American Express Execs Talk Drawing Millennials to Travel Agents

The Fine Hotels and Resorts program, shown here at the opening General Session, has added new product to appeal to Millennial travelers.
The Fine Hotels and Resorts program, shown here at the opening General Session, has added new product to appeal to Millennial travelers. 

At the recent American Express Travel Forum Travel Agent had the chance to sit down with Claire Bennett, EVP of American Express Travel, Tanuj Suri, vice president premium customer experience, Rena Pandya, director, global lodging programs and partnerships, and John Veltri,
marketing director, travel and lifestyle services, as well as Michael Dixon, president, Travelink, and Lisa Bauer, EVP, International Cruise + Excursions, to talk the latest on how American Express is reaching out to Millennial travelers. 

“I think a lot of times we overthink things,” says Bennett. “Millennials are not the only people online – people use travel agents for a certain type of trip.”
Honeymoons, says Bennett, are a big first trip travelers will often take with a travel agent. “If it’s a good experience, they’re going to come back,” she says. 

“It’s also a specific kind of trip,” says Suri. “This morning I was sharing some feedback from customers, who were saying, ‘I stared online, Googled, researched, and got frustrated.’ It was a very specific need that they started with. That’s where young people start, but for a specific need there’s us.”
Overall, American Express is working to draw Millennials with its marketing and some of its new products. 

“We’ve been doing a lot in terms of content, particularly social content,” says Veltri. “We leverage influencers who bring our benefits to life, whether that’s utilizing a travel agent or our Fine Hotels and Resorts program.”

Some of the company’s revamped card products appeal to Millennials, particularly the Gold Card, which now offers members the chance to speak to a travel agent at a Representative Network agency by calling a number on the back of the card through the Gold Personalized Travel Service Pilot program that launched with the American Express Representative Network in January 2015. 

“The Gold card has really been transformed, with a focus on value,” says Veltri. “Millennials are points junkies, so this new mechanism is bridging a gap for a younger generation who has never used a travel agent before.”

The company’s Fine Hotels and Resorts program, too, is adding new, Millennial-friendly product. 

“We recently added our first hotel in Reykjavik, which has been hot forever, under Hilton’s lifestyle Canopy brand,” says Pandya. 

“We also have a lot of independent, design-focused properties, really great urban chic hotels that are maybe not at a five star plus sort of price point,” says Veltri. 

One product that’s lagging behind at attracting Millennials? Cruises.

“I think cruise lines haven’t done as good a job versus hotels,” says Bennett. “You see hotels talking about it, but not so much cruise lines.”

“Cruise lines are talking about it a lot internally,” says Bauer. “The brands that are in the contemporary space are doing a little better.”

“The product has gotten a lot more complicated,” Dixon notes. 

“I think from an agent perspective, on cruise, it’s critical to put the right customer on the right brand,” says Bauer. “That will make or break whether or not they cruise again.”

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