Africa Travel Week

Millennials, Covid, and the future of travel

It’s not a total surprise that millennials are being eyed by the travel community with renewed interest right now. With their idiosyncratic break from traditional values, the millennial demographic has always foretold the future of travel. In fact, their desire to find new ways to see the world is so big, in a 2019 Deloitte study, 57% reported that seeing or travelling the world was their number one ambition, even overtaking high earning, owning a home, and having children.

A giant generation

If millennials were but a small drop in the ocean, then their power to influence commercial markets and industries would be less interesting. However, consider the fact that it is, in fact, the largest generation in the world, and our ears start to prick up…

“The millennials’ generation are, in size, larger than any other adult cohort. For example, worldwide, there are a quarter more millennials than in the preceding generation” MSCI

Collectively then, millennials are a significant force within commercial markets by their sheer numbers and combined with their emphasis on travelling and experiences, they are a demographic that the luxury travel industry would be wise now more than ever, to take note of.

Millennials and money

Whilst the ‘affluent millennial’ is a growing market, it is more common for millennials to be conflated with their younger Gen Z counterparts, with the assumption being that their financial power is limited. Not so. In reality, many millennials are now in their thirties and have an education level far beyond that of the boomer demographic, which as a result, has opened the doors to well-paid employment. Couple this with their new attitudes towards tradition, either buying homes or having families, and we’re left with a generation who have a strong desire for meaningful travel experiences and more disposable income in which to do so.

It’s also worth noting that while HNW individuals and millennials are not mutually exclusive, the average age of most HNW individuals is 58 and so are considerably older than the oldest millennial making this a less significant sub-demographic. (See Wealth-X’s 2019 High Net Worth Handbook).

Despite the various socioeconomic issues tripping up all age groups right now, millennials included, the spend and value they are placing on travel are impossible to ignore and already shaping how travel brands ready themselves for 2021.

Bold in the face of uncertainty

With the pandemic still refusing to submit, perhaps the key factor for travel marketers is that the millennial generation is more likely than other age brackets to consider returning to travelling again in spite of the risk:

“Millennials consistently answered that they will be more willing to travel sooner than Gen X and Boomers, and are less risk-averse.”  Fuel Travel

Of course, it’s perhaps unsurprising that millennials have been unfazed about travel. They do not have the same health concerns as older generations do. The oldest millennial is just under 40 years old and therefore travelling is still an unwavering priority for this vast generation who seem to live by the rule of ‘if not now, when?’. Added to that, it can be said that the millennial generation has already faced so much uncertainty in its lifetime that the pandemic, to them, is simply yet another unknown.

Much of this generation entered the workforce during the financial crisis of 2008, saddled with academic debt. University, the head-straight-to-go card of the generation before, instead became an expensive gamble in an educationally saturated and disrupted job market. And of course, while jobs became elusive and salaries stagnated, the property market inflated like never before.

Adding another layer of uncertainty came the horrors of 9/11 and a new landscape of fear that drove home the message that nothing and no one was untouchable. And through it all, young millennials were attempting to build a life. Little surprise then that in the wake of yet another disaster now that they’re keeping their goals firmly in mind.

“In order to make it in this unpredictable world, the millennial generation has had to learn to adapt.” inRiver

Sometimes named the anxious generation, millennials are living for the pursuit of meaning in what has been a tumultuous period in history and it’s no wonder that they, along with most who travel, find much of their meaning in exploring new terrains and tides.

Millennial-made travel and the new world

“millennials will likely offer the industry a lifeline during the recovery” Deloitte

As the travel industry has understood for a while now, millennials harbour a complicated mix of desires in their travel plans. Their travels often need to be sharable on social media, affordable, authentic, sustainable and rife with experiences all of which research has pointed to time and time again:

  • “78% of Millennials likely to choose sustainable travel options when planning and booking their travel” Booking.Com
  • “millennials want to seize the moment…millennials are simply enjoying experiences over things, access over ownership.” Forbes
  • “37% say the ability to post beautiful images and videos when they are on holiday influences where they travel to” The Telegraph
  • “Around 86 percent of millennials chose experiencing a new culture over partying (44 percent) and shopping (28 percent” The Wandering RV
  • “many Millennials tend to prefer to save on accommodation costs in order to spend more on unique experiences”  Eran Ketter

The good news

The good news is that reaching out to the millennial generation isn’t an exclusive task that requires a total revamp of your brand. Many of the things a millennial wants are by and large what we all want and added to that, many millennials are already engaging with luxury travel in ways unexpected of them. For example, those tasked with creating travel itineraries should note that a recent study by The Advantage Travel Partnership discovered that: “44% of Millennials would book with a travel agent in the future”, which again, is a break from what has traditionally been expected of millennials whom we were all told would only book online via their phones.

However, the millennial influence on luxury travel has much more longevity than that.

The core reason millennials are so important in helping the luxury travel industry recover is not only down to their unwavering loyalty to living in the moment, nor for their size or receptiveness to millennial-focused projects, but because the future is millennial.

What was once characterised as a demographic is increasingly being defined as a mindset, and it already seems that in many ways other generations are getting on board with this millennial perspective.

Gen Z perhaps mirror them most closely, especially when it comes to touting travel as their main priority but it is not simply a case of millennials leading the way and influencing the younger generation, but that collectively both demographics also influence older generations, setting the bar for what the ever-elusive and endlessly-referenced ‘new normal’ post-covid will be:

“With or without a crisis, these generational cohorts are of special interest, given their increasing spending power in the coming years and their ability to influence older generations.” Boston Consulting Group

Luxury travel in 2021 will be undoubtedly different and the industry has already shown incredible adaptability in how it has pivoted to meet the new needs of the market. Combined with the millennial mindset that increasingly transcends generations, it seems that we have every right to be hopeful.

Africa Travel Week

Africa Travel Week (ATW) focuses on inbound and outbound markets for general leisure tourism, luxury travel, LGBTQ+ travel and the MICE/business travel sector as well as travel technology. Shows include: ILTM Africa, WTM Africa, EQUAL Africa, ibtm AFRICA, Travel Forward, Sports & Events Tourism Exchange and African Tourism Investment Summit.