Creative Thinking

What Millennial Travel Trends Can Teach Us About Millennial Motivation

By Nicola Brown on October 3, 2017

We all know it: Marketing to millennials is hard. Perhaps it's because our generational market segmentation is faulty, or perhaps it's because millennials are forcing us to rewrite outdated marketing principles. For whatever reason, we seem to have a hard time pinpointing exactly what it is that millennials want (and don't want) from brands today. But in an age of unprecedented global connectivity, this generation's travel habits may offer some insightful perspectives about what motivates them and how they want to live their lives.

Millennial Travel Habits

In a recent report from Airbnb, researchers discovered just how important travel is to millennials, and it sheds some light on how this age group is thinking about and prioritizing the biggest financial components of their lives. One important factor to note is that the report surveyed millennials from all over the world, not just North America, which gives a more representative view of this age group than many studies that have location-specific samples.

Researchers found that most millennials prioritize travel over buying a home or paying off debt when they look at the next five years of their lives. This was true of millennials across the board in the US, the UK, and China. They're seeking adventurous, local, and personal experiences when they travel-they're looking for something that's new and unique. Over 80 percent of millennials believe the best way to discover and learn about a place is through local experiences.

Millenial travel

Image attribution: Steven Lewis

Millennials aren't just ranking travel as more important than buying a home or paying off debt; they're actively saving for it, and spent more on travel in 2016 than the previous year. Approximately seven in ten millennials said they would travel more if they had more time, and nine in ten millennials said they would travel more if they had more money.

But-and this is why marketers ought to be paying close attention to millennial travel habits-the report also found that travel isn't just an activity for millennials: It forms an important part of how they see themselves. More than 70 percent of millennials in each country surveyed said that "travel is an important part of who I am as a person." Millennial travel habits, then, could offer an important window into millennial personalities, value systems, and behavior.

Let's take a closer look at how millennials are choosing to travel.

The report found that they opt for accommodations in cool, local neighborhoods that let them discover hidden local places (rather than being close to top tourist attractions), they prefer active vacations full of exploration and adventure (as opposed to relaxation), and they will choose local restaurants rather than those they're familiar with from home. Most don't mind traveling solo as it makes it easier to meet locals, and they prioritize meeting people over bringing back souvenirs. When it comes to itineraries, millennials would rather create their own than go with a package deal.

This indicates that the following characteristics of travel are also an important part of how millennials define who they are: uniqueness, novelty, adventurousness, sociability, authenticity, independence, and self-direction. The fact that these characteristics are just as important or more important even than financial stability (paying off debt) reveals how central they are to millennials' lives.

4 Principles for Marketing to Millennials

Millennials may be the broadest and most diverse group of consumers marketers have ever had to handle, but the strength of their attitudes towards travel reveals some important characteristics about how they want to live their lives. Here are four marketing principles taken from their travel habits for how to reach millennials on a meaningful level.

Be fundamentally different

Millennials aren't just looking for the cheaper version or the more feature-rich version. They want true novelty. They want to be taken out of the realm of familiarity and to be surprised. They want something that's not just new but unique. Stretching beyond their comfort zone is where they find meaning.

Be open-minded and open-ended

Millennials aren't fond of scripted endings. They want to write their own adventures. Relinquish some control over your product or service and let millennials bend it to fit their lives. Make it clear how your offering complements their independence and explorative nature. Don't box them in with "solutions" but rather broaden the possibilities for discovery.

Be socially engaged and responsible

Millennials want conversations with real people. They don't want big, faceless corporations. By the same token, corporate social responsibility shouldn't just be a branch of your operations, it should be central to everything your business does. Ask yourself why you're doing this and how you're actually making a difference, because this is what millennials will ask you.

Drop the marketing speak

Millennials can sniff out inauthentic appeals instantly. As a brand, stop talking about yourself, stop talking about millennials, and start talking with them. Imperfections and mistakes are OK as long as you are honest and forthcoming about them. Think less about what you ought to say and more about how you should be saying it. Demonstrate your values as opposed to stating them and you will tap into more authentic marketing channels (e.g. millennials talking about you to their friends).

An analysis of this elusive generation's travel habits reveals not just the characteristics that are fundamental to how millennials want to live their lives but just how powerful they are. These are characteristics of people and experiences that outweigh physical possessions and even financial stability. Millennials would rather be in debt than not have an opportunity to be adventurous, independent, and to find novelty and authenticity in their experiences. The challenge for brands is to market at the level of inspiration while being transparent about the business objective to profit from the sale of goods and services. It's not easy, but successful brands can solidify a strong, lifelong relationship if they succeed.

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Featured image attribution: Jordan Bauer


Nicola Brown

Nicola is an international award-winning writer, editor and communication specialist based in Toronto. She has stamped her career passport all over the communication industry in publishing, digital media, travel and advertising. She specializes in print and digital editorial and content marketing, and writes about travel, food, health, lifestyle, psychology and personal finance for publications ranging from the Toronto Star and WestJet Magazine to Tangerine Bank and Fidelity Investments. Nicola is owner and principal of communication consultancy Think Forward Communication, and Editor-in-Chief at Nicola revels in the visceral, experiential side of travel, and will passionately argue for its psychological paybacks, especially after a few glasses of wine. You can contact her at