Generational influence is powerful. Take millennials and yoga, for example. Not only have millennials made practicing yoga mainstream, they’ve created a new retail category dubbed "athleisure,"as yoga pants are an everyday staple to the millennial wardrobe.  Further, news articles about yoga being taught to elite soldiers, prison inmates and toddlers underscores yoga’s growth across demographics and generations. This all hit close to home for me when my good friend (who’s not a millennial) recently left corporate America to become a yoga instructor.

If these aren’t signs of a trend going mainstream, what are?

It’s human nature that activities and preferences that once seemed exotic become commonplace as they cross generational boundaries. It’s something we’re starting to see in the travel industry.

Thanks to the widely touted BCG study we all know that millennials are poised to become the most important cohort for business travel. And, travel companies have certainly taken notice when it comes to guest experience. Hotel companies such as Marriott, Starwood and Hyatt have made community space within their lifestyle hotels a priority; while the airlines have launched initiatives catering to millennials. For example, KLM’s Meet and Seat program enables passengers to connect in-flight with LinkedIn contacts. And, a number of travel companies have boosted their customer service capability to respond to traveler issues via Twitter and Facebook.

But investments to woo millennials go beyond the guest experience; on the marketing front, Millennials’ needs and preferences have also driven significant changes. More importantly those millennial preferences have begun to bleed into the expectations of other demographic groups. For the travel industry, this shift has important implications for how to market to all travelers. We can break them down into three areas:

Mobile: We get it: Mobile is huge and can’t be ignored. But beyond just using mobile to research travel, we’re seeing a rapid increase in actual travel bookings through the channel—by 2018 we expect there to be 66.2M US travelers that are booking travel via a mobile device. This trend started with the hyper-connected millennials, but now is a behavior seen across all ages.

Smartphones and tablets are used by both business and leisure travelers throughout the travel process, not just for researching/booking, but for inspiration and research. Convenience and ease of use help travelers’ complete bookings in just one or two taps on an app.

Travelers also use mobile heavily during travel and post-trip to engage with travel providers, find local restaurant reviews, book tickets, use maps and share their experience with their social networks.

Loyalty: The changing preferences of millennials are also driving a shift in loyalty programs, especially within travel. Millennials are unequivocal in their desire for more immediate, spontaneous recognition. They expect a reward at enrollment and are unwilling to wait until they’ve accumulated tens of thousands of points to enjoy some perks. That philosophy resonates with a larger audience that feels betrayed by program point devaluations and higher status thresholds. It’s not just Millennials that are re-evaluating the traditional quid pro quo programs. Moves to new cities and changes in preferred corporate vendors can shake-up travelers’ allegiances across generations.

As the traditional structure of quid pro quo loyalty unravels, a new model is emerging: behavior-based rewards. Kimpton’s Karma program captures some of the key elements of this model rewards are based on behaviors that extend beyond transactions like attending a property’s nightly wine hour; over 200 guest behaviors are tracked and recognized. The rewards themselves are also more personalized—they reflect a guests’ home town or hobby.

Experience: While millennials might have renewed the conversation toward interest in experiences over goods and a desire for “authentic” / local activities, the trend goes beyond this generation. From an American Express survey, 72 percent of people across all demographics would rather spend money on experiences than things. Even more telling for the travel industry is that for 88 percent of people, travel is the number one dream on their life’s bucket list.

Not surprisingly, hotels have jumped on the bandwagon and are increasingly curating unique experiences for their guests—with offerings ranging from charting a route for a local pub crawl to arranging for an after-hours tour of the Sistine Chapel. The most successful initiatives utilize deep understanding of individuals’ behaviors and underlying motivations, so offer add-on services that provide a memorable and brag-worthy experience.

My dogma to you

While millennials have certainly led the change in mobile, loyalty and experience-based travel, these trends extend beyond generational boundaries. As a result, you have the opportunity to leverage your millennial initiatives to attract a wider population.

Here are some ways to get started:

  • Re-examine the usability of your mobile booking app—you may find that it gets better adoption if you fine-tune certain features for sub-groups of users (novice to expert)
  • The shift toward a more spontaneous form of loyalty rewards is gaining speed. Identify a few types of recognition can you offer your travelers today even as you being the overhaul of your existing program.
  • Offer a choice of experiences to your travelers and track which options draw their interest—even if it doesn’t result in conversion you are collecting valuable insight.

Remember that millennial or not, individuals want to be treated as individuals, not put in a box based on their age.

Given the priority people are putting on travel, there’s tremendous opportunity across the travel industry to fulfill our travelers’ needs for convenience, recognition and fulfillment.

Is it time we start offering yoga pants as an in-flight amenity for frequent travelers? Namaste.

For more on millennials and our data-driven suggestions for effectively reaching this cohort, download the report: #marketingtomillennials: A guide to understanding today's millennials.

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Topics: Article, millennials, mobile, travel, marketing, Topic, US, Marketing

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