Top Millennial Sales and Marketing Tips From Our New York Roundtable

Travel Agent recently conducted a roundtable at The New York Edition hotel in Manhattan, where we asked some expert Millennial agents about everything from what kinds of advertising have an effect on Millennial travelers — and what types turn them off — to the biggest myths surrounding both Millennial agents and clients.

 

The panelists were Ashley Lancer, Valerie Wilson Travel, New York; Andrey Zakharenko, Always Travel, San Francisco; Natalia Chelnokova, Frosch, New York; Rebecca Norrbom, Holiday Cruises & Tours, Las Vegas; Daniela Harrison, Avenues of the World Travel, Flagstaff, AZ; Brad Rutta, Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, Wausau, WI; Heather Christopher, Classic Travel at Tackett’s Mill, Woodbridge, VA; and Marisa Costa, NEXT, a program by Protravel International and Tzell Travel Group based in New York.

The panel was moderated by Ruthanne Terrero, Travel Agent’s vice president and editorial director, and Joe Pike, senior editor of Travel Agent. Here are the most intriguing findings from that conversation.

Left: Ashley Lancer of Valerie Wilson Travel; Rebecca Norrbom of Holiday Cruises & Tours; Marisa Costa of NEXT; Daniela Harrison of Avenues of the World Travel; Andrey Zakharenko of Always Travel; Natalia Chelnokova of Frosch; Heather Christopher of Classic Travel at Tackett’s Mill; and Brad Rutta of Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection.
Ashley Lancer of Valerie Wilson Travel; Rebecca Norrbom of Holiday Cruises & Tours; Marisa Costa of NEXT; Daniela Harrison of Avenues of the World Travel; Andrey Zakharenko of Always Travel; Natalia Chelnokova of Frosch; Heather Christopher of Classic Travel at Tackett’s Mill; and Brad Rutta of Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection.

Advertising to Millennials

Ruthanne Terrero, Travel Agent: One of the questions everybody wants to know about Millennials is what type of advertising do you respond to? It seems like I keep reading so many articles that say it’s very hard to reach the Millennial generation in terms of how you want to be spoken to by brands and what types of ads you may or may not respond to.

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Rebecca Norrbom, Holiday Cruises & Tours: I get a lot of my things from Facebook advertising [and] word of mouth. That’s how I learn about stuff, but then I will go online and Google it, look at reviews and find blogs…to kind of see if it’s the right thing for me. But I even pay the extra $5 on Hulu so I don’t have to watch the ads. I try to stay away from all that stuff. I pretty much respond to recommendations from friends and then I figure out if it’s right for me or not.

Heather Christopher, Classic Travel: I read a lot of healthy living and food blogs. I have for years and I’ve just noticed recently in the last two years that Carnival, Princess and now Sandals have all reached out to these bloggers and they’re bringing them onboard. That’s the best form of advertisement, I think, for someone like me — a young mom who’s busy. These are the things I’m reading to find out who I can relate to.

Discussing how to — and how not to — advertise to Millennials are, from left, Ashley Lancer, Joe Pike, Andrey Zakharenko and Natalia Chelnokova.
Discussing how to — and how not to — advertise to Millennials are, from left, Ashley Lancer, Joe Pike, Andrey Zakharenko and Natalia Chelnokova.

Andrey Zakharenko, Always Travel: I’ve seen a lot of amazing ads, but most of the time they’re so good, I don’t remember what they’re actually selling to me. I would think, “That was really funny, but was that Geico or Allstate or what? What were they selling me? I don’t remember.” Whereas I think now, they really need to focus on aligning their corporate policy and their product with the Millennial clients. I think if they can just figure out how they want to present themselves and kind of focus on their corporate core strategy that will then somehow resonate at a much cheaper scale than the billboards and the TV advertisements.

Marisa Costa, NEXT: I think the point is that people really want to hear from someone else who enjoys whatever it is they are selling, whether it’s a blogger or a friend or whoever it is, because there’s just so much information in front of us on the Internet. I tried to buy a pair of shoes and I could go to this site or that site, or I could get this brand or that brand — and this one has it cheaper. I don’t know where to go, but if someone tells me, “I just bought these shoes, I got them at Nordstrom and you need to go get them,” I’m way more inclined to just do that. It makes my life a lot easier.

Heather Christopher, Classic Travel: We all know how advertising works. We know that it’s all money. I feel like we’re not bought that way. I think that’s what’s different about our generation. I feel there’s more of a transparency of these things than there was with the Baby Boomer generation. They grew up differently. They weren’t used to all those types, so they believed whatever was put out there. I think that’s why traditional media sources don’t work on us anymore. We’re like, “Eh.”

Andrey Zakharenko and Natalia Chelnokova
Andrey Zakharenko and Natalia Chelnokova

Ashley Lancer, Valerie Wilson Travel: I was in advertising for four years before travel and I did all the advertisements that none of us watch, and I knew that my business was going to be gone before you knew it. I was doing cable ads and I don’t watch them. I have a DVR so that I don’t have to watch them. I studied marketing for so many years and I think there are different elements of [it] that I can see, like guerilla marketing. I don’t know if you guys know the term. For example, I think it’s very smart if you are an alcohol brand and you are at a party and you can get that in there and we’ll try it and will tell you if we like it. Those kinds of elements of just being there so that consumers can try things. It’s probably going to get more buzz. Someone’s going to take a picture and put it on Facebook and it really is a social media thing, but there’s other ways to get to us, but it’s definitely not a traditional ad anymore. You have to think outside the box and, again, I think you could spend a lot less money — but you have to be smart about how you’re getting in there.

Andrey Zakharenko, Always Travel: What really upsets me — being in travel and visiting lots of sites of hotels and this and that — is seeing how Internet marketing really works. I visit a website for the client’s hotel. Next thing, I go on Facebook and there’s an ad for that hotel. Then I go to another site and that hotel is there again. I was thinking, “Wait, no.” I was looking this up for someone else. For me personally, it does not work.

Ruthanne Terrero, Travel Agent: Take Bloomingdale’s, for example. If they’re having a great sale on their website, by the time you go to check out, the item, say it’s a great dress, is already gone, purchased by someone else. It gets grabbed out of your cart. But ads for that dress that I didn’t get, that’s no longer available, keep popping up on every other site I go to, including Facebook. It gets to be like, “Stop showing it to me.” I’d rather see an ad for something else that is available. To me, that’s guerilla marketing at its worst, it makes no sense.

Natalia Chelnokova, Frosch: We respond to ads that are more authentic and genuine. If it’s a blog or on Instagram, you can tell if someone is trying to promote and sell something or if it’s really genuine and they tried it and they loved it and they suggest people therefore use it.

Daniela Harrison, Avenues of the World Travel: It has to have a really natural feel. You can’t put the product first. It’s almost like when you watch a movie and one of the actors will drink from a Coke can. You see the “C” and everybody knows it’s a Coke can, right? It has to be hidden advertising within the blog. You can’t be too upfront about it because then you’re thinking, “Okay, you just got thrown like $500 to write this piece.” I do feel that’s the direction that advertising is heading in. A lot of people rely more on the word of a stranger than actual professional advertising that’s been paid for.

Travel Agent magazine’s Joe Pike asks the panel to address Millennial stereotypes.
Travel Agent magazine’s Joe Pike asks the panel to address Millennial stereotypes.

Millennials: True or False?

Joe Pike, Travel Agent: What are the main stereotypes and myths involving Millennial agents and clients? Is there any element of truth to any of these? Are they just flat-out false? I will start: I think there’s a notion that Millennial agents only book for Millennial clients. Everybody thinks a young agent is just booking bachelor and bachelorette parties, girls’ getaways, some place with a cool nightlife, etc., but I don’t think a lot of people realize how many family [and] multigenerational clients you have. I also don’t think people realize that a lot of Millennials are becoming mothers and fathers now and they’re becoming experts within family travel.

Marisa Costa, NEXT: I hear all the time from veteran agents that we’re entitled and I agree 150 percent that we are. Not that it’s a bad thing, but when you think about it, we’ve had access to every bit of information we could ever want from when we were young, so there’s no reason to just accept the status quo. You don’t like your job? Back in the day you have to go knock on doors, hand out résumés. Now you don’t like your job, you go home, you go online, you send a couple résumés out and you move on. It’s the same thing if a client doesn’t like what their advisor provided for them. Those clients can go online and look directly. It’s products. It’s services. It’s everything in life. We don’t have to stick with something if we don’t like it. A lot of people of older generations, who have worked very hard to get where they are, see that with us and it’s almost like they think we’re bad people or something, but we’re just really, really informed.

Rebecca Norrbom, Holiday Cruises & Tours: I do agree that [Baby Boomers] feel like it’s entitlement. I feel like it’s more of a confidence thing, though. There’s sort of a fine line sometimes where I don’t want to seem like I’m being cocky or entitled or anything, but you do have to stand up and shout about how good you are nowadays because you can Google anyone else. You have to stand out.

Andrey Zakharenko, Always Travel: Parents usually have wisdom to pass on, but there’s so much information [out there] that this is one of the first generations where the kids actually will be smarter than the parents because they have all this access and they grew up with all this Internet information. They know all these things. The parents can’t catch up. That’s very different.

Brad Rutta and Heather Christopher
Brad Rutta and Heather Christopher

Brad Rutta, Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection: Millennials just believe what you say a lot more than what they’re going to read. I think another myth from our perspective is that Millennials don’t buy travel insurance. It’s been thought of that it’s mostly going to be older people that take insurance when they’re traveling, but we’re finding that Millennials also want to protect their investment. They want a unique experience, but they’re willing to take insurance on that too.

Rebecca Norrbom and Daniela Harrison
Rebecca Norrbom and Daniela Harrison

Rebecca Norrbom, Holiday Cruises & Tours: One myth that I don’t really like about Millennials is that they don’t spend money or they’re cheap. I think we will spend money on the things that we like, but we have no problem being cheap where we don’t care. I will spend where I want to spend, but I’ll save where I want to save. I hate the idea that Millennials are cheap because we’ll take Uber and we’ll do something like that. No, we’re taking Uber to a five-star hotel.

Daniela Harrison, Avenues of the World Travel: I feel like our generation can be pretty impatient when it comes to travel needs. I know I am. I’m very impatient. If I book a hotel and I tell them, “I’m going to be an early arrival, I want my room to be ready and I’ll pay for it,” and [if] they still don’t have my room ready when I show up, that’s the last time I’m going to that hotel. I’m sorry, that’s it. They had that one shot.

To Cruise or Not to Cruise

Joe Pike, Travel Agent: I also think many people don’t realize that Millennials are really driving the cruise industry now because they like the pricing of it. They think there’s a lot of value. They like the all-inclusive pricing, and they wake up in a new destination every single day. A Baby Boomer will find what he likes and stick to it and a Millennial constantly needs to be blown away because of that constant challenge to impress people. Waking up at a new destination every day accomplishes that goal for Millennials.

Ashley Lancer, Valerie Wilson Travel: They want different things. I mean there’s no point in going to the same place again if there are so many other options within this world. They have to be adding shorter cruises for that Millennial generation even if it’s all the way to Europe. The five- and seven-day cruises are selling out so much quicker to younger generations because we want to elongate our short amount of vacation, use as much [of it] as possible and diversify it throughout the year. Whereas, maybe a Boomer wants to take that [one] long trip so they’re not traveling back and forth to Europe and taking long flights. I want to experience as many things as possible, so we’re going to do those short trips. The cruise ships are really trying to get those smaller package days.

Rebecca Norrbom, Holiday Cruises & Tours: I’m getting a lot that like cruises. I love cruising and I always pitch cruising to Millennials as, “Well, you go spend a day in every city and then you figure out where you’re going back next time.” That’s how you maximize where you’re going, but they don’t want to do regular shore excursions. They want to figure out what pubs they’re going to go to, what museum they may visit when they’re in these ports. One thing that I see very different is that they want a very authentic experience when they get in these places. I’ve done three river cruises but I hardly ate on the ship unless I had to. I wanted to go eat in town.

Marisa Costa (with Heather Christopher) explains why entitlement is not a bad thing and is really about access to information.
Marisa Costa (with Heather Christopher) explains why entitlement is not a bad thing and is really about access to information.

Heather Christopher, Classic Travel: I think it’s a regional thing too, because my Millennial clients do not like cruises. I can’t think of the last Millennial I put on a cruise, so I’m, like, is that a regional thing?

Rebecca Norrbom, Holiday Cruises & Tours: I do all kinds of cruises for Millennials — Europe, Alaska. I actually get less Caribbean. I get my Millennial people who want to stay at a resort or an all-inclusive if they’re doing the Caribbean. I’m West Coast, so Alaska is really popular because they want to do the adventure. They want to do the hiking. They can do an easy flight to Seattle.

Heather Christopher, Classic Travel: Can you get your Millennials on a Crystal [cruise] though?

Rebecca Norrbom, Holiday Cruises & Tours: I do have a couple of Millennials that I booked on Crystal. They’re very affluent and their parents have taken them on Crystal before.

Ashley Lancer and Natalia Chelnokova talk shop over coffee.
Ashley Lancer and Natalia Chelnokova talk shop over coffee.

Ashley Lancer, Valerie Wilson Travel: Royal Caribbean is great for families. Disney is going to be great for young kids. But it’s true, Princess, Crystal and Silversea are all amazing, but I’m not sure if it’s for Millennials right now.

Heather Christopher, Classic Travel: I think there’s a huge market for Millennials taking river cruises because they also stop in all of these great little towns.

Ashley Lancer, Valerie Wilson Travel: I love cruising because you don’t have to think about it. You’re on one place. You can unpack once, but the cruise ships go in big ports where you’re not where you need to be. River cruising, I agree, is probably fantastic for Millennials. They just need to know how to market it correctly and that you’re in the places where Millennials want to be. Again, I don’t want to eat on the ship. I want to eat in the places I may not see again. You need to incorporate that and get them in there…it’s so easy [on river cruises]. You take a bike and meet them at the next port.

Heather Christopher, Classic Travel: I think they’re totally missing the mark there, but I think it’s the price quote right now. Everybody thinks of an older client going on a river cruise, so we just need to get that fixed to include Millennials. That’s where marketing and branding could really make a difference.

Brad Rutta dispels the myth that Millennials don’t buy travel insurance.
Brad Rutta dispels the myth that Millennials don’t buy travel insurance.

Daniela Harrison, Avenues of the World Travel: My first river cruise was with my husband. We were probably the youngest by 40 years, easily, if not more. This was a couple of years ago. We got on the ship and it took literally only 15 minutes before everybody knew our name. Everybody wanted to know what our story was, why we were there, what we were doing. We made friends with all the staff.

Hot Destinations

Joe Pike, Travel Agent: What’s hot? What’s not? What was hot and now it’s not again?

Daniela Harrison, Avenues of the World Travel: South America’s hot. Everybody’s talking about it right now.

Ruthanne Terrero, Travel Agent: The whole continent?

Andrey Zakharenko, Always Travel: Peru, Panama.

Daniela Harrison, Avenues of the World Travel: Peru, Chile, Argentina, Patagonia.

Ashley Lancer, Valerie Wilson Travel: Brazil and, also, Colombia, because there are no visas required there. When people really learn about how to do visas they don’t want to worry about it and it’s too much work. Millennials don’t mind going farther away but they want ease of access. I see a lot of direct flights. Where does that direct flight go to? The places that are not hot for me are the Caribbean islands that have been done and done and done.

Daniela Harrison, Avenues of the World Travel: Jamaica and the Dominican Republic are always hot.

Ashley Lancer, Valerie Wilson Travel: Puerto Rico is still hot for people who have young kids. They’re like, “Oh I don’t need a passport? OK, I want to go there.” They will go far distances around the world, but they definitely want it to be a little easier, and direct flights are a big part of it.

Joe Pike, Travel Agent: I think the challenge of the agent when dealing with a Millennial client is to try to keep every experience fresh, even if they are going to the same destination. They may have been to Jamaica 10 times, but Ocho Rios is there and Port Antonio is there, and both those experiences are completely different. One’s a cruise destination where you can have 300 people joining you for the party no matter what you do, and then you’re going to have Port Antonio, which is this lush tropical site with virtually no people. Those are both Jamaica and they’re two totally different experiences.

Heather Christopher, Classic Travel: Again, this could be an East Coast thing, so it could be very regional, but what happened to Tahiti?

Daniela Harrison, Avenues of the World Travel: Everybody has gone to Fiji and Tahiti. There’s nothing new and exciting about it. They’re like, “Cook Islands. That’s different. I want to go there.”

Rebecca Norrbom, Holiday Cruises & Tours: Iceland and Norway. I’ve been getting a lot of [requests for] Norway.

Heather Christopher, Classic Travel: National parks.

Joe Pike, Travel Agent: What about Cuba? Are you guys getting a lot of inquiries about it?

Heather Christopher, Classic Travel: A lot of questions.

Natalia Chelnokova, Frosch: More from Boomers.

Marisa Costa, NEXT: People think that they can just go now and it’s like, “No, you still have to go under one of these 12 categories.”

Joe Pike, Travel Agent: There’s also the argument of whether it’s better to go now or whether it’s better to wait until they get their hotel product in order a little more to meet U.S. standards.

Ashley Lancer, Valerie Wilson Travel: I say wait. Right now, you have to be on an educational trip and you can’t wander off on those and a lot of my clients are like, “Wait, what if I don’t want to get up and have breakfast and leave?” You can’t go.

Daniela Harrison, Avenues of the World Travel: I’m sorry, but all those packages right now look totally overpriced to me. There’s no way that a week in Cuba costs $6,000. No.

Ashley Lancer, Valerie Wilson Travel: I think once they lift the ban on having to be on a tour program, then I’d say to go right away because I worry that it’s going to become very commercialized very quickly.

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