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by | Oct 21, 2016 | Blog

Millennials.  Also known as Generation Y.  If you work in PR or marketing, especially in the travel industry, everyone’s talking about them, and everyone wants to reach them.

But who and what are we reaching out to?

Ask any two people to define what millennials are and you’ll get different answers.  Personally, I like the characterisation offered by the Telegraph’s Harry Wallop:  “Born between about 1980 and 2000 … between the advent of the Walkman and the founding of Google … the members of Generation Y are unsurprisingly shaped by technology.”

Conventional wisdom holds that millennials are self-centred, self-absorbed even, believing that the minutiae of their lives are worth broadcasting to the world via social media.  They are lazy.  They have no direction, and no work ethic.  They expect that the good things in life will be presented to them on a plate.  Doesn’t sound promising, does it?

Recently I attended an event put together by the MDHUB, an excellent organisation promoting business growth in southern England.  One of the guest speakers, Jo Peters of The Scout, provided a fascinating insight into millennial lifestyles and consumer choices.

Jo suggested that we might as well think of millennials as ‘Generation Rent’, because rent accounts for a quarter of the monthly outgoings of under-30s in Britain.  More than 25 per cent of them still live with their parents.  Income for the average 22-30 year old is eight per cent lower than it was in 2008.  And graduates, the Financial Times tells us, are now leaving university with an average debt of  –  wait for it  –  a whopping £44,000.

For nearly half of Generation Y, the definition of financial success is “being debt free”.

Wow.  That sounds like a pretty tough start in life.  And as a human being, I’m sympathetic.  If millennials are self-absorbed, who can blame them, with that kind of financial millstone around their necks?

But as a hard-headed marketer, it’s fair to question whether it’s worth targeting millennials at all, unless you’re a mobile technology provider (because Generation Y can’t live without that, of course).  How can you expect to sell anything to individuals who have such pressure on what little disposable income they have?

Definitely not very promising.  Or is it?

In fact, for those of us who work in travel, there’s good news.  Because a recent Eventbrite survey showed that travel is exactly the kind of thing that millennials WILL find money for.

Eventbrite’s UK & Ireland Head of Marketing, Marino Fresch, explained it thus:  “Many millennials have less disposable income than previous generations … and this is making them all the more precious about how they spend their money.  Satisfaction comes from spending it on experiences with other people.”

In fact, the survey found that 78 per cent of millennials would prefer to spend money on an ‘experience’ than on something they can own and keep.  What fits this definition better than travel?

It seems to me that Generation Y is really ‘Generation Why Not?’.  I believe that given the financial constraints these young people are under, they often see home ownership and other long-term commitments as not worth worrying about.  Instead, they focus on the here and now  –  getting as much out of life as they possibly can.

That means shared experiences, shared discoveries and shared memories  –  things that travel is uniquely positioned to provide.

To succeed in marketing our destination to this very particular demographic, we need to find ways to help them imagine what it would actually feel like to be there … how rich their experience would be, how memorable, how unforgettable it would be to discover it with their friends or loved ones.  Check out the shot at the top of this post from Jasper National Park in Alberta, for example.

The connection has to be emotional.  And if we can make it, if we succeed in attracting just a small number of millennial travellers, we can be sure that they will shout about their experiences more than any previous generation … ensuring that many more members of Generation Y say “why not?” and embrace what we have to offer.

Photo credit: Travel Alberta/George Simhoni.