Millennials, the generation born between 1981 and 2001, get a bad rap. Blamed for ruining something in almost every industry: taxis, the housing market, hotels, and even vacation time, this younger generation is, without question, shaking things up.
And when it comes to travel, the average view is that millennial travelers are cheap, selfish, social-media obsessed, and have high expectations. By definition, I myself am a well-traveled millennial (a big part of this is my job) and feel the need to set the record straight on our travel habits.
Many millennials are doing more travel than our parents did—whether it’s by studying abroad, volunteering after graduation, or stretching flight savings—all before having a family.
Why is this ‘bad’? Spoiler: It’s not. Here are the myths about millennial travelers you shouldn’t believe.
Millennials don’t like traveling with random people.
While traveling with friends and family is an important vacation-driver, differing budgets and schedules make this idyllic vacation harder to plan. But, millennials are still planning to take more vacations in the near future—10 percent more—than the amount they are currently traveling (more than any other generation), according to marketing consultants MMGY Global.
This is where solo travel and group tour travel comes into play. Solo travel has become popular among millennials, with many group tour operators capitalizing on the safety and trip planning they can provide to those going it alone.
I’ve been on three group tours as a solo-traveler millennial, two with a group of people spanning ages 18 to 65, and one restricted to ages 18 to 29. And both have honestly been among the best trips of my life. Travel is more enjoyable with people who are there for the same reason you are, and it’s a great way to bond with people, whether they’re your own age or someone older and wiser to learn from. I’ve even added destinations to my bucket list just from talking to other travelers on tours.
I wanted to see what others think about group tours as well, so I got in touch with some fellow millennial travelers, plus tour companies and tour leaders interacting with this type of traveler every day.
“I always gain a different perspective when engaging with another age group,” says Samantha Smith, who visited Iceland with G Adventures National Geographic Journeys-Explore Iceland Tour. “In this case, since we were on an adventure trip, I was surprised at the number of other solo travelers and how many went on even wilder tours than this one. It was like looking into the future. In my mind, I thought, ‘well I’ll probably be with a lot of couples,’ but really, we were all very much alike. Everyone to some degree had left their families at home to explore a country on their own, and I was inspired by that.”
SmarterTravel’s Jamie Ditaranto echoes this experience: “If you’re worried about being too young for a group tour, consider it a chance to broaden your horizons and open your mind to hanging out with people a generation or two removed. You’ll probably learn a lot and come away with new friends.”
And if you’re worried about not having time to do things on your own, there’s typically personal time built-in (especially on millennial-focused tour operators like Intrepid’s 18 to 29-year-old trips, Topdeck, and STA Travel).
Conclusion: Myth busted. Group tours are adapting to millennials’ travel habits and there are tons of millennial travelers out there, especially solo ones, looking for the safety, ease, and security of a group trip with other travelers—whether they’re the same age or not.
Millennials are cheap travelers.
Yes, the price is a huge factor in what drives millennial travelers to book, after all, they’re old enough to have been affected by the 2008 recession. But this doesn’t mean millennials are only traveling on a budget. Instead, millennials care more about value, which is why many group tour companies are advertising prices as “per day” instead of the total sum and offering payment plan options.
Take Iceland, where tourism numbers are staggeringly high thanks in part to Icelandic airlines offering free stopovers, which millennials look at as added value. They’re willing to spend the money on activities and hotels deemed worthy of their vacation days but are also looking to save where they can and without compromising on their core values: experiences over material things. According to the Future of U.S. Millennial Travel Report by Resonance, millennials are willing to spend on experiences and save for travel instead of buying a house or making other traditional investments.
And as Millennials start making more money with age, their spending habits are changing. “Millennials have shifted from low-spending backpackers and spring breakers to being experienced, well-traveled adults,” says Jacob Marek of IntroverTravels, a small group tour leader. And many millennials (half) now have their own children and are starting to travel with their kids.
It turns out that price isn’t even the top concern for millennials. The Future of U.S. Millennial Travel Report found that safety (57 percent) is a more important factor when choosing to go on vacation over price (52 percent).
Conclusion: Myth busted. Millennials are by no means frivolous travelers, but they do care more about value and safety than finding something that’s “dirt cheap.”
Millennials are only traveling to post on social media.
There’s no way around it: Millennials are obsessed with their phones and all the apps that come with it. But there are some different ways to look at that truth.
According to the Future of U.S. Millennial Travel Report, free internet access and Wi-Fi is the most important hotel amenity millennials look for when booking. But, this group of travelers is checking email and texting more while on vacation than they are posting photos.
There’s no refuting the power of social media and how it influences millennials … and love it or hate it, that’s why there are influencers. According to a recent survey from Avis Budget Group, millennials (94 percent) are more likely than any other generation to be influenced and inspired by outside sources when making travel decisions—specifically by social media personalities (millennials 32 percent, v Gen-Xers 23 percent and Boomers 16 percent). The Future of U.S. Millennial Travel Report also found that 24 percent consider social media postings by friends and family to be extremely important when it comes to deciding on a vacation destination.
Being this tuned into to social media isn’t always a bad thing, as Michael Muyres, founder of Amsterdam Untold says, “Thanks to the connectivity enabled by mobile phones, millennials have developed greater spontaneity … they want an experience that feels fresh and original.”
Conclusion: Myth partially busted. This generation doesn’t want to unplug, and that’s clear, but millennials are using social media to not only help their peers discover the world but also as a way to learn more about cultures and destinations.
Millennials are irresponsible travelers.
As Muyres puts it, “You might think millennials are selfish and preoccupied with how their egos look on social media, but I think that’s not true at all. Millennials care deeply about having a conversation with local cultures they visit … they also are very aware of the unique value every individual has and they are eager to learn from each other and participate on a trip in a relaxed, unconventional way.”
According to a new study commissioned by Intrepid Travel, 86 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds consider it important when booking a trip for the company to offer sustainable travel options, and 90 percent consider the travel company’s commitment to ethical travel important.
Johannes Reck, CEO of GetYourGuide, says his tour company caters to millennials differently. Since millennials care a lot about authenticity, “guides speak to millennials as individuals, and try to create more of a two-way conversation vs. a one-way information dump … guides strive to make each tour unique, whether in the specific sights seen, the path taken, or facts shared. Millennials have a keen appreciation for what lies beneath the surface of a culture, and want to have the curtain pulled back for them.”
Andrea Beltran Garcia leads foodie tours with Barcelona Eat Local and caters her tours towards millennial travel behaviors when applicable. “Millennials are really interested in sustainable ways of practicing tourism … they just look for quality and real stuff. Instead of going to a Michelin starred restaurant they prefer to eat cod-fritters from the hands of a vendor who has been selling them for 50 years at a local market.” She also emphasizes that younger travelers ask more questions, interact, and appreciate personal engagement over being more observational travelers like non-millennials.
Conclusion: Myth busted. Millennials clearly care about their experiences being local or cultural activities that practice sustainable and responsible tourism.
Millennials only want to stay in an Airbnb.
Airbnb is definitely an appealing option for millennial travelers; 52 percent of respondents to the Future of U.S. Millennial Travel Report have used vacation rental sites, and many millennials consider this a less expensive way to travel in groups. The concept matches all the core values of millennial travelers: authenticity, convenience, and value.
And while there’s no doubt that Airbnb has forced major hotel chains to rethink their amenity offerings (hello, free Happy Hours and cookies), factors like design, location, loyalty programs, and more mean millennials still greatly prefer full-service hotels and resorts over Airbnb, according to the report. When booking travel, more millennials even use a travel agent than they do Airbnb.
This could change, but it’s going to take a long time for Airbnb to replace the safety, comfort, and amenities that come with hotels and resorts. Airbnb rentals are not available everywhere due to laws and regulations, and there is some concern about the sustainability of its model since more volume of short-term rentals can contribute to housing shortages and increased rent in major cities.
Conclusion: Myth busted. The data doesn’t lie. But for now, you can thank millennials for free Wi-Fi and perks like happy hours at your favorite hotel brand. #yourewelcome