No Waitlists Permitted

October 28, 2014

When you think of Generation Y (or the millennials), the image painted in your mind is likely to be a twenty-something, who in a matter of seconds has shared with 600 people they’re going to be in the same room as you, before you even walked in the door.  In fact, not only have they notified their outrageously large contact pool, they have also provided a picture of themselves in a chair, right next to yours. It’s no wonder with such technical capabilities, and rate of adoption, why social media and millennials are almost synonymous with each other.  But, is social media all there is to the millennial? And is this truly the way to tap into the nearly 1 trillion dollars of travel spend they are expected to contribute in the coming years?

Love it or hate it, social media is indeed a very integrated part of the genetic makeup of Generation Y. But stepping back, it’s no wonder as this group has been raised with unprecedented access to technology. And as a result, this intelligent group of people has been provided with almost instant access to virtually anything.  You want instant credit? Done. You want something delivered same day?  Done. You want to grab a hotel in under a minute? Done.  And with incredible access to services and products comes the responsibility placed on retailers to understand how to market and create loyalty based on the now – not the later.

In terms of travel, sure they have great posts and images of fantastic beaches, but what drove them to choose their destination? This is a price conscious group who defines loyalty in very different terms. And how does a travel company of today need to ready itself to address this new generation of traveler who continues to make a stronger and stronger footprint?  In fact, never has a generation been connected with so many people in all corners of the world. But, what you need to be asking is, what will actually motivate them to travel to visit their globally connected friends?

I’ve asked several Gen Y’ers what the millennial definition of loyalty was, and one particular comment really resonated.  When asked about the idea of earning points, and banking them with the goal of exchanging the entire sum for a free trip in the future (this, of course, is the system in place today), there was actual laughter before an answer. Paraphrasing, the idea of banking thousands of points to possibly use later was uninteresting. Top this off with realizing just because you fly the miles, doesn’t mean you get credit for them all, felt like bait-and-switch marketing. And finish with the idea you could only fly 9 months into the future (if you want the lowest mileage award) as that’s when a seat was actually available - is the last straw.  The millennial generation has been categorized by many as non-planners; a genre of instant gratification.  In light of those comments, why would you expect this group to respond to loyalty systems based on planning and waiting?

Travel retailers should consider not only their social media footprint when bringing these new travelers onboard, but they should also focus on redefining the now.  For example, offering instant upgrades using miles already accrued, combined with a surcharge, even if the total number of miles doesn’t reach a true “upgrade” award. Or, an airline could offer an extra seat, even if one isn’t technically available in the award class of service, for a set number of miles so a friend can come along. On a more fundamental level, recognizing a millennial and previous shopping habits is even more important. Since Loyalty is redefined, then you may only get one opportunity to sell – so you need to make it a good one.

It is clear this genre of traveler is more than just social media and smartphones. They understand the value of a dollar, are intelligent and spontaneous. The challenge becomes how to deliver value and retailing opportunities today, and make them relevant.  Corporations have already adjusted their hiring and recruiting tactics to address this new type of employee. Travel companies seem quite far behind. If you want to get in on this next generation of traveler, you’ll need to do a lot more research than just reading status updates.

Brian Borg
Head of Airline Retail, Datalex