Millennials: The generation most likely to hire an agent

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Young travelers in Madrid
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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 period.  

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 MMGY report.

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 visiting.”

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 personalized.”

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 ‘it’ handbag.”

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 authentic experiences.

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 work with.”

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