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Millennials: The First Post-Demographic Generation of Travelers

What do a 19-year-old college sophomore, a 24-year-old administrative assistant and a 33-year-old middle-manager have in common?

Depending on who you ask, all three could be considered Millennials. And hoteliers are working hard to identify what Millennials expect in terms of travel, but how does that work when "Millennials" span such a large number of ages, career types, cultures and backgrounds?

The Millennial generation – generally defined as those born between 1980 and the start of the new Millennium – is better viewed as a group of highly diverse sub-segments. Unlike Baby Boomers, Generation X and other generations before them, it's very difficult – if not impossible – to draw a cohesive picture of Millennials based on demographics.

This challenge is one of the topics examined in our recent report, Consumer Mega-Trends Impacting Hospitality in 2016. Millennials are so diverse that using traditional demographic segmentation – income, family status, gender and so forth – to predict consumer behavior becomes much more difficult. Meanwhile, people of all ages are identifying less with traditional cultural and demographic norms, creating more individualized lifestyles and defining themselves on their own terms, not by what others may dictate.

R.I.P. Demographics

During the last two decades, the world has seen monumental changes in cultural and societal expectations that have redefined such basic concepts as "family," "gender" and "culture."

A lot of factors are contributing to this trend, including the growth of online communication and social media, which allows ideas and opinions to be instantly passed worldwide. Increases in wealth and education combined with a worldwide shift from rural to urban living have also contributed to the breaking down of cultural and social barriers. And while these changes have caused a great deal of discussion and division in society at large, many Millennials define themselves by their acceptance of these "new normals" and embrace trends that let them construct their own lives and lifestyles. Social media showed this generation new ways to communicate, and the sharing economy, crowdfunding and crowdsourcing are challenging traditional systems for trading goods and services, financing innovation and gathering information.

Meanwhile, Millennials are making major life decisions later than previous generations. In a survey of business and leisure travelers for Sabre's new report Millennials De-Mystified: Who They Are, How They Shop, Why They Book, we found that 52 percent of travelers ages 18 to 35 identified as single and 79 percent had no kids under 18 living with them. One factor that contributes to this is access to employment: 80 percent of survey respondents ages 24 to 35 said they were working 30 hours or more per week.

The challenge for hoteliers is obvious: How do you communicate the value of the experience you offer to Millennial consumers without the ability to target your audience using the clear-cut, reliable demographic segmentation methods that worked in decades past?

Empower Your Guests

Hotel chains are responding by creating new brands aimed at Millennial travelers, many of them with facilities and amenities that play to this generation's love of technology and desire to socialize. At different hotels, mobile apps allow guests to check in, order room service or spa services and even control the lighting and temperature in their rooms.

And yet Sabre's recent survey of Millennial travelers found that only 9 percent say a mobile app is their first choice for booking a hotel stay. This highlights the need for hoteliers to create responsive and hassle-free booking experiences for busy, mobile-obsessed travelers, as well as giving Millennials a reason for adding yet another app to their phones.

Beyond services and amenities, hoteliers have a unique ability to empower their guests to live the lives they want to live. Millennial travelers are traveling to places in order to get a taste of local life – music, events, food and drink – and to experience landmarks and culture as locals do.

Yet Millennials aren't the only generation where we see this post-demographic trend. Last month, a new sharing-economy site launched connecting seniors who want to travel with other older adults who have spare rooms. The Freebird Club is a membership-based site open only to adults over 50, with a goal of creating social connections and helping members make new friends while traveling. Unlike Airbnb and other sites, The Freebird Club's hosts are always present to receive and entertain guests.

While Millennial travelers may be more difficult to categorize than their parents and grandparents, there are some truths that are universal. People want to be welcomed and respected for who they are, no matter where they choose to travel. In the new post-demographic era, hotel guests will be defined by the experiences they seek and their own uniqueness, not by static definitions.

Click here to download your copy of Millennials De-Mystified: Who They Are, How They Shop, Why They Book and start using these insights to guide your brand's marketing strategies.

And to learn more about post-demographic empowerment, along with other emerging trends impacting the hospitality industry, click here to download Consumer Mega-Trends Impacting Hospitality in 2016.

Hugh Fisher
Data Analyst
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