result, boost their brand’s online visibility with and appeal to Millennials.