If approached correctly, travel agents may earn lifetime business from millennials. // © 2015 Thinkstock
Millennials, the children of the 1980s and ’90s, are a generation that views travel as a birthright. Thanks to family vacations with mom and dad, the travel bug bit them early on — and they have no intentions of letting the grass grow beneath their feet as adults.
According to Barkley, Boston Consulting Group and SMG research groups, three-quarters of millennials want to travel abroad as much as possible, and 70 percent want to visit every country in the world during their lifetime.
Travel consultants who can prove their value to Gen Y (as millennials are sometimes called) can make clients for life. Here are five tips for selling to the next generation of travelers.
Communicate Like a Millennial
Resist the urge to pick up the phone and instead try reaching out to potential clients via Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, Vine and Twitter. While it may seem like a no brainer, many travel agencies under-utilize social media marketing, particularly when it comes to connecting with millennials. And once you land that client, find out how they want to communicate with you throughout the process, whether that’s via text, Skype, email or a Facebook message.
“I see a lot of seasoned professionals in this industry not thinking outside of their comfort zone. They’ve been doing it a certain way for more than 25 years and don’t care to learn new ways of approaching old business models. I recently saw an agent using a typewriter to fill out a credit card authorization form — no joke,” said Tyler Diehl, CEO of Zapdog Travel in Beverly Hills, Calif. “My millennial clients want our communications to be clean and simple. Things like texting, social media and emails are more important to most of my clients. They are busy and don’t want a phone call if it can be avoided. That said, everyone is different and some people may want a call. You just have to know your client and tailor your approach.”
According to Taegan Walker, CEO of Montana-based Get Lost Travel, millennials will want to connect and build a working friendship with travel advisors who prove their value.
“If I get a travel request from someone I don’t know, I look them up on Facebook, send them a friend request and try to get to know them more. That’s right — I try to make friends, not just sales,” said Walker. “My goal is to connect with this market when they are young, with the goal of working with them 50 years from now as we book multi-generational trips with their children and grandchildren.”
Make It Personal
All-inclusive resorts or “bloat and float” cruises aren’t going to cut it with this crowd. Millennials tend to be more adventurous travelers, and they seek travel planners who can organize more complicated trips on their behalf. In short, millennials want their vacations to be personal, authentic and sharable.
“My clients practically do all of my advertising for me as they post their updates and pictures online. Then it’s just a matter of time before I get a request from one of their friends wanting the same experience,” said Walker.
They also want greater participation in shaping their travel plans than other generations. So even if she’s young enough to be your daughter, show your client that you are listening and that you respect her opinions.
Ditch Standard Business Hours
Millennials are plugged in around the clock, which means you may need to make yourself available to respond after hours and on weekends. This is especially important when landing new business — if you don’t respond to millennials’ requests in a timely manner, they will take their business elsewhere.
“We spend a lot of time earning a client’s trust by being transparent and responsive,” said Robert Merlin, a travel consultant with SmartFlyer in St. Louis, Mo. “I sleep with my phone next to me, and clients know they can always reach me should any problems arise while they are traveling.”
However, not everyone can problem-solve at the drop of the hat. If you’re too busy to answer questions right away, send a quick note to let clients know that you will get back to them when you can. Constant, clear communication is key to maintaining Gen Y business.
Millennials are socially conscious travelers. Appeal to their altruistic nature by suggesting activities or voluntourism opportunities that help clients give back to local communities. If you have experience volunteering abroad, don’t be shy about sharing your personal experiences.
Ask your younger clients if they would be interested in staying in an eco-resort or buying carbon offset credits through companies that are dedicated to fighting climate change, such as TerraPass or Carbonfund.org. Both are bookable on Expedia and Orbitz, respectively.
Don’t Nickel and Dime
Avoid a potential deal-breaker by asking for the client’s budget up front and being honest with them if the trip they want doesn’t match. Use your collective resources to find them a great alternative within their budget that they will enjoy just as much, and be sure to be there for the client every step of the way.
“When I used an agent, I hated when the agent would not assist me beyond the booking. Make the dinner reservation. Send some articles. Let the hotel know about any special occasions. Help them find the hard-to-get theater ticket. And don’t charge for it. Be full-service,” said Merlin. “It may take more time, but clients recognize it. Show how you can make travel easier for millennials — both in the process of booking a trip and the mechanics of traveling.”