Millennials and their technology – changing the way we travel

Anna Daugherty

Monday, Sept. 30, 2013

Friday, Sept. 27, was the 33rd World Tourism Day, and the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) celebrated their  recently published report stating that international tourists in 2012 numbered over one billion for the first time.

This report marks some of the many changes happening in the tourism industry. As the industry grows, new travelers are bringing with them new trends and technology.

Teresa Y. Lee, consulting and hospitality valuation analyst, studies emerging travel trends – especially the differences between the trends of the millennial generation and baby boomers.

Lee is a millennial business traveler herself and has noticed differences between her preferences and those of baby boomer business travelers.

“I remember my first business trip – I looked around the airport and saw people my parents’ age in suits, with leather briefcases,” Lee said. “There I was in jeans and Converse thinking ‘why would I travel in a suit?’”

Lee said many of the differences between millennials and baby boomers come from different priorities.

“I could stay in a hostel with free Wi-Fi for $10 a night,” she said. “But then I had to pay $15 a day for Wi-Fi at a luxury Marriott. That was crazy to me.”

Technology is not only something millennials want while traveling. Lee said the access to information is also changing what tourists hope to gain from their travels overall.

“You used to only hear of the Eiffel Tower and see a few pictures in a book – in black and white,” Lee said. “But now you see it all over the internet, on videos, or pictures of friends by it. When you go see it, it’s still cool and beautiful, but you expected that.”

Lee said millennials don’t want to only take a picture of the Eiffel Tower; they want to meet new friends, try out a new bar, and “experience the Eiffel Tower”. They want to come home with more memories than simply taking a picture.

Travel behavior analyst Nancy McGuckin has a different view.

McGuckin said technology may be changing things about travel, but it is not substituting travel basics.

“A person’s wants, needs, habits and desires don’t change,” McGuckin said. “But the way they go about fulfilling those things – that’s what changes.”

McGuckin said everyone is doing more leisure travel, but baby boomers are leading the way because they are now “empty-nesters and retirees” with more time and money.

“The difference between the baby boomers and millennials lies in the amount of income they each have,” McGuckin said. “And the amount they are willing to spend on accommodation and at destinations.”

While technology is obviously affecting the travel industry, McGuckin said the data on it is lacking.

“We’re missing the mobile technology data, and I can’t imagine it not having an effect,” McGuckin said. “I think the travel industry will be blindsided by mobile technology if we aren’t prepared for the changes it will bring.”

McGuckin said baby boomers should not be left out of the technology data as they are frequently web users themselves and fueled the growth of tourism technology before millennials were even traveling.

Keith Waldon, founder and director of Departure Lounge in Austin, has been traveling for 25 years and said he has personally seen technology change travel.

“I’ve seen the traditional travel agency become less relevant and less visible,” Waldon said. “But travel agencies have made up some ground online with their websites.”

Waldon said he believes technology will actually drive people back to travel agents and advisors.

“You can do a Google search for Bali and four million links come up…you need someone to help you curate those options and make the right decision,” he said.

Technology is also a powerful tool for making human connections that “span the geographic spread.” The internet allows travel agents to expand their market by connecting them with people anywhere in the world.

“Technology is allowing smaller, specialty travel agents to emerge,” Waldon said. “Boutique travel companies are offering more unique travel experiences so [millennials] have more options than their parents did.”

Waldon said the travel preferences of baby boomers may differ because of age more than technology. After years of work, baby boomers want to pamper themselves and may need to because of declining health.

Baby boomer travel habits might also originate in what they learned about travel from their parents – “the World War II generation”.

“They were very matter-of-fact, and happy to take a tour bus around town, seeing it from a window,” Waldon said.

Baby boomers started out differently, but now that they are traveling more, their habits are like their parents. It is the millennials who are taking the step away from this standard.

“Millennials are definitely seeking the authentic,” he said. “They want the non-tourist experience – the insider view.”

Lee said the focus for the travel industry should be to keep up with the changes.

“What it really comes down to is that we are a much more aware generation,” she said. “And that can be a challenge for the industry.”

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