• Mobile first is key when targeting millennials, who look for a seamless experience across all devices and platforms.

• Millennials want to be helped, not sold to.

• Millennials enjoy traveling with like-minded folks.

For those in the travel industry, the influence of millennials is undeniable. One major reason is because unlike previous generations, millennials view traveling as much more than just time off from work; they see it as "part of their identity," explains Jeff Fromm, president of FutureCast, a millennial marketing consultancy based in Kansas City, Missouri. “Traveling is a vital experience that helps them understand, grow, and constantly reinvent who they are and who they want to be.”

Millennials value travel so much, they cite it as the number one reason they work, Fromm notes. "That’s good news for travel brands because it means they will be avid customers now and in the future."

There are a few distinct challenges involved with marketing travel to millennials. First, they’re tech-savvy, but technology is constantly evolving, making it imperative that you keep up. They also value authenticity, so a one-size-fits-all approach often doesn’t work — especially on social media, where people pride themselves on the unique personas they share. Further, millennials are smart enough to know they have lots and lots of choices, so making your marketing stand out above the noise is extremely important.

Anthony Melchiorri of the Travel Channel’s Hotel Impossible was reminded of the complexities of marketing to millennials recently when he and his crew found themselves at a hotel with in-room iPads that controlled things like lighting. "I asked, ‘Did anybody pick up the iPad?’ and not one person picked it up — because what does it take to hit the light switch?" Melchiorri says. “I think with technology, we’re still figuring out how much millennials want and how much they don’t want.”

Melchiorri’s no-fail recommendation for how to appeal to millennial travelers? "Give me my free WiFi and free bottle of water, and get out of my way," he says.

Good advice, but there’s a lot more to understanding and attracting this powerful demographic than free WiFi. Here, three critical considerations for any brand looking to market to the millennial traveler.

1. Make Mobile First.

Millennials experience and share adventure across a variety of devices.
    Mark McKnight
Millennials experience and share adventure across a variety of devices. Mark McKnight

Google is rolling out a Mobile-First Index that will make mobile content, not desktop, the driving factor in rank, even for listings delivered to desktop users.

For travel marketers, if a user can’t research and book a reservation from a smartphone or other mobile device in a few clicks, it’s probably time to overhaul the functionality. Make it difficult for millennials, and they will go find someone who’s figured out how to provide a more seamless, streamlined, and perhaps most important, easy, experience across all devices and platforms.

One leader in this space is Hipmunk, the travel meta search engine, which in 2014 launched Hipmunk Anywhere. This cross-platform functionality makes it easy for a user to start a search on one platform and pick it up on another. After its launch, "people were far more likely to come back to Hipmunk because we were making [searches] far easier for them, saving time and agony," says Roxy Young, Hipmunk’s senior vice president of marketing.

The brands that go even further — think mobile apps that allow hotel guests to request amenities or pre-select a room — don’t just represent the next wave of travel planning, they’re already here. The Marriott Mobile App lets users chat in real time with a hotel rep before, during, or after a trip. They can also request everything from luggage service to fresh towels with a couple of quick clicks.

"We like to say, ‘Don’t saddle up unless you’re gonna ride,’" says Kara Rosner, COO and vice president at Diamond PR, a boutique public relations agency specializing in travel. “What it means is: Don’t jump in there if you’re not prepared to use [that platform] to respond and engage with people. If people are communicating with you on those platforms, they’ll be expecting a response."

"Millennial audiences want to feel independent, approached with personalization and one-on-one attention."

"It’s why social can be such an important tool when used well, because you can speak directly to that consumer.”

2. Don’t Sell Them, Help Them.

Millennial travelers and increasingly all travelers turn to apps for trip planning. Brands should focus on being helpful rather than direct selling.
Millennial travelers and increasingly all travelers turn to apps for trip planning. Brands should focus on being helpful rather than direct selling. Sonny Abesamis

Also gaining popularity among millennials are apps that serve as virtual travel agents, such as Hello Hipmunk. Essentially a personalized, travel planning virtual assistant, it simplifies planning via Hello Email (automatically searches travel options for you when its address is included in an email that references travel plans), and Hello Calendar (anticipates travel plans by scanning a user’s Google Calendar to infer where users are traveling and instantly offer the best options). Both features are free.

"Millennials expect devices and technology to be incredibly smart, and they’re expecting a lot of intelligence and personalization around that," Young says.

Tech is great, but human resources are as key to providing helpful experiences as any app. Fromm remembers a front desk employee at a Washington, D.C.-area Marriott Courtyard hotel who took a few extra minutes to walk out the door and point out directions instead of simply telling him where to go. "That’s helpfulness," he says. “Helpfulness could also be telling guests about the event they didn’t know about a few blocks away, at a great local place with a band.”

3. Connect Them With Like-Minded Folks.

It’s true that millennials embrace solo travel more than any demographic has before them, but plenty more love traveling in groups.

According to a recent report titled, "Meet the Millennials," by PGAV Destinations, a global planning and design firm, 58 percent of those under 30 and 41 percent of those 30-plus say they enjoy traveling in groups.

Meg Aidekman and her husband, Dave, founded Trip Tribe, a Washington D.C.-based travel company that wants to "make sure your trip is full of folks who are riding the same wave when it comes to vacation." Users fill out a free profile that includes age and interests, and a social media component allows them to connect with like-minded travelers to share tips, ideas and plan trips together.

"What we’ve found is that the social aspect of travel is far more important to millennials than it has been to older generations," says Aidekman. “They’re more interested in experiences, and those shared experiences are really about bonding, finding people who are like them, and connecting with a sense of community.”

So how does that translate to branding? From a marketing perspective, emphasizing (or creating) unique experiences that are well suited for groups — a cooking class with a local celebrity chef, a hip hotel bar perfect for gathering after a day’s outing — is one way to appeal to this social mindset.

On a more technical level, it can involve tweaking the user experience so that booking group travel isn’t such a hassle. The search site Trivago, for example, recently launched functionality that enables users to search for more than one hotel room at the same property, streamlining a process that can be extremely cumbersome.

We’d love to hear from you. What surprising solutions have you discovered when it comes to marketing to millennials? Write us at labs@rootsrated.com and tell us about it, and we may feature you in an upcoming podcast.

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About Blane Bachelor

RootsRated regional editor Blane Bachelor is a San Francisco-based, internationally published journalist who covers outdoor adventure, travel, wine, and running—and any combination of those—for a wide variety of outlets and clients. Her work has appeared in New York magazine, The Washington Post, Marie Claire, Outside magazine, Delta Sky, The Lonely Planet, Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Fodor’s, Women’s Health, and many other places. Blane also writes marketing materials for national and international corporate clients. She loves any opportunity to use the Spanish she learned in Barcelona, where she spent a year freelancing and teaching English. Follow Blane on Twitter @BlaneBachelor or visit her website.

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