Jason Dorsey, president and co-founder of The Center for Generational Kinetics // © 2017 Signature Travel Network
Feature image (above): About 2,200 travel advisors and suppliers attended Dorsey’s keynote during Signature’s annual sales conference in Las Vegas. // © 2017 Signature Travel Network
More than 2,200 travel experts — representing millennials, baby boomers and all those in between — packed the convention center at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas for a lesson on selling across generations during Signature Travel Network’s annual sales conference, which took place Dec. 7-10.
The keynote address — given by millennial expert Jason Dorsey, president and co-founder for Austin, Texas-based The Center for Generational Kinetics — explored an age-old question that spans nearly all industries: How do we best relate to a generation other than our own? And, perhaps more importantly, how can we best conduct business effectively across all generations?
It’s these questions and others that Signature executives set out to explore earlier this year when they partnered with Dorsey and his team to create a research-based generational study on the travel industry.
The study, called The New Travel Reality by Generation, measured consumers’ attitudes toward travel consultants, as well as the best ways for advisors to effectively market to all ages. It was conducted online and given to 1,000 American travelers between the age of 21 and 65 who have either taken a vacation in the last 12 months or who plan to take one in the following year. Three supplier-tier Signature members — Silversea Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line and AmaWaterways — provided financial support for the study.
“Generations aren’t contained in boxes, but they provide powerful, predictive clues,” Dorsey said during a private press conference following the keynote. “I think travel is one of the few industries where you have to figure out — and be aware of — all generations.”
Here are some key findings from the study.
Travel planning tends to begin online, but millennials want a face-to-face follow-up.
Digital travel shopping is not a method reserved just for millennials (who were born between 1977 and 1995, according to Dorsey). In fact, Signature’s study found that 69 percent of all American leisure travelers take their first step of researching travel online. This finding is greater in women (74 percent) than men (64 percent).
This heightens how important it is that agents have a strong e-marketing strategy and a tailored online presence, Dorsey said.
Social media use is also key, he adds. Millennials will tend to engage with Instagram, while boomers are best targeted through Facebook.
What’s surprising, however, is that the digital natives — millennials — are twice as likely as other generations to turn to a travel advisor within these first planning stages (14 percent), compared to 6 percent of boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) and 7 percent of Generation X (born between 1964 and 1976). And once they’ve made that initial contact, 32 percent of millennials prefer a sit-down consultation.
“More often than not, people sell, market and message in a way that works for them,” he said. “And what we’re trying to say is that there are a lot of different ways to work. We need to be flexible and figure out how to adapt to different groups.”
The biggest obstacle to using agents is cost — especially for Generation X.
There’s a wild misconception among all the generations surveyed that using a travel agent will cost them more money than if they plan trips themselves. This is especially true for Generation X, which Dorsey says consists of detail-oriented skeptics who are often protective over their finances. Although 51 percent of travelers cite cost as an obstacle to using an agent, a higher percentage — 61 percent — of Generation X travelers say this.
Other barriers to using an agent include the perception that a consultant only provides “one-size-fits-all travel.” The study found that nearly one-third of respondents believe that travel consultants will not be able to customize the trip exactly as they would like it, and 28 percent believe that agents will try and sell a package that isn’t unique to their tastes and preferences.
Therefore, crafting tailor-made itineraries is essential.
“The No. 1 thing we see that works across generations is, ironically, for people to feel that the experience advisors are designing for them is uniquely fit to them,” Dorsey said. “This is an industry that still focuses on packages, packages, packages. That’s fine — if you’re trying to sell based on pricing. But underneath that banner, I need to know that this is going to be unique to me.”
The future of travel customization will move from “personalization” to “individualization,” he added. While personalization incorporates surface-level preferences, such as the location of a guestroom within a hotel or a preference on bed type, individualization is a deep-dive into a client’s unique tastes (for example, what type of wine a client prefers to drink at dinner).
Another pro tip for agents? Dorsey suggests that advisors ask consumers what they don’t want during a vacation, rather than what they do want.
“We always ask what clients want, but we don’t ask what they don’t want,” he said. “Most people can recall faster what they don’t want on a trip, but no one asks that.”