The myth of the millennial

Millennials are undeniably digital natives, but is it fair to carry on pigeonholing them? 

By 2020, half of the global workforce will be made up of millennials. And we are repeatedly told that millennials – the generation born approximately between 1980 and 2000 – have distinctive tastes, seek out unique experiences, are socially minded, tech savvy and constantly switched on. But in 2019, does this ring true?

And what exactly do these 20 and 30-somethings expect and need from their travel experiences – and, more crucially, how are they changing the shape of the travel business? Millennials have grown up in a world of laptops, the internet and smartphones and are the first generation of true digital natives.

Consequently, they tend to depend on technology for the entire travel booking process, from reading website reviews to mobile booking. However, research for American Express Global Business Travel’s Traveller 360º report, which was published last year and surveyed 2,000 UK business travellers, found three-quarters of them used an online system or app to book business travel, with nearly six-in-ten describing it as easy to use.

Another cliché is that millennials desire instant gratification. The topic came up at November’s BBT Forum, where delegates argued millennial business travellers tend to opt for the instant gratification of free upgrades instead of saving up points. When they do collect points, they redeem them as often as two or three times a year.

“Millennials are more loyal to their social media networks and they look for ‘instant gratification’ from their loyalty programme,” said Anu Kuchibhotla, head of sourcing, EMEA, at HRS. “Millennials really needed to be catered for,” she stressed.

Carolyn Pearson, chief executive and founder of Maiden Voyage, also spoke at the forum. “Millennials want a different working environment and more flexibility,” she said. And Ian Ferguson, founder and lead partner at Ignis Solutions, claimed “millennials are used to becoming the product themselves”.

But what of their often-cited preference for unique, or sharing economy, accommodation? To some extent this is also true, according to Krystine Dinh, director of communications for TripActions.

The corporate travel management firm recently conducted a survey of millennials for its Millennials Are Shifting Business Travel Standards report and found 36 per cent of them favour unique experiences at boutique hotels or Airbnb-type accommodation as opposed to hotel chains; 21 per cent of millennials do not belong to a loyalty programme and they are less interested in loyalty schemes in general; and shared car services – not taxis or shuttles – are their preferred mode of ground transportation.

“Much has been written about how millennials are spurring change in the broader cultural and technological sectors, and the same is true when it comes to business travel,” says Dinh. “Our survey results show that millennials still tend to see less distinction between their personal and work lives – they’re mobile-focused and have come to expect the same kind of seamless experiences across devices offered by consumer sites, such as Kayak, from their company’s business travel solution.”

As a result, travel companies are adapting to these trends. James Stevenson, UK vice-president and general manager at American Express Global Business Travel, says it’s essential to communicate the right messages at the right time via the right channels, whether that’s in-app, SMS or email. It’s crucial “that the traveller feels engaged, informed, supported and listened to,” he adds.

“Key to driving better compliance among travellers of all ages, including millennials, is providing the right choice of content, and ease of booking via user-friendly tools,” he says. “That way, they are happy to book within the managed travel environment and their data is visible to TMCs and travel managers.” Technology is the road to success, according to research conducted by Amadeus, which reveals that while the mobile-addicted millennial has become an overplayed cliché, it is grounded in truth, leading to a transformation in travel habits.

“Disruptive businesses, such as Airbnb and Uber, have changed the game, entrenching new expectations of convenience and rapidity among millennials,” claims Amadeus. “Translating this into travel, we are faced with a generation demanding a highly streamlined experience powered by technology. For example, in a recent survey, 83 per cent of respondents admitted that it takes them over an hour to book a trip through the corporate process, which underscores the need for reform. It is now up to corporate travel providers to sort the trends from the fads and invest in practical technology if they want to remain relevant among the community of young business travellers.”

‘Modern business travellers’
While industry reports tend to reaffirm some of the stereotypical traits, there’s also a realisation that perhaps all business travellers – no matter their age – are shifting towards a more digital era. And while millennials are heavily dependent on technology, booking websites and social media, they also appear to favour face-to-face business meetings and are keen on “personalisation”.

“Personalisation is what people are coming to expect in their day-to-day experiences,” says Stevenson. “Look at how the online retailers – Amazon, Netflix and Google – invest hugely in gaining depth of understanding, predicting and prompting their customers’ habits and preferences.”

However, Stevenson doesn’t distinguish between millennials and other business travellers. “It can be misleading to talk about trends in terms of the ‘millennial’. We tend to think of the ‘modern business traveller’. The generally preferred communication method is via mobile, so the ability to book on apps is essential. Booking processes need to be simple, fast and efficient and the range of accommodation and transfers vast. However, we believe these preferences transcend all generations, not just millennials.”

Alex Cousins, global director client services for Reed & Mackay, is also keen not to separate the habits of millennials with other generations of business travellers. “Not every millennial expects the same [thing],” he says. “Mobile app solutions are increasingly important but mobile isn’t the only way millennials want to connect.” But aren’t millennials incorrigible rule-breakers who spend more on business trips, always book Airbnbs and embrace bleisure and apps?

“Certainly within our booking programme we wouldn’t allow the use of Airbnbs and we haven’t seen any increased spending among millennials,” says Pam Booth, group procurement manager for Impellam Group, a recruitment firm. Booth adds that “bleisure” is not “something we’ve offered in the past in our travel programme” but it’s “something we’re introducing as a formal part of the policy at the moment”.

“Millennials are not shaping travel,” she adds, “and all travellers are more than happy to embrace online booking and apps – whether they’re millennials or not.” “I would say millennials are probably using apps, such as Uber, a little bit more,” Booth admits, “and looking at my friends’ circle I would say millennials are a little more embracing of apps and mobile technology, but the older generation is very much catching up.

“Millennials are not changing things from my perspective as a buyer. For me, in the last few organisations that I’ve worked for, it’s been procurement that has driven the changes, not millennials; procurement has been driving the online booking platforms and the apps.”

But do millennials disregard, for instance, travel policies? “I haven’t found that millennials ignore travel policies,” contends Cousins, “and, to date, we aren’t seeing an increase in Airbnb for business purposes. However, they expect that the policy will be seamlessly applied to the booking and approval process.” Cousins acknowledges that a company’s travel policy can help entice millennials to work for them – and can also be used as a possible recruitment tool.

“It’s a hot topic,” he says. “Millennial business travellers are more likely to want to combine business travel and leisure, for example, and it’s therefore important the travel policy covers this. The millennial ‘expects’ a greater work-life balance and this includes combining business and leisure time. If a company can develop a travel policy that encourages the personal and professional growth of an individual, it will be easier to retain talent.”

Stevenson concurs, explaining, “Research we’ve conducted with ACTE found travel managers are seeing an increase in enquiries from prospective job candidates about the company travel policy, so it appears to play a part in talent acquisition and retention.”

Amadeus points out that 90 per cent of millennials see travel as a work perk, with 39 per cent saying they wouldn’t take a job that didn’t offer travel opportunities. Amadeus says such figures spell out the “importance of corporate travel policies in today’s climate”.

Work-life balance
However, “only offering increased travel will not be enough to satisfy the needs of millennial employees”. According to recent Amadeus research, millennials place an increased emphasis on a healthy work-life balance in comparison to their older colleagues.

As traveller wellbeing emerges as a central pillar of travel policy, corporations must show a duty-of-care towards their travellers if they expect to retain their newest recruits. Such measures can include granting airport lounge access, trip recovery time and disruption management. Amadeus also found that with “travel-centric” millennials one size no longer fits all and that millennials hold a greater desire to be recognised as individuals.

“When it comes to travel this is no different,” maintains Amadeus, “leading this generation to crave a flexible booking process that gives them the control to create a personalised travel experience. “Millennials are thereby raising the stakes of corporate travel, wanting more accommodation options, fast-track, priority boarding, standby options and onboard wifi. Through investment in technology, travel providers can deliver meaningful customer journeys tailored to the needs of these individuals,” says Amadeus.

However, as Amex GBT’s Stevenson points out, it’s not all about the millennials; another generation needs to be taken into account. “Millennials are an important demographic, and understanding their habits and preferences can help drive an effective travel programme,” he says.

“But TMCs need to consider the mindset of the generation that comes after them.” Generation Z, the age group born between the mid1990s and mid-2000s, is beginning to enter the job market. This most digitally switched-on cohort ever, no doubt, will shake up business travel all over again

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