Whether you see your Millennial travelers as requiring kid gloves and a trophy case, or if you say “they’re the same as all my other employees,” understanding Millennials is about more than translating rampant abbreviations.
First: Why are we even talking about this?
This is not a pointless foray into sociological identity theory. It’s about strategic management. The Millennial generation and their idiosyncrasies are a drive for change. World War II transformed the landscape of home-ownership when Johnny came marching home. The Power-Pantsuit movement of the 80s began to shift our view of women in the workplace. Millennials represent this decade’s catalyst for transformation.
In the past 20 years, we’ve experienced the tech boom, the advent of Silicon Valley, the rise of terms like artisanal and bespoke. Our concept of convenience has radically altered and our day-to-day lives have been transformed. Millennials have only ever known rapid progress, custom integrations, and high technological turnover.
So the argument to be made is: maybe we shouldn’t approach Millennials like a rare breed of soon-to-be-extinguished miniature horse with an isolated habitat in the Pacific Northwest. Millennials are an indicator of what’s next. Their preferences are bellwethers, not aberrations.
Second: What drives a Millennial?
There’s a saying that’s big among the hep set: “You do you.” It offers insight into what drives a Millennial. It means, “You do whatever you want to do,” and implies, “and I’ll do what’s best for me.” It’s not a put down or a judgment call. It’s just a way of drawing a line between what’s best for one person, and what’s best for the other.
Forget keeping up with the Joneses. We don’t care about the Joneses.
Millennials don’t care about what other people have or do. At first, this manifested as a desire to be different (see: hipster). But it has morphed into a special kind of non-superior egocentrism. Millennials don’t necessarily want to be different. They just want what’s best for them, what makes the most sense for their lives.
And here’s what’s important: So does everybody.
It’s just that Millennials have grown up in an age where customization is more possible and accessible than ever before.
That’s why we see the proliferation of targeted marketing, why your computer is full of cookies. It’s why airlines are offering fifteen different fare classes and hotel chains are trying to be unique (see: Kimpton Hotels).
But Millennials aren’t solely self-interested. They’re also more likely to be environmentally conscious, have an understanding of holistic wellbeing, focus on work-life balance, and look to contribute to causes that they really care about. They still make decisions based on value, but they factor in personal values and community insight, as well.
Third: What does that mean for my travel program?
It means you have a choice. Millennials aren’t upstarts looking to rock the boat. If you create a policy mandate and your prevailing reason is: “Because I said so,” Or “Because that’s the way it’s always been,” they won’t start a riot. They’ll likely shrug their shoulders and go with the flow. (They may, however, be more likely to take an opportunity from a company that allows more flexibility. After all, you do you.)
Customization is an expectation, not a luxury.
You don’t have to cater to Millennials.
However, you can use insight into what drives a Millennial in order to improve your company’s travel program.
Explaining why you choose one hotel brand over another, providing options that allow for personal choice, and showing how your policy helps the company can improve adoption and compliance across all your travelers. And taking on the challenge of better understanding your travelers – their needs, their perceptions, their trends – will reduce traveler friction and employee turnover while increasing productivity, no matter what generation they’re from.
It will also make you nimble when it comes to annual travel management decisions: which POS contract to pursue, how to optimize your OBT, how to communicate with your traveler base to improve adoption/compliance/success.
Fourth: How do I apply these Millennial observations to my travel program?
There’s an Outback Steakhouse in every strip mall in the country, offering the same menu, nationwide. There are also myriad local eateries and restaurants offering one-of-a-kind local fare with a rotating cuisine based on what’s in season. Which do you pick?
The question shouldn’t be: which do you pick? The question should be: why do you choose one over the other?
Maybe you don’t like change or decision making, and you enjoy knowing exactly what you’re getting. And you love the Bloomin’ Onion. Or, maybe you want to get a taste of what makes your destination different, you enjoy trying new things, and you’re a proponent of sustainable farm-to-table economy.
Catering to choice doesn’t always mean spending more money; sometimes it just means allowing more options.
Allowing choice can sometimes be inconvenient, because it means you have to deal with more sources of information. But we’re in the heyday of a technological revolution, which means the challenge of unifying disparate data sources is getting easier and easier. Although you should be conscientious about the changes you make and the variety of choice you allow in your program, we’re rapidly moving toward a time when this is the rule, not the exception. You may be the last to catch on, but eventually, you’ll have to.
Choice you can take or leave. Convenience is the kicker.
Millennials heart convenience. And so does everybody else.
Take a picture of your receipt and upload it to your expense platform.
Use your thumbprint to unlock your phone.
Pull up your boarding pass on your phone.
These travel-changing revolutions happened because of the Millennial state of mind. They’re driven by a confluence of convenience and technology. Five years ago, you had to keep all your receipts in your wallet. You couldn’t open your phone with a single touch. You had to print a paper boarding pass every time you boarded a plane. Not anymore, because for a new generation of traveler, convenience is paramount.
This applies to your travel program as well.
If I can easily access my entire itinerary on one screen instead of diving into my email to find the hotel reservation that my client booked for me, YES. (see: WorldMobile 3.0).
If I can open my Online Booking Tool and it knows my preferences and policy-compliant options right off the bat, YES.
If I can automate the approvals process so that travel is easier to manage for my management tier, YES.
Now, convenience doesn’t just happen; sometimes you have to work for it. But streamlining your tech systems or improving the traveler experience by limiting the time it takes to book and take a compliant trip is worth it. It’ll result in less traveler friction, less burnout, higher adoption rates, and higher productivity.
Ready? Let’s Begin
Now is when you take a look at your traveler demographics (if you don’t know what they are, you should). Make a plan to start analyzing who does what and why. Start conversations with key travelers and provide opportunities for feedback and constructive criticism.
By harnessing the tendencies of your Millennial travelers, you can up your travel management game and show you’re not outdated.
Or, you can wait in line to print your boarding pass at the check-in counter. Every. Single. Time.
*SMH = Shake my head
Image by Eli DeFaria via Unsplash