It seems every week an article pops up touting a shiny new travel innovation or gimmick geared towards appeasing Millennial travelers. Whether it’s hotel redesigns or new tech added to the travel experience, everyone wants to try to snag some of that generation’s travel cash. As a Gen Xer though, I can’t help but look at these trends with a fair amount of resentment. Why should the travel industry change for just one generation and more importantly, why haven’t they tried to market to the Gen Xers? We like nice things too; we’re not getting by with a slide rule and cane yelling at the kids to get off of our yards. We want many of the same things that Millennials want, so why is it then that the travel industry is bending over backwards for the new kids on the block and not their slightly older brethren?
Who are Millennial Travelers?
Turns out that defining the collective generation known simply as Millennials is slightly complicated. At its core though, they are individuals who roughly came of age around the turn of the century, generally born between the early/mid-1980s through 2000. Unlike Boomers or Gen X, there are no firm dates, instead it’s a fluid concept really that has more to do with a system of beliefs and behaviors than it does a date on a calendar. Somehow that’s fitting for these upstarts. They are the generation that came directly after my generation, Gen X; our little sisters and brothers who have since grown up and entered the work force with tenacity. And, as it turns out, they also like to travel – a lot.
Did you know that Millennials now spend more money on travel than we Gen-Xers do? I’m not talking as a percentage, but rather in raw dollars and cents. How can this be? These little punks change jobs every year and live in their parents’ basements! We’re the ones who are older, wiser and frankly richer than they are. Statistics bear this out as well, as a whole Millennials are better educated than Gen X but also a lot poorer. The reason for this difference in travel spending is that their priorities are different. Our little brothers and sisters don’t care as much about material possessions as we do. They don’t need the nicest car or the latest big toy, to them the experiences are more important and as much as I hate to agree with them, they’re right. They spend more money on travel because they realize how fleeting life is. Their lives were touched by world events at a younger, more impressionable age and as terrorism and a crappy economy waged, they decided to live for the moment. But you know what, I don’t think they’re the first ones to realize this.
Although we’ve been more rigid on our paths through life, Gen Xers also began to adopt this mindset as it applies to travel and it only makes sense. It meshes perfectly with how we perceive ourselves to be. We’re not our parents; we are not the automatons of the Baby Boomer generation, once we graduated college and started traveling and having families we did things differently. We sought out new experiences around the world, we searched after ways to improve our lives through actions and not things, the problem was that the world wasn’t ready for us.
Gen X – The First Innovators of the 21st Century
Although Generation X didn’t invent the Internet or the technology age, (thanks mom and dad for that by the way) we did perfect it. We created the search engines, the social media platforms and most of the ways we now connect with each other online. We gave the Millennials all of the tools they needed to succeed, and all we wanted is all we ever want – a little recognition. Recognition that the world changed over night and recognition that we aren’t our parents. In true Gen Xer style I, and many of my brethren, know that we’re the best at what we do and travel is no exception. While the Millennials may now be spending slightly more than we are when they leave home, we are changing the meaning of what travel really is. Every article I read about luxury travel seems to all make the same point – that the new luxury is a mix of active exploration with comfortable digs and accouterments. Who do you think led this revolution? It wasn’t the Boomers, who are happiest in a group or in an RV. And it certainly wasn’t the Millennials who, although they’re aging, still think a luxury hostel is the height of decadence. We Gen-Xers are the ones who reshaped the meaning of luxury travel, as we decided to see the world on our terms and not be pigeonholed into one particular style. And you know what? We’re still doing it.
We are forcing entire industries into new ways of doing business. While at a travel press event, I chatted with executives who in hushed whispers told me that their target audience was slowly shifting. In what shouldn’t have been a surprise, they said that 30-40-somethings were now expressing interest in a style of travel that only ten years ago was relegated to octogenarians and the barely breathing set. This has forced them into entirely new ways of doing business, ensuring WiFi is available and having a less structured schedule for guests. While the travel industry and the media seem to ignore Generation-X, they shouldn’t count us out just yet. While we may not have the retirement money of the Baby Boomers or the free time of the Millennials, we aren’t done bending the world to fit into new ways of thinking. We changed the way the world works and through our cynical, over-achieving ways we and no one else created the information age that we enjoy today. We are solipsists in the truest meaning of the word and as such, will continue to look at the world in an admittedly self-obsessed way, but one that ultimately is revolutionary in its own, coffee drinking, sarcasm hurling way. The Slacker Generation has come into its own, and we only want what we feel that we deserve.
Today Most Travelers Want The Same Thing
Whether it’s thanks to Gen X or Millennials, there’s no doubt that the travel experience and the entire travel industry is changing, and for the better. Today travel tends to be more immersive, more experiential and more community based. It’s about living the world instead of just seeing it, aided by new tours and activities in almost every corner of the world. Hotels and tour operators will say that they’re trying to cater to the Millennial generation and whether or not that’s actually true doesn’t matter. That’s because in the process they have retrained the modern traveler. They have taught everyone, whether they’re 80 or 28, a new way to leave home and experience more of the world around them. So if we accept that’s true, then I would like to very politely ask the travel industry to stop segregating us all into separate and distinct groups.
Successful companies will stop trying to cater to age groups and demographic information compiled by over-priced marketing firms. Marriott’s recent concept of removing desks from hotel rooms because “Millennials don’t like them” was pure insanity, and I’m glad they moved away from that. Instead, they should try to appease the personality and nature of their ideal customer, regardless of age. This actually holds true when looking at other disparate groups, like LGBT travelers. So many companies plaster ads with rainbow flags trying to earn some of the gay travel dollar, instead of simply treating them as they would any other potential customer. But I’m talking about Generation X here, and frankly we want nice things too. Many changes that travel companies say they are making for Millennials sound pretty good to us as well. That’s because while older, some of us tend to travel like Millennials, we influenced them to begin with after all. Innovation and change shouldn’t be reactive, it should be proactive and in today’s ever-changing world, the slow moving travel industry finds itself in an unlikely spot. They find themselves having to innovate every few years instead of every few decades, they find themselves trying to appease not just wealthy Millennial travelers, but all travelers. While I don’t envy their position, I do know that in the end it will help all of us become not just better travelers, but better people as well. Whether or not it’s led by Millennials or Gen-Xers doesn’t really matter and the sooner the travel industry realizes this, the better.