Targeting Your Niche: Youth Travel

Capturing this travel market requires more than just making things "cool"

By: Lisa Jennings

Capturing the youth niche requires more than just making motorcoach travel “cool,” but that’s exactly what Contiki Holidays has done.

Contiki has put more 18- to-35-year-olds on motorcoaches than any other U.S. tour operator, with about 100,000 young travelers going to Europe, Australia, New Zealand and North America every year.

The Anaheim-based company’s tours, which range from budget itineraries for first-time travelers, to 48-day “ultimate Europe” vacations, have even been featured on MTV’s “Real World” reality program.

Still, Lisa Wooldridge, Contiki’s sales and marketing director, often finds herself trying to convince agents there is a youth niche.

But Contiki’s success proves that younger travelers are looking for travel products designed to meet their specific needs.

Young people often travel in groups, for example, and Contiki offers quad-share accommodations, or same-sex roommate matching to save on single supplement fees.

Young travelers don’t just sightsee. Contiki’s excursions include everything from bridge climbing in Sydney to snowboarding in Austria.

And, of course, Contiki’s motorcoaches, with young drivers and tour managers, are equipped with stereos.

In troubled times, it makes sense to focus on the youth market, which tends to be more resilient, added Wooldridge.

“Things like 9/11 and war don’t affect the youth market,” she said. “They travel anyway.”

Consumers can book directly with Contiki, but agents are the company’s “bread and butter,” said Wooldridge.

So this month, Contiki is launching an affiliate program for agents to access Contiki’s booking engine, allowing agents to use live inventory on their own branded Web sites.

Commissions start at 10 percent, but Contiki pays on both land and air. In addition, Contiki has developed a free manual that aims to convince agents that the youth market is a niche worth pursuing.

The manual is available via Contiki’s Website ( in the travel agent section.

Some highlights of the youth niche market:

" One of every three people in the U.S. falls in the 18-to-35-age range;

" One in three travelers to Europe are 18-39;

" In 2001, 20 percent of international travelers were in the youth category; that is expected to increase to 25 percent by 2005, according to the World Tourism Organization.

Though the target range is 18-to-35, Contiki breaks the youth market into two categories: 18- to 24-year-olds and 25- to 35-year olds.

The younger group, typically students, may be looking for budget travel, but sometimes the parents are buying. Many are first-time voyagers who want to see as many countries as they can.

The older group includes young professionals with more money, but less time. They want to spend more time in one destination.

In fact, growth in the young professional category has brought Contiki into the resort business.

Last year Contiki joined with Accor Asia Pacific to operate the Great Keppel Island Resort off the coast of Australia. The all-inclusive resort can be booked as a stand-alone vacation or in conjunction with a tour.

The resort has been such a success, Contiki this month announced plans to operate a second resort on the Greek island of Mykonos.

Formerly the Aphrodite Beach Hotel on the Kalafatis bay, the property will open as a Contiki resort in May 2004 with the same concept as Great Keppel Island. Eventually, company officials hope to develop a network of youth resorts.

Ultimately, one of Contiki’s biggest selling points is that clients will know they are traveling with others in their own age range.

Those ages 36 and older will be referred to one of Contiki’s sister brands, such as Trafalgar or Insight Vacations. The brands are among 12 owned by Bermuda-based The Travel Corp.

Said Wooldridge: “At the end of the day, the goal is to get more young people to travel.”