It might seem counterintuitive, but millennials, the most
online generation, is also the age group most likely to use travel agents.
What’s more, agents who see their sales to millennials
increasing say it is the generation that comprises by far the most knowledgeable
consumers and that they turn to agents for curatorial assistance and to ensure
they get the most bang for their buck.
According to MMGY Global’s 2014 Portrait of the American
Traveler, 28% of millennials surveyed in February 2014 had used a travel agent
in the previous 12 months, compared with 15% of Gen X consumers, 13% of baby
boomers and 21% of matures.
Looking forward, the MMGY study predicted that millennials
would be even more likely to use a travel agent. Thirty percent said they would
use an agent in the next two years, compared with 19% of Xers, 16% of boomers
and 27% of matures.
On top of using agents more, millennials plan to travel
more. MMGY data from the fourth quarter of last year revealed that 61% are
planning to take a leisure trip in the first half of this year, up from 54% for
2014. The increase among those who plan to take a vacation in the first half of
the year represents the largest growth of any generation within the
When asked why, if the Internet is part of their DNA, this
Web-savvy group would turn to travel agents, eight in 10 millennials cited
expertise about destinations and travel service providers, according to the
That said, millennials also routinely harness the power of
the Internet, often saturating themselves in the details of a trip before
turning to an expert for fine-tuning.
“They do a lot of research ahead of time,” said Alexa
Bermudez, a travel consultant (and herself a millennial) for Moraga Travel of
Moraga, Calif. “They know the type of trips they want, whether it’s for a
specific event or an interest like beer trips through Europe.”
By the time they talk to Bermudez, she said, they are
looking for nitty-gritty details about hotels and activities.
“They want something that is local and ethnic,” Bermudez
said. “Things that make them feel really in touch with the environment they’re
David Kolner, Virtuoso’s senior vice president of consumer
technology, said that the consortium’s millennial clients are more likely than
other demographics to use the Virtuoso portfolio of Destinations and
Experience, which includes highly customized activities offered by Virtuoso’s
On-Sites, which are locally based destination management companies.
Millennials spend 38% of their annual travel budget on these
experiences, compared with just 28% for boomers and 23% of matures, according
to Virtuoso sales data.
Travel agents confirm this, saying that millennials travel
differently than their parents did.
“They want adventure and off-the-beaten-path experience,”
said Rey Alton, leisure marketing director with Travel Leaders/Almeda Travel in
Houston. “This type of trip becomes more of a crafted vacation and
Work hard, play hard
Stephanie Serino, an agent with Tzell Travel in New York,
said she is getting more business from millennials.
“They work their butts off, but not for stuff,” Serino said.
“They want experiences. They’d much rather have an exciting adventure than some
Daniela Harrison, an agent from Avenues of the World Travel
in Flagstaff, Ariz., agreed.
“Millennials like to work really hard, but they like to play
hard and make their free time count and get the most out of it,” she said.
Honeymoons, while not the sole reason for the growth of millennial business, are clearly an on-ramp for this demographic.
While some agents see some of their millennial clients
buying mass-market products, that could be due to economics more than to taste.
Millennials are more likely to visit Africa than other generations, according
to Kolner. Virtuoso sales numbers show 50% more travel to Africa for
millennials than for boomers. He sees that as an indicator of their taste for
That desire for authenticity is also behind Mexico’s
popularity with millennials. This is a generation that is strapped for time,
and Mexico is fast to get to and a relatively inexpensive destination to fly
to, Kolner said. That leaves millennials with more money to spend on
destination experiences, which they will prioritize over air, Kolner said.
Sometimes the destination experience can literally be
on-the-ground activities. Harrison said her clients want a mix of experiences,
including things like camping under the stars in Africa.
Sustainability is also important to millennials, Harrison
said, although it’s not something they mention first. Still, companies like G
Adventures, whose business model is centered on using locally owned
accommodations, restaurants and tour guides to make sure tourism dollars have
the most impact on the local economy, is popular with her clients. Doing
volunteer work while on vacation is also appealing to millennials.
“They bring that mentality to it and feel like they’re doing
good while having fun,” Harrison said.
And when they have money, they are willing to spend it.
Serino said, “They don’t have much time off, so they’re
willing to splurge to make their getaway amazing.”
Virtuoso’s sales numbers bear that out. Matures and boomers
still spend the most per household per year on travel, with matures spending
56% more annually on travel than other generations. That makes sense, given
their income, net worth and free time. However, Kolner said that millennials
actually spend 11% more per day than matures spend.
“Although they may not have as much time to travel, when
they do travel, they are spending more,” Kolner said.
Honeymoons, while not the sole reason for the growth of
millennial business, are clearly an on-ramp for this demographic.
And while they might plan some of their travel on their own,
Donna Sevilla, a Protravel agent based in San Diego, said, “When it comes to an
important trip like a honeymoon, they don’t want to screw it up and want help
from an expert.”
What’s more, millennials use the Web to find agents.
“Who you know has become even more important to these
generations,” said Heather Christopher of Classic Travel in Woodbridge, Va.,
speaking of both millennials and Gen Xers. “It’s more common than not to
receive a Facebook message or be tagged in someone’s comments because they are
looking for XYZ trip information and a friend has referred you.”
Alton, leisure marketing director with Travel Leaders/Almeda
Travel in Houston, agreed.
“Millennial travelers seek us out on the Internet, trolling
our Travel Leaders agent profile page,” Alton said, adding that they are
looking for an agent who fits them.
Kolner said that the match between adviser and consumer is
cross-generational. Some millennials work with their contemporaries, some not.
“It’s a mindset,” he said. “It’s not that you have to be a
millennial to sell to a millennial. People pick advisers for all sorts of
reasons. Some people want someone older, some younger, someone who lives in
their hometown. It is so personal, and I love that. That is the strength of the
industry, the human connection. Let people work with the humans they want to