Research: How to Redefine Millennial Travelers

Millennials cannot be put in a box, because there is no box to put them in. Overgeneralize them and you’re likely to turn them off completely. These were among the key bottom-line perspectives gleaned by Travel Agent and sister publication Luxury Travel Advisor during two separate roundtables last fall.

It’s not surprising then that in its newly released 2016 Portrait of American Travelers, MMGY Global takes a deeper dive into Millennials, as well as other traveler segments, with an approach centered on common goals and interests instead of pure demographics. With Generation Y representing the largest generation in U.S. history (84 million vs. 78 million Baby Boomers), the report identifies new micro-segments that cross generational lines. Four of these primarily tend to involve, or overlap with, the needs and desires of Millennial travelers.

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HENRY stands for “High Earner, Not Rich Yet” – a traveler with a significant, steady cash flow who is ready to spend for quality and service. Three-fourths of HENRYs are willing to pay full price for a vacation and two-thirds of HENRYs expect personalized attention and options while on vacation. If HENRYs are disappointed by a travel service provider or a destination, they share it — 45 percent of HENRYs post written reviews on travel review websites or blogs.


GottaGoSOLOs are travelers who are married with children but vacation alone to reclaim their independence. A full third of all vacations taken by these travelers are taken alone, while four in 10 were with their children and a quarter with their significant other and no children. GottaGoSOLOs take more vacations than committed family-only travelers, and they reported a 61-point net positive variance in the intent to take more vacations during the upcoming 12 months. This phenomenon appears to be closely correlated to age — Millennials comprise almost three-fourths of this micro-segment.

Jet Sweaters

Jet Sweaters are amateur adult athletes without children who are redefining wellness in travel. One in 10 American travelers go annually to participate in 5K races, marathons, triathlons, cycling races, or other competitive athletic events. More than eight in 10 Jet Sweaters vacation in order to enhance existing relationships and to experience different cultures, compared to fewer than seven in 10 non-sporting travelers without children. Three-fourths of Jet Sweaters want to experience new cuisines, significantly more than their non-sporting counterparts. 

The Brat Pack 

Three in four Brat Pack members — families with children 12 and under who influence vacation-planning decisions — select vacation destinations based on activities available to those younger kids, compared to two-thirds of travelers with teenagers. Six in 10 Brat Pack members say their vacations are entirely child focused, versus just a quarter of travelers with teenagers. 

Messaging to Brat Pack families should be targeted to the needs and preferences of children, whereas travel messaging to families with teens should speak more to their parents and their expectations of a family vacation.

When looking for travel and inspiration for their next vacation, 18 percent of travelers turn to sites, down six points from 2015. However, 21 percent turn to online travel agents during this phase of the purchase path. Likewise, 32 percent of travelers prefer to book directly from travel suppliers, compared to 31 percent who book on online travel agent sites.

Additionally, half of all travelers who flew to their vacation destinations during the past 12 months typically booked their flights through an airline website or app, while only a third used an online travel agent website or app. Forty percent of travelers now typically book accommodations through a hotel website or app, while only a third booked through an online travel agent website or app.

While a fifth segment, YAHTZEEs (Young At Heart Travelers Zooming Everywhere Enthusiastically), are identified as active retirees who are traveling more and spending more, one can see the potential symbiosis with GottaGoSOLOs. The former could, for example, choose to take grandchildren along, freeing up the latter to “go solo.”

Good News for Travel Agents

Taken as a group, Millennials continue to be the leaders in seeking out traditional travel agents. According to the aforementioned 2016 Portrait, one-third of them used one for at least one vacation during the past 12 months, roughly the same amount as Xers, Boomers and Matures combined. Likewise, four out of 10 Generation Y travelers plan to use the services of a traditional travel agent during the next two years, compared to two in 10 Xers and one in six of older travelers.

A recently released study by ASTA, “Best of Both Worlds: Quantifying How Travel Agents Save Consumers Time and Money,” concurs that Millennials are the top users of travel agents. Findings from the study include:

30 percent of Millennials had used a travel agent in the past 12 months

45 percent were extremely likely to recommend a travel agent to a friend or family member

Millennials tend to search online or on social media for travel info.

Agents are more reachable by Millennials when they have a prominent online presence

40 percent of Millennials surveyed reported earning more than $100,000 per year.

New Boutique Hotels for Millennial Travelers

Here are some recent and future boutique hotel openings with built-in appeal for Millennial travelers.

Hilton Worldwide has opened the boutique Canopy by Hilton Reykjavik City Center in Iceland’s capital, near attractions like Laugavegur, a street known for its shops, eateries and pubs; Harpa Concert Hall; and Old Reykjavik Harbor, which offers views of Mount Esja and the landmark Hallgrimskirkja church. The hotel takes design cues from local architecture, with natural materials used throughout. There is also an LP library with records that can be played on any of the hotel’s 10 record players. From October through March, guests can watch the Northern Lights from the hotel’s vicinity. 

In Oregon, Hilton Worldwide plans to build the Canopy by Hilton Portland Pearl District in fall 2017. It will stand in a central Portland neighborhood that was once home to abandoned warehouses and rail yards and now houses numerous options for shopping, dining and entertainment. 

When it opens on Belize’s Ambergris Caye next year, The Resort at Mahogany Bay Village, Curio Collection by Hilton will offer Belizean-style villas made from local, sustainably harvested hardwoods. The villas will have lofty ceilings and artfully designed heirloom quality furniture. “The Village” will complement the downtown San Pedro area with a General Store, craft and farmer’s market, scuba and fishing operators, concierge and tour coordinator, a spa and more. Guests will be able to try organic fresh vegetables harvested daily from Ambergreens, Belize’s first aquaponics farming venture, coffee at Rum + Bean, lunch at Taco Shack and local fare at the all-day restaurant.

The 1857 Hotel in Paducah, Kentucky is housed in a renovated antebellum building with vaulted ceiling and exposed bricks.
The 1857 Hotel in Paducah, Kentucky is housed in a renovated antebellum building with vaulted ceiling and exposed bricks.

The 1857 Hotel has debuted in Paducah, Kentucky, a UNESCO Creative City. Housed in a renovated red-brick antebellum building, the hotel offers convenient access to several of the town’s attractions, including the Carson Center for Performing Arts, the National Quilt Museum and Paducah Wall to Wall Floodwall Murals, as well as a variety of nearby culinary offerings. 

Marriott has broken ground for the AC Hotel San Juan in the Puerto Rican capital’s hip Condado neighborhood. It will have 223 guestrooms and suites, all with balconies, as well as a rooftop swimming pool and lounge, fitness center, a restaurant and the brand’s AC Lounge, a creative spot and social hub. The hotel is scheduled to open in the first quarter of 2017.

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