Gen Y and the Online Travel Marketer

Join TIG Global’s Caroline Gates, Director of Sales, and Brian Fitzgerald, Director of Search and Social Marketing, on May 18th or 19th as they host a webinar on “Tips for Marketing to Gen Y in the Online Space.”  Click here to register today!

Anyone with children these days is fully aware of the impact that technology has had on every aspect of their lives. Kids are no longer matriculated into their tech savvy ways; they practically have them handed over as a birthright. From a very early age, today’s children are immersed in a society that lives in the online world more than ever before. With the emergence of high-speed wireless connections, Skype, iPods, iPads, iPhones, Blackberries, lightweight laptops – to name a few on the seemingly endless list of technological advances – it’s no wonder they have learned to adopt and adapt.

So, what does this have to do with travel marketing? A lot. Though these technical savants may start out harmlessly with a Leap Frog or a Nintendo in tow, they are quickly graduating to computers and smartphones, joining the workforce, and moving towards becoming a highly dominant buying force, as well as major influencers in the online travel space. The time to start winning their loyalty is now.

Enter Gen Y
Generation Y, or “Gen Y” as it’s more commonly referred to, has arrived and is making its presence known. As the vast majority of Baby Boomers, approximately 70 million strong, begin to enter a well deserved retirement stage, the change in lifestyle has had an inherently conservative affect on their spending habits, especially in the wake of the recent economic downturn. But, Gen Y is right there knocking down the door, waiting to step in and occupy the vacancy in the marketplace.

So who is Gen Y? Typically, this generation was born between the years of 1977-1995 (estimate), according to extensive research conducted by Jason Ryan Dorsey, leading Gen Y expert. Also referred to as “Millennials,” “Echo Boomers,” or the “iGeneration,” this segment is currently topping off at 80 million strong and growing, due to influx of international Millennials in the US. They are confident, brash, spontaneous…and, well, young. But don’t let their ages fool you, Gen Y has money to spend and they are looking to spend it, particularly on travel. According to statistics from niche Gen Y marketing specialists, BrandMercenaries, they are spending to the tune of $200 billion annually, which is nothing to sneeze at.

So why is Gen Y spending more? They have gained a reputation for freely spending, partly due to the fact that they are less likely to be burdened by many high-level fixed expenses or to have suffered significant investment loss in the recent economic downturn. Additionally, they have plenty of time ahead to save up for retirement, so they are not shy about reaching into their wallets, and fortunately for the industry, travel is high on their to-do list.

According to a recent Harris Interactive Youth Poll, children between the ages of 13 and 18 are likely to spend approximately 132 billion discretionary dollars annually. This is largely due to the access they still have to Mom and Dad’s purse strings, but they aren’t just spending on toys and gadgets. The study showed that these children are also incredibly influential in influencing their parent’s purchase decisions; namely vacation destinations.

PriceWaterhouseCoopers also suggests that with fewer debts and a less-urgent need to accumulate wealth in the immediate future, as compared to “Boomer” aged shoppers, a higher proportion of this generation’s income is discretionary. Pair these factors with a penchant for instant gratification and a reliance on tech-heavy gadgets and the Internet, and the need to be proactive in marketing your brand or destination in the online space becomes glaringly apparent.

Shift in Values
While Baby Boomers have traditionally viewed a vacation as a getaway from real life, a new mantra holds true for this group of up-and-comers that greatly differs from generations that have come before them. Because of their experience as the first generation to grow up from birth in a constantly wired world, their behavior is much different. Additionally, having grown up in the age of divorce and split households, the typical Gen Y-er, is more focused on a life work balance than their senior professional counterparts, determined to steer clear of the proverbial golden handcuffs of the work world. Their motto is “Work to Live, Not Live to Work.” Often seen as the “slacker” generation, Millennials will beg to differ, arguing a shift in principals after having experienced firsthand what an unbalanced work life and personal life can do for family values.

These are important traits to remember when selling to the Gen Y crowd in many capacities, ranging from sales and marketing techniques to property level management. As Millennials have been plugged in and wired for their lifetimes’, technology is not a want, but rather a need at this point. Their unique set of desires has shifted the norm, turning the marketing messages of the past on their heads. So, you may ask, what exactly is the hook for generating interest amongst Gen Y? Try focusing on the user experience for your hotel or destination. It is critical to ensure that your marketing focus is in step with creating a lasting brand image that will resonate with this younger crowd. A great way to do this is to reach them where they already are; online. Ensure that your marketing messages are catchy, not stuffy. Think creatively when developing your approach. Here are a few ideas to help get you started:

1. Remove the “Yawn Factor”…Keep it fresh
Gen Y is not attracted by the ‘proper’ message. Think outside of the box and try a novel approach to your marketing messages. It is crucial to utilize outlets such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to have your voice heard in the online marketplace. This is not an easy task, as the hottest new social outlet today could just as easily become the thing of the past tomorrow. Social media strategy takes time, focus and energy to maintain and to keep up with the trends and should not be taken lightly as a major source for potential revenue. The more on top of the trends you are that are important to Millennials, the more likely your brand will be viewed as young, fresh and capable of understanding their needs. Keep this theory in mind when implementing web design standards as well. Gen Y is a generation of innovators and they are intrigued by the simplicity and creativity of an idea that is new and has a revolutionary spin, and they are vying to get in on the ground floor of the ‘next big thing.’ That said, a stuffy, outdated, or “safe” image is not likely to appeal to this crowd. Try building unique microsites for your Gen Y promotions that feature a more edgy design element, or creating specials that include amenities that are important to them, such as the availability of wireless networks, iPod docking stations or touch screen room service access on site. These messages are more likely to speak to the Millennials and spark their interest in your property, or encourage return visits.

2. Get conversational
Once you have grabbed the attention of the Gen Y consumer, it is not enough to rest on your laurels and pat yourself on your back for a job well done. This crowd doesn’t drop the arbitrary penciled in comment card in the lobby box. They are wired and have strong convictions in their likes and dislikes. It is critical to join in social media sites to get the word out to this generation, as well as monitor their thoughts and opinions. It is likely that a Gen Y-er will be tweeting away from check-in to check-out, and commenting on every experience in between. Give them the incentive to be your destination or brand ambassador by creating an experience that will appeal to their forward thinking sensibilities in order to gain trust and generate positive feedback amongst their peers. This will also help to get your brand message spreading like wildfire in Gen Y social circles, a feat that is hard to accomplish using a traditional “cut-and-paste” marketing message.

3. If you build it, they will come…
A series of networks that is.  It is clear that traditional marketing methods are less likely to apply to Millennials, so use this fact as an opportunity to really get creative with cutting-edge techniques. Make sure that you are involved in multiple social networking outlets, and use the popularity of these sites to draw Gen Y-ers to your property. For example, with the emergence of activity-based sites like Foursquare, the online world is merged with reality, opening up a completely new outlet for new business and increased revenue. Or, try something like Google’s “Favorite Places” mobile based bar codes. By placing a Google code in the window of your hotel, or encouraging local businesses throughout your location to utilize this tool, you stand to gain some added favorable attention in the online space. The idea is that travelers can take a picture of your unique barcode with their mobile device, found in the front window of your property or a local business, which is then easily deciphered using a decoding app. This feature allows travelers to select your location or property as a “Favorite Place” and bookmark or share it online to keep it at top of mind, or just to spread the word. As an added bonus, Google will add your location to its maps page, giving you extra exposure on a local level. It is these types of ideas that make your hotel or destination accessible and fresh. And in case you doubt the need for a strong mobile marketing strategy, consider that most teenagers and young adults believe their mobile devices go as far as to make great bedfellows, according to a recent Pew study, revealing that 4 out of 5 teens with cell phones sleep with them on or next to the bed each night. A recent study featured on CNN’s website also cites that 54 percent of teens were daily texters and that 15 percent send more than 200 text messages a day. That’s equal to nearly 6,000 texts a month. It is clear that Gen Y is hooked on mobile, so to be prepared, make sure you focus on making your site mobile friendly with easy navigation, and get involved in the mobile outlets and applications that are being so widely used by younger generations. Not only will it benefit your business, but it will give you credibility for being “in the know” with a younger audience.

4. Make it “bragworthy”
Where Baby Boomers are more apt to view their vacations as a time to kick back, relax and revel in the glorious art of doing nothing, Millennials are more focused on what there is to do on their trips. The Gen Y crowd is looking for an experience that will wow their friends and earn them bragging rights upon their return. This is evident in the glut of new hotels that follow extreme themes, such as the Ice Hotel in Sweden that is the equivalent of living in an igloo on vacation, or the Drainpipe Hotel in Austria, a “hostel-esque” experience that enables visitors to sleep in a capsule made completely out of repurposed municipal drainpipes. Sounds crazy, but sometimes crazy works. This type of creativity needs to translate online as well, in order to generate interest and garner desired attention from the Gen Y set. To do so, it is important to consider what your online identity and branding says about your location. You can choose a design that is universally appealing, but add a slight edge to transcend the boundaries of age. Or, use a microsite to kick off a Gen Y campaign or contest. This will allow you to steer your Millennial messages directly to your target audience, without tarnishing your overall brand image or turning it into a passing trend.

5. Start now
The argument can be made that Gen Y hasn’t come of age quite yet, and it is easy to assume the attitude that marketing directly to this generation’s needs is not a crucial step at this point in the game. Not so. The time to begin marketing to the Millennials is now. They may not have the extreme buying power that you seek at this juncture in their lives, but this innovative bunch represents the future of your business, and they will take some wooing. It’s not enough to jump in with both feet down the road and try to win their loyalty. Gen Y responds to the social elements of a brand and the idea of courtship in the form of friendship. They are not interested in a company telling them what they should want or need in the form of spoon fed corporate messages, they want a reciprocal, symbiotic relationship with the brands they choose. The more you can speak to this generation now and express understanding for their culture, the more likely they will be to respond to your message down the road when their income has elevated to higher levels. That said, this generation is also fickle, and much like the social networks they frequent, the interests they enjoy one day maybe considered passé the next. Gen Y takes considerable energy to woo, as your marketing messages must sprint to keep up with the ebbs and flows of their latest interests. In light of the speed and agility it takes to keep on top of these shifts, it is good practice to also consider the flip side of the coin from an operational standpoint. By reaching out to younger employees on your property to get their feedback, or have them help manage your social media campaigns on site, you stand to connect on closer level to this audience. While it is necessary to have a formal strategy and guidelines in place that adhere to your brand standards, by giving Gen Y employees a little bit of freedom to get creative with social media, they have the power to become your best brand or destination ambassadors for the day-to-day maintenance of your online presence.

Interested in ramping up your online strategy?  TIG Global offers a suite of interactive marketing tools to get your brand or destination noticed.  Click here to learn more, send us an email, or give us a call at 301-841-4700.

One thought on “Gen Y and the Online Travel Marketer

  1. admin
    May 4, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    Another interesting article on the virtual travel habits of the Gen Y generation, courtesy of http://HotelMarketing.com http://bit.ly/aWRG1O

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