Broadly defined as those born between 1980 and 2000, millennials make up approximately 1.8 billion, or more than 25 percent, of the world’s population.
“In general, Asian millennial travelers expressed strong disenchantment with the packaged tour model,” said a Singapore Tourism Board (STB) report titled: Capturing the Asian Millennial Traveller.
As many as 64 percent of these young travelers, known as AMTs, surveyed used wholly independent travel arrangements on their last leisure trip as they dislike the highly regimented, “military style” schedules of organized tours.
Holiday tour packages often involve rushing around with crammed itineraries, waiting for others in the group, and not being able to choose seats and meals.
Instead, the online travel portal AirAsiaGo learned from an observation study last year that AMTs often research extensively to create their own itinerary. This involves comparing airfare and accommodation rates, reading destination reviews and searching for online feedback.
Within their itineraries, many are on the lookout for experiences that allow them to “live like a local”.
In March, the Pacific Asia Travel Association released the report Stepping Out of the Crowd, which surveyed over 1,000 AMTs from 13 countries on how they travel. Among the highlights, it was found that 85 percent enjoy discovering “cool activities that local youth do”.
At the same time, more than 80 percent “want to discover local traditions, shop in small stores, visit a local food market or attend an event when visiting a foreign city for the first time”.
It is no surprise that a slew of travel businesses have sprung up to cater to this trend. Backstreet Academy, a Singapore-based startup established by a group of millennials, is one such business, which also has an impact travel angle to it: Enabling tourists to make a difference in the communities they are visiting.
Through its online portal, Backstreet Academy introduces AMTs to local artisans and craftspeople living below the poverty line in 43 cities across Asia.
For instance, visitors to Siem Reap in northern Cambodia can learn stone carving in the styles of the Angkor temples with a mason who has more than 15 years’ experience.
“We want to connect these amazing craftspeople who need help with people who are looking for an alternative and authentic experience. This is how we think travel should be, every single time,” said Jamon Mok, cofounder of Backstreet Academy.
Fresh opportunities also exist within the business-to-business space.
Wegogo is a tech startup that provides a digital platform for travel-related businesses and tourism agencies to promote their offerings. It is aimed at users of the WeChat messaging app — a large percentage of whom are AMTs from China.
Easy-to-use and affordable, the platform gives that freelance chauffeur in Bali the chance to publicize his services to travelers.
Mak Chee Wah, Wegogo’s cofounder and CEO, said: “Wegogo is not out to sell travel, but to motivate journeys that are fulfilling and transformational.”
For AMTs, who have grown up using digital technology, the Internet is their universe and mobile devices are their tools.
Nick Barton, chief commercial officer for Asia, the Middle East and Africa for InterContinental Hotels Group agrees with this.
“Millennials are generally more comfortable with technology-enabled personalization and frequently opt to take the digital route over face-to-face interaction,” he said.
“Mobile use is globally the preferred method to research, plan and book travel, and consumers are going straight to mobile devices.”
Also central to the AMT travel experience are social media platforms, travel review sites and blogs. This generation of globetrotters enjoys sharing their experiences in real time and feeding off the response.
Adrian Chung, general manager of Hotel Equatorial in Malacca, southwestern Malaysia, noted that AMTs expect high engagement levels through their social media updates.
According to the STB report, travel is a symbol of social status and an aspirational lifestyle for these travelers. “By extension, social-networking sites end up serving as a source of inspiration for which destinations to visit,” it said.
Although the numbers of AMTs are growing, they have yet to become the region’s most significant group of travelers.
Darren Goh, general manager of AirAsiaGo, said AMTs currently make up about 20 to 25 percent of travelers around the world and, according to the STB, account for almost 35 percent of the $600 billion that Asians spend on international travel each year.
But as their income and spending potential peak in the next decade, millennials will be the ones calling the shots. By 2020, the STB estimates millennials will spend $340 billion on international travel, an increase of 1.6 times.
As the next wave of tourism growth is set to come from this generation, the time for the industry to capitalize is now.
“Our primary target audience has always been AMTs,” said Goh. “Hence our marketing effort revolves around social media, content marketing, mobile, word-of-mouth and online (platforms).”
From experience, AirAsiaGo has learned that content is king.
Goh said the company emphasizes fresh and relevant travel content across all digital and mobile platforms, which visitors can share in order to create a viral effect.
“AMTs aspire to travel, and content is one of the main drivers to create demand for travel.”
AirAsiaGo’s initiatives include sponsoring travel bloggers and online media, developing content that creates more awareness about new destinations, and focusing on effective, real-time review platforms to provide more insights to travelers.
The STB is doing something similar with an online hub called Live Like A Local, showcasing Singapore’s hidden gems through the eyes of residents and visitors. It is linked with user-generated content from the travel booking website TripAdvisor.
Terrence Voon, director of digital and content with the tourism board, said: “We want to encourage visitors to share their stories and tips, with the hope that they can help others experience Singapore better, and inspire new visitors to come.”
While social media platforms and mobile technology are the right first steps for travel industry players reaching out to millennials, there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to win over this group.
“The differences between AMTs from different countries are simply too large to ignore,” explained the STB report. “The behaviors are different because their preferences and constraints are different.”
This means travel companies have to adapt their marketing efforts to suit the various countries they are targeting.
Wilfred Fan, vice-president for North Asia with Agoda, said the Singapore-based online travel agency ensures its global strategy is localized for each market.
“Under our multi-channel strategy, we work with everyone from large global platforms like Google and Facebook to local ones — such as Baidu and WeChat in China or Naver in South Korea.”
AirAsiaGo further differentiates its marketing by preferred destinations, types of media and spending power.
“For example, in China we will cross-sell Thailand or Australia, while in Thailand we will focus on cross-selling Japan or Singapore,” Goh elaborated.
WeChat is the portal’s touch point in China for marketing and booking. But in Malaysia, it uses YouTube, online banners and word-of-mouth.
To cater to the spending potential of AMTs from different countries, AirAsiaGo may, for example, promote four- and five-star hotels to Chinese travelers and three-star hotels to Malaysians and Indonesians.
As the influence of millennial travelers permeates and non-millennials also begin to change their ways because of new technology, the travel industry will be redefined in an exciting high-tech, high-touch way.