Tech-savvy millennials are adept at researching destinations and experiences online, however tour operators that personalise their offerings still have a role to play. Tessa Reed speaks to experts to find out more.
While the majority of millennials book travel through online channels, there is still a fair share of business from this group that tour operators and travel agents can serve, says Nicolas Barenblatt, Protea Hospitality Group Marketing Manager.
This sentiment is echoed by Mariette du Toit-Helmbold, CEO of tourism consultancy, Destinate. “Tour operators still have a role to play but like all other traditional sales channels, they will have to adapt the way they work, make an effort to understand and connect to the new customer,” she says.
Doin Chang, CEO of Fluxtrends, suggest that millennials make most of their bookings through digital channels and tour operators need to shift their business models to access this market.
According to Du Toit-Helmbold, millennial travellers will use the services of tour operators that don’t fit the ‘traditional mould’. These operators can help millennials verify information and narrow down their search and provide the inside scoop on a local destination.
A CRAVING FOR THE EXPERIENTIAL
Mariette Du Toit-Helmbold
Chang, Du Toit-Helmbold and Barenblatt all agree that millennial travellers crave experiential travel.
“Millennials want to get off the bus and immerse themselves in truly unique and local life,” says Du Toit-Helmbold. They don’t want to visit a destination’s major attractions, she says. Instead, they want to be immersed in the local culture with an authentic local experience. “They are not spectators but prefer to participate and really experience a destination full-on.”
Barenblatt adds that experiences that are socially and culturally aligned are popular with this group. He says unique experiences and distinctive design features at a destination are attractive to millennials. He calls this the “Instagram effect” and explains that these travellers want to share their experiences and see out unique objects that they can photograph and share with their networks on social media.
He suggests that tour operators should evaluate the experiences they offer to this group by determining whether they are shareable on social media, differentiated and unique.
Du Toit-Helmbold says volunteering and responsible tourism options are popular with this socially aware group. Chang says that, in addition to philanthropic travel, millennials will also book travel around festivals and events
Tour operators should provide opportunities for millennials to meet similar travellers, according to Du Toit-Helmbold. She says they are sociable offline too and enjoy traveling with others, regardless of whether or not they have met previously. “If companies can provide fun opportunities for millennials to meet similar travellers, they will do well.” Barenblatt agrees that millennials like to socialise, adding that these travellers don’t want to stay in their rooms but spend time in a hotel’s social spaces.
Access to WiFi is an important differentiator for this market. “Other than a clean bed, WiFi is probably the number-one item millennials seek in an accommodations establishment,” says Du Toit-Helmbold. Barenblatt points out that these travellers will select hotels that are further from their desired location to access free WiFi. Chang says tour operators can differentiate themselves by also offering packages where all the accommodation booked offers free WiFi.
It is crucial for tour operators packaging for millennials to provide the most up-to-date and accurate information on their websites and allow for flexibility, says Du Toit-Helmbold. “Millennials demand greater flexibility in booking structures and terms.” She adds that these travellers also use a shorter booking window and make more spontaneous decisions. Barenblatt agrees: “They aren’t scared to leave things up to chance and book on the fly.”
Du Toit-Helmbold, Chang and Barenblatt all suggest that tour operators should incorporate technological solutions into their offering to meet millennials’ demand for an efficient, digital experience. Du Toit-Helmbold says they expect instant email confirmation, web tickets and digital boarding passes delivered to their smartphones.
Barenblatt suggests that tour operators should look at how they can use technology to enhance that traveller’s experience throughout the buying cycle, not just leading up to a booking. For example he says, tour operators can give travellers access to an app that holds their booking and allows them to add experiences during their stay. According to Chang, while it will be hard for smaller independent tour operators to develop an app because of costs, an app enables tour operators to stay relevant to the millennial market.
This market is potentially lucrative one for tour operators, says Barenblatt. “They are not scared to spend money on experiences – they put a huge amount of value on experiences,” he says, adding that millennials are not a market that will stay at a destination on minimal package and do very few activities.