Felicity Long
Felicity Long

I recently had lunch with the general manager of a swanky, five-star European hotel who spent some time telling me about the property's amenities for luxury travelers: helipad, bespoke excursions, Michelin star chefs and so on.

But when I asked him about whether his hotel had any special marketing efforts to attract millennials, he looked shocked.

"Of course not," he said, explaining that the property is too expensive and exclusive for millennials and that his typical guests are older, well heeled, repeat clients who certainly don't show up in hiking boots and backpacks.

A few days later asked the same question of another high-end European hotelier, and I got almost the exact same response.

I thought, not for the first time, about how some industry executives might be taking too narrow a view of this market.

Sure, there are millennials who travel on a dime, but others -- think young CEOs of lucrative start-ups, just as an example -- are increasingly gravitating toward luxury travel experiences.

Research unveiled at the Virtuoso Travel Week last month bears this out. An analysis of Virtuoso clients revealed that 32% of the network's millennial-age clients earn more than $250,000 a year, a greater percentage than any other generation with the exception of matures.

Not only that, millennial incomes are growing, which makes sense as they advance in their careers.

Surveys, aside, what do Virtuoso agents have to say about this?"

"Seventy percent of our members fit within the millennial profile, and they are booking luxury five-star Virtuoso hotels around the world," said Kelly Grumbach, general manger, travel, for Quintessentially Travel. Citing millennials' "domination" of the tech/Silicon Valley world as a source of wealth among her younger clients, Grumbach said her company opened an office in San Francisco just to cater to this growing market.

She acknowledged that this group has a different definition of luxury than previous generations, but she said her millennial clients tend not to be particularly loyal to specific brands "because they love to try new things."

That said, it's a mistake to think they won't book classically-designed hotels like the Four Seasons George V in Paris, she said, because they do. But they they might be just as likely to go for the more modern Amanzoe in Greece on their next trip abroad.

The younger generation of luxury traveler is less cruise focused -- where everyone is doing the same thing at the same time in groups -- she said, preferring instead customized experiences like charting a private expedition yacht. She also said dining at a local night market might win out over a Michelin-star restaurant "because everyone can do that," and millennials are not especially impressed by formality.

In fact, it is this tendency toward unique experiences that makes luxury travel a good fit for well-heeled millennials, said Lindsay Taylor, director of business development at Coastline Travel Advisors/Tafari Travel. And she added that despite being web savvy, millennials appreciate a good travel adviser.

"The travel consultant can leverage existing relationships with suppliers to secure services and treatment that the traveler simply cannot do on their own," she said.

One way a good agent can serve this luxury demographic is by knowing the client and the product and matching the two.

"There is a reason there are so many different luxury hotel concepts," she said. "Millennials might feel entirely at home in London at the Connaught, another at the Ham Yard -- two wholly different hotel concepts for two completely different travel styles, same demographic.

Both agents agree that the importance of social media to this market can't be overstated, and that a successful vacation experience must be, at the very least, Instagram-worthy.

Of course, Virtuoso research also shows that the big money is still coming from Boomers, and I'm not arguing. But let's face it, Boomers won't be here forever, and purveyors of luxury travel who completely ignore millennials do so at their peril. In other words, be warned: they're coming. And in some cases, they're already here.

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