By Eric Dumas, chief executive of Vayant Travel Technologies
How can travel sellers connect with customers who have “grown up digital”?
Around the globe in the early 1980s a special generation of babies arrived. This would be the first generation to grow up in a connected digital world – a world reshaped by the internet, and in due course, by mobile communication and social media.
The so-called Millennial generation raises some big and fundamental questions for travel sellers.
How do people who have “grown up digital” relate to and use technology to find and buy travel? What are their expectations? And how do we best accommodate their expectations?”
To try to find answers, it makes sense to look at some characteristics that define the generation born between the first years of the ‘80s and early 2000s.
Reviewing the vast quantities of articles about the Millennial phenomenon, there seem to be three relevant dimensions: Connected, Social and Explorer.
The first dimension – ‘Connected’ – is about the ability to access and share data, pretty much regardless of location. The Millennials grew up in a world of plentiful data – and with every year of their lives they gain more and easier access to data.
Today’s abundant mobile broadband and devices like smartphones, smartwatches and now wearables give Millennials seamless ‘always on’ connectivity with the tools, services and communities that matter to them.
Connected Millennials have grown accustomed to a world that’s always online and available when they need it. Accommodating them will mean travel sellers facilitating contact as much as possible via as many means as possible.
Travel sellers will need to get adept at managing a multichannel environment, making their brand and support available across several channels.
In the environment, a traveller could discover your offer in your social channel, book in your website and then manage their booking and travel in your mobile channel. However they connect, travellers will expect a consistent and ‘joined-up’ experience across every touch point and channel.
Looking ahead, the connected Millennial could mean even more fundamental changes for travel sellers and providers.
Traditionally, travel is booked in advance and some minor adjustments can be made ‘on the move’. In the future, travellers may expect even more flexibility, with the ability to completely re-design their itinerary while they’re on the go: for example, altering flight details and adding or subtracting ancillaries even as they’re en route for the airport.
The ‘Social’ dimension relates to the Millennial’s desire to find and hang out with likeminded people online. The boom in social media is just the most obvious sign of this hunger for social: as of March 2015 almost one in five people on this planet were active Facebook users.
Of course, ‘Social’ is more than socializing. The rise of social-buying sites like Groupon – which bring together buyers to build their bargaining power and win discounts – shows how commerce has gone social.
And of course the user review phenomenon is intrinsically social, allowing individuals to share and explore other people’s experiences before making their own purchases.
Travel sellers are already making moves in to social, for example by encouraging travellers to share their holiday photos or engaging with traveller review services like TripAdvisor. Millennials are interested in content they can use to build and engage with communities.
But there’s more scope to explore social – and to introduce social features earlier in the looking and booking process. One way would see travel sellers enable easy social sharing of search results or booked trips, allowing travellers to coordinate their travel plans.
They key is to give Millennials (and other customers) access to content they can use to in their social communities.
Explorer is the third and final Millennial characteristic. At home in borderless online communities, Millennials are perhaps the most globally conscious generation in history.
These citizens of the world display a stronger appetite for travel than other demographic groups. But more significantly, Millennials are more open to change and new experiences: they are natural explorers, always on the lookout for something fresh and different. And this opens up some intriguing opportunities for travel sellers.
For one, Millennials are looking for inspiration – and there’s plenty of scope for travel sellers to provide that with engaging visual and social content.
Search and product presentation is part of the picture: imaginative search tools like maps and calendars give visitors more ways to interact with and explore your content.
Travel sellers can also feed the hunger for exploration by offering the widest choice of destinations and making it easy for travellers to package their own multi-stage itineraries.
Here, the travel sellers can be the Millennial’s friend by acting as a facilitator – making it as easy for these travellers to negotiate a big and complex world of choices
Ask the right questions
As with any big social or technological phenomenon, there’s always potential to get carried away. The discussion around Millennials is as liable to hype to as any other – and in most ways this generation is as diverse and surprising as any other.
Millennials will not always behave the way you might expect. For example, you might think Millennials will always rush to embrace innovations, particularly ones that appeal to their Social, Connected and Explore dimensions.
But it’s not always the case: with asked to rank different forms of accommodation, sharing economy options like Airbnb come last in line for Millennials.
That said, the Millennials concept is important for travel sellers because it focuses us – as an industry – on the right questions.
Questions about how we can craft and deliver better shopping experiences: the kind of rich experiences that genuinely engage and delight the traveller, and which offer them something across every channel.
Get this right, and travel sellers will have a compelling proposition for every customer, whatever generation or demographic they come from.