Tourism growth is set to slow this year, but Millennial families could represent a massive opportunity for travel agents, MMGY Global’s Anna Blount said during a presentation on the United States Tour Operators Association’s (USTOA) Travel Industry Trends & Insights Panel. The panel, which included Blount, director of market research and insights for MMGY; Jennifer Wesley, head of travel for Google; and Dan Peltier, tourism reporter for Skift, took place during USTOA’s inaugural Digital Marketing Academy in New York City. Susan Black, chief commercial officer for CIE Tours, moderated.
“We predict a small amount of growth this year, but no nearly the growth we’ve seen in past years,” Blount said, describing the latest trends in MMGY’s Portrait of American Travelers. Travel spending declined 4 percent between 2016 and 2017, and the number saying they intend to take more vacations in the next 12 months fell from 28 percent in 2016 to 25 percent in 2017. Those who said they plan to take fewer vacations grew from 14 percent to 19 percent.
One bright spot: Millennial families. “Millennial families are the biggest travel opportunity in 2018,” says Blount, noting that average vacation spend by Millennial households was set to rise by 8 percent over the next year. That’s a contrast to other demographics, who all show declines: Gen Xers and Baby Boomers by 3 percent, and Matures by 11 percent.
“There’s a tendency to think Millennials are all the same, but they’re really in three life stages,” says Blount. Depending on when they were born, Millennials could be in the early stages of adulthood, still investigating their preferences; in a “figuring it out” phase where their starting to follow patterns and find direction; or in the “foundational” phase, where they form families and become more rooted and predictable.
And among Millennials, it’s Millennial families that are set to lead the way in travel. Vacation spending is set to jump 19 percent among Millennial families, according to MMGY’s data, while spending by Millennial couples is set to decline 8 percent and spending by Millennial singles by 10 percent.
“Just because you’re going after Millennial families doesn’t mean you’re targeting kids, though,” says Blount, noting that only 57 percent of Millennial families vacation with the kids in tow. 16 percent of Millennial families had a member take a vacation with no one else in the household at all.
Millennial families also lead the way in travel agent use, as well. While Millennials as a whole are friendly to the idea of using a travel agent, the difference is much more noticeable among families. 51 percent of Millennial families in the MMGY Global report said that they intend to use a travel agent, as compared with 12 percent of Millennial couples and 16 percent of Millennial singles.
“They want to have an expert do what an expert does best,” Blount says.
In terms of products, Millennials are open to group tours. 47 percent of Millennial families intend to go on a group tour. “That’s way higher than the overall population,” says Blount.
When it comes to vacation planning, “the power of search remains,” says Blount. When looking at all travelers, search engines held the #1 or #2 spot for all four phases of the vacation planning process: Ideas/Inspiration, Advice/Ratings, Compare Features/Pricing and Making Reservations. That holds true for Millennial families, as well, with the biggest search engine of all, Google, topping MMGY’s list of the five websites regularly used to obtain travel information and prices. For Millennial families, it was followed by Expedia, TripAdvisor, Hotels.com and Trivago. For all travelers, it was followed by Expedia, TripAdvisor, Travelocity and a hotel brand’s specific website.
“We believe it’s going to continue being the top travel website for years to come,” Blount says.