By Cat Zuniga
In a reversal of past trends (and many people’s perceptions), more Americans, including Millennials, are moving back toward a more traditional travel-planning experience. This trend started approximately five years ago, and has gained momentum over the last two to three years.
But does that mean the pendulum is swinging in favor of tour guides or travel agents? The relationship between the two groups is ever-changing. Historically, tour guides relied on travel agents to sell their tours, but with changing technologies and evolving business strategies, tour companies have begun to advertise and sell directly to travelers.
Still, for travel agents, the booking of tours remains popular – especially group tours, which can be quite lucrative.
Tours often focus on specific geographic areas — Europe, Asia, and South America — and specific activities such as scuba diving, swimming with dolphins, and castle tours. The benefit of a vacation planned through a tour company is that everything is arranged from start to finish, with a detailed itinerary in place. The tradeoff for this structure is the lack of freedom to explore individually.
That’s where a travel specialist can be beneficial. A good travel professional will listen to the desires of his or her clients, and translate that into the vacation experience of a lifetime that truly suits their needs and wishes.
Let’s talk about Millennials specifically for a moment. Millennials have many expectations. Many hope to gain value while on vacation through cultural exploration, or learning new skills or languages. They want their vacation time to really count, and they want the best value for their money.
They also represent a new type of business traveler – one who tries, as much as possible, to convert business trips into mini-vacations to piggyback on the value of a particular destination.
Millennials tend to be more adventurous as well as more frugal – or less extravagant – than other age groups. They want to experience hiking in the jungle, going on safaris, backpacking across Europe, or staying at hip, trendy modern hotels that offer the best in arts and culture. This is in stark contract to Baby Boomers, who prefer to repeat their prior vacation experiences.
Probably the biggest need and expectation for a Millennial traveler is connectivity. Millennials have grown up with computers, cellphones, iPods, and tablets, and they must have that capability while they are traveling. They’re also more likely to tell others of their travel experiences – good and bad – on social media, and when they read others’ comments they are more likely to value it more highly than any other form of advertising.
To that end, Millennials check an average of 10 sources before they purchase a travel package and will voraciously read online comments before making a decision about which agent to enlist or where to stay.
However, since Millennials often prefer to explore and seek out new experiences, they may find it difficult to plan, since they don’t know what or where. A travel professional can guide them, since it’s our job to experience these things so we can share them with our clients. Guidance and recommendations are exactly what a travel expert is there for.
The travel industry is trying hard to satisfy Millennials’ travel needs. Hospitality conglomerates like Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, Virgin, Commune (Thompson), and Marriott are offering their Millennial customers mobile apps to stock their bar fridge or adjust room temperature, a 4,200-passenger cruise ship, ergonomically-designed micro-lifestyle spaces, and of course, Wi-Fi connectivity and modern, trendy, cultural atmospheres.
This is smart marketing, since Millennials, although they want the best value for their money, are spending money, and lots of it, on travel.
And not only are Millennials spending money on travel, they’re spending money protecting their travel. Over the past year, I have seen an increase of 40 percent in my clients – my Millennial clients — purchasing travel protection.
So, given all this, which would the typical Millennial choose – a travel agent or a tour guide? It’s looking like the preferred choice is a travel agent who can make arrangements across the board, sometimes in out-of-the-way or unusual places. Millennials want freedom to explore, be adventurous, have progressive spaces to interact in, and not follow a pre-planned, pre-organized itinerary.
What do you think? Post comments to this blog and let’s get the discussion going!
Cat Zuniga is an award-winning travel specialist. She specializes in tropical vacations for families, groups, destination weddings, and honeymooners. Visit her today at http://www.TarverdiTravel.com.