How millennials are redefining the travel industry, one Instagram at a time

Okay, so we’re Millennials. We may have our phones out all the time (and admittedly are pretty reliant on our Uber drivers’ iPhone chargers), but, if you think we’re just Snapchatting and texting, you’re missing the biggest and most important marketing trend of this decade.

Every second Millennials spend on our phones, we are immersed in a constant consumption — and production — of information, from powerful review sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp, to friends’ Instagrams and Instagram stories, which have become the most native and impactful advertising of all. We are in a constant motion to make the best possible decisions in everything we do, whether that’s jet-setting to the new hot spot that none of our friends have been to yet, finding an awesome coffee shop in a trendy new neighborhood, or simply #LivingOurBestLife.

Armed with a wealth of information and choices, we have made marketing more customer-centric than ever before. And in no industry is that more prevalent than travel and tourism, where the purchase decision to visit a certain destination, stay in a hotel, go to a festival, eat at a restaurant or book a tour can be traced back to something as seemingly simple as one single influential Instagram post.

The travel industry is desperately courting this ripe Millennial demographic – and with good reason

Did you know that 70 percent of all Instagrams are travel-related? (CondeNast, 2017) And did you know that Millennials are 32 percent more likely to travel abroad this year than their older counterparts? (AirBnB, 2017)

This past weekend, to put things into perspective, while I was flying across the Pacific on my way back from Bora Bora, one of my best friends was in London instagramming pictures of Big Ben, while another was cooking up s’mores on a glamping trip outside of San Francisco, while a friend of mine was winery-hopping in Mexico’s Valle De Guadalupe, and yet another was soaking up the sun in Cartagena after doing business in Colombia. No, none of them are travel bloggers, and, yes, they all have full-time jobs.

Travel experiences have become so intertwined in all of our lives that we’ve evolved from a focus on work/life balance into a full-on work/life blend. In fact, Millennial employees are 62% more likely than our older counterparts to extend business vacations into an opportunity to see more of the world, all while on their company’s dime, (Expedia, 2016). After all, who’s to say you can’t check off a personal bucket list while traveling on business?

Not only that, but more and more companies like Netflix, Indeed, GE and Linkedin are hopping on board the unlimited PTO trend for their workforce, while others, such as Facebook and Google, openly encourage a global working environment of being able to work remotely from one of their many international offices.

When not #blessed enough to travel on the company’s dime, Millennials will spend their own money on travel above anything else

Travel is no longer something we’re saving up for in order to take one big trip every few years, it’s something we’re doing every weekend. And if you think this demographic is all a hostel-loving, penny-pinching crowd, you’d be sorely mistaken. These Millennials have full-time jobs and money to spend. And they want to spend it on travel.

A recent global study on Millennial travel from AirBnB noted that more than half of millennials in the UK (55 percent) and US (56 percent) and 83 percent in China say that they are spending more on travel than they did a year ago. Across all countries, figures were staggeringly high when it came to money; nearly 90 percent of those who did not have enough money to travel as much as they’d like to said that if they suddenly had more money to spend, they wouldn’t put it toward paying off debts, saving for a house, or retirement, they would travel more.

So what is it that millennials want, exactly?

As the largest generation reaches its prime earning years, marketers everywhere are trying to answer this question. Study after study, one message keeps ringing true. Millennials are looking for a “happy, meaningful life”.

How do they get that? Experiences.

Nearly 8 in 10 (77%) millennials say some of their best memories of their lives are from an event or live experience they attended or participated in. And 7 in 10 (70%) believe attending live events and experiences make them more connected to other people, the community, and the world. (Eventbrite, 2017)

The FOMO is very real

Interestingly enough, Eventbrite also found that 70% of millennials’ decisions to attend experiences stems from a fear of missing out (which we all know as the ever-present F.O.M.O.).

In a world where every event and experience is broadcasted across social media, this fear of missing out is a main driver in getting millennials to show up, share, and engage.

But how can Millennials possibly afford all of these experiences? How do they have so much PTO? They must be stupid when it comes to work and their money.

Not true.

We are often mis-labeled as instant-gratification-seeking experience junkies, who care only about our Instagram likes, and are too busy buying avocado toast to worry about buying a house. But, frankly, we’re too busy seeing the world to care.

I’ve been travel blogging at Jetset Christina, seeing the world, and juggling a full-time tech marketing job for 4 years now, and a lot of what allows me to do so is the same mentality that many Millennials have adopted in order to match their lifestyle goals with their work responsibilities; we’ve learned to leverage.

We maximize long weekends into longer weekends and holidays into longer holidays, utilizing our PTO both smartly and carefully, without sacrificing our work. We’ll take red-eye flights after work and Monday morning flights straight into the office after a vacation. We’ll work from New York City for the week and stay the following weekend with friends in the Hamptons. We’ll travel to South by Southwest in Austin but explore the BBQ scene in-between panels. We’ll bring along a plus one to our San Francisco business trip and extend it into a long weekend in wine country. We’ll attend CES in Vegas and combine the trip with a friend’s bachelor or bachelorette party that weekend. We’ll turn corporate summits into an opportunity to explore new places, and, sometimes, as a stepping stone to get us somewhere else nearby after our work there is done.

We collect, and covet, credit card points on our business travel, and rack up reward points with loyalty programs like Starwood Preferred Guest. We leverage our business travel into our personal travel, and actively seek jobs where we can travel with our work, taking advantage of having fewer responsibilities like kids and families. We strive to have it all, and do it all. We’re not being stupid about it, we’re just prioritizing travel and experience over material things.

The rise of the experience economy

Millennials have created an ‘experience economy’. We not only highly value experiences, but we are increasingly spending more and more of our time and money on them: from concerts and festivals, to sporting and social events, to cultural experiences and vacations. Even when we’re not leaving home, we are spending money on group party buses and adventurous day trips, organizing big dinners and bar crawls, and epically celebrating every ‘holiday’ that we can, from Bay to Breakers, to Fleet Week to Santacon. Anything and everything that can turn into an ‘event’ is, because these events are what Millennials live for.

Whether we’re traveling or staying in our home cities, Millennials are constantly looking for a sense of adventure and to see new, unique and buzzworthy destinations, be it a hip new cafe, a popular hike, or a hot new abroad destination (all leading to those picture-perfect, envy-inducing instagram shots on your feed). We’re not interested in tourist traps, or the more ‘traditional’ travel experiences. As you would probably guess by now, our bucket lists consist less of sites, and more of experiences.

Marketers love our instant gratification mindset

Instagram is like a vacation menu these days. A single picture a friend or influencer tagged at a restaurant, hotel, or destination, can lead to you booking that hotel, restaurant reservation, plane tickets to a destination, and a zipcar all in a few quick clicks.

Word-of-mouth marketing is nothing new, but Instagram has amplified it tenfold

The fact that a single picture can have so much of an impact on a purchase decision is mind-boggling to most, but it’s music to marketers’ ears, who are looking for every possible way to get more places and brands onto your radar.

50 years ago, you may have decided to go to Hawaii on your honeymoon because your friend went to Hawaii on their honeymoon, and said it was great. Today, as you’re planning your honeymoon, you see a picture of a stunning ocean-view suite at the St. Regis Princeville in Kauai that your favorite travel influencer took, and you decide that’s where you want to go. Maybe it’s a place you’ve always wanted to see but forgot about until you were reminded by that photo, or maybe you’re seeing it for the first time. Whatever the circumstance, this little reminder sets you in motion. You “save” the photo, as well as all the other recent Instagram stories of where they ate their dinners, which tour group they sailed with dolphins, and where they hiked to a waterfall.

All of the sudden, every aspect of your trip is essentially planned for you. No need for a travel agent, no need for spending your precious time researching hotels or what to do in the destination. And when it comes to booking, you’re able to do it within a few quick clicks, often without even leaving the app.

A few months later, you’re the one Snapchatting and Instagramming from the St. Regis Kauai, and your friends are the ones saving your posts. The influencee becomes the influencer, creating a powerful cyclical phenomenon. This is the future of travel.

And the future of marketing.

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