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If you’ve ever questioned the value of romancing the youth market — that tech-savvy, 18- to 32-year-old demographic often referred to as Generation Y — it’s high time that you reevaluate this durable niche of global travelers. This is the message being delivered from a host of successful companies that have set out to claim this valuable niche market and, now, your business can benefit, too.
Building DreamsIt just makes sense that Contiki was set into motion while its youthful founder was globetrotting. Cash-strapped on the brink of a 12-week European sojourn in 1961, a wanderlusting New Zealander named John Anderson concocted a plan to offset his travel tab. He purchased a minibus and gathered a group of kindred spirits to share his odyssey. At the end of the road, however, Anderson’s exit plan hit a snag as he failed to locate a buyer for his ride.
In the process, the young nomad realized that travel was his calling. So, in the spring of 1962, Anderson promoted an encore trek operated by his newly created tour company, which he named Contiki Holidays. Landing a fresh crop of adventure lovers ranging in age from 19 to 29, he hit the road once again.
Over the years, Contiki has catered to students and young professionals seeking hassle-free getaways that place a premium on independence. And while the world is a vastly different animal since Anderson’s first European vacation, travel remains a priority for this age group, which makes “work-life balance” its mantra.
“Despite the economy, the youth market is resilient from a travel standpoint,” said Greg Fischbein, Contiki’s present-day president. “They’re keenly aware of their position in the cycle of life. And, they view travel as a rite of passage before becoming consumed by their career and a family. They have no portfolio, no property and no pension. So, there’s no problem.”
Contiki’s approach is a natural for this younger mindset that thrives on highly experiential adventures.
“We provide a framework, but they decide how to spend their time,” said Fischbein. “They want to do what the locals do. They want plenty of activities, but they also want free time. And they’re not into following a flag.”
Fischbein feels that agents dismissing the market are missing the boat — especially since it’s such a massive demographic that can serve as a bridge to future markets.
“If you start pursuing the youth market now and earn their trust, you’ll potentially have lifetime clients who will come back to book their honeymoons and even family vacations,” he said.
To train agents wanting to tap into this profitable market, Contiki has launched its incentive-ladened All Access Program. Working directly with a Contiki sales manager for one-on-one training, registered agents gain access to a battery of selling tips and tools slanted toward cultivating a youth portfolio.
The results have been staggering.
“The inaugural launch of the All Access Program last year saw agents achieve an aggregate increase of 132 percent on their Contiki bookings against the previous year,” said Fischbein. “This is a market that buys. And, we’re 100 percent invested in teaching agents how to reach this demographic — to sell them today and for many years to come.”
The program empowers with such basic concepts as finding local businesses where young professionals are employed, becoming involved with a local college’s Greek system and approaching your existing clients who are parents or teachers of potential youth clients. Contiki also provides physical support by accompanying agents to campus events in order to meet students and grow client lists.
While you may have pigeonholed the youth market as being difficult to woo since it’s so Internet-frenzied, Fischbein dismisses the notion that this group sidesteps agents when it comes to the actual booking. Instead, he stresses that all consumers can benefit from an advocate who offers professional, expert advice — and this is true regardless of age.“Agents are the human factor that’s reassuring,” he said. “You can become a trusted resource.”
As for the hotly debated universe of social media, Fischbein recommends embracing the platform to further fortify trust and image.
“It’s a phenomenal resource and reference tool,” Fischbein said. “And with the youth market especially, it can really help you establish credibility.”
Facebook has become a forum where Contiki’s 55,000-plus fans can interact and post information. The company uses Twitter for more instant dialogue with its followers and to “tweet” about special promotions.
But what’s becoming one of the handiest social media selling tools for both Contiki and its travel agent partners is YouTube. The video Web site is home to some 2,200 user-generated clips shot and uploaded by Contiki travelers during their journeys — a testimonial of sorts where actual customers are delivering the sales message.
“Sharing this with your youth clients shows that you’re hip and in-tune with their interests,” said Fischbein. “It’s a way for you to show them what our actual customers think about the tours.”
Contiki capitalizes with dynamic content on its Web site as well. Much more than a glorified message board, its interactive Contikipedia has become a virtual watercooler where travel peers gather to share travel tips, photos and stories.
Staffed by the market it serves, Contiki keeps its finger on the pulse of what sparks this demographic’s interest.
“The youth market wants to be involved when they travel,” said Fischbein. “They are not casual observers.”
He added that their drive is growing greener these days with an elevated interest in global responsibility.
“They understand green and see it as a serious part of life. It’s about leaving a place better than how you found it,” he said.
Fischbein said that agents will reap the greatest benefits when they help this market define and realize its travel dreams — whether that includes eco-traipsing in Africa, touring UNESCO World Heritage sites or backpacking in the Alps.
“Don’t make your first questions about budget or how long they have,” he said. “Ask them where they want to go and what they want to do. Focus on the actual experience.”
When you listen and deliver an option conveying what this client has in their head, you have peaked their interest.
“It’s essential to prove your value by matching your client’s answers to the product,” he said. “It’s about building that dream with them.”
The Globus Global ApproachTargeting a much broader demographic than Contiki through its Family of Brands, Globus Journeys is equally in tune with the youth market’s value.
“If agents bring young travelers into the fold and keep up with them as they enter adulthood, it can be a goldmine,” said Jennifer Halboth, marketing director for Globus. “The world has changed dramatically, and people travel earlier, more frequently and longer. So the youth market is about having this client for the next 40 or 50 years. There’s a lot of opportunity for agents wanting to become youth-travel specialists.”
Halboth agreed with Contiki’s Fischbein on the demographic’s fortitude.
“They are at the age where they are reaching milestones and taking trips that are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities,” she said. “They can also be more spontaneous and travel on a whim. There’s more flexibility with this market.”
Globus has traditionally harvested youth business via its independent-style Monograms and price-driven Cosmos brands. Monograms appeals with escorted tours skewed toward freedom, while Cosmos lures with nine tours of up to 13 days in length that are priced under $1,000.
In April, the wholesaler ramped up its focus on the market with the Student Discoveries program for teachers and students in grades 8 to 12.
“This new Globus brand can actually help agents bring the youth market into their sales cycle even earlier,” said Halboth. “You can facilitate travel when they’re still a student and then facilitate that first trip they’ll take on their own. That’s where agents want to be.”
Giving BackFor STA Travel, the youth market is the only game in town. With 18 storefronts on major college campuses scattered across the country, STA caters primarily to individual and group travel for university students.
According to Patrick Evans, STA’s brand marketing and public relations manager, its clients are more knowledgeable about their travel options thanks to Internet research — again indicating that the youth market continues to value an agent’s expertise when it comes down to the booking process.
Evans also sees a pattern toward greater global and cultural awareness with Gen Y clients.
“There’s a growing focus on voluntourism and green travel,” he said. “Instead of the typical trip to Mexico for partying, we’re seeing a more responsible youth traveler wanting to give something back to the place they visit.”
STA relies on U.K.-based Topdeck for Europe, Australia and New Zealand escorted tours, and Gap Adventures for tours in Asia and Latin America. Gap has recently launched its mega-flexible You Only Live Once (YOLO) product, allowing young globetrotters the freedom to explore as much or as little as they like based on time, tastes and budget.
“YOLO is Gap’s trip style for travelers aged 18 to 39 who want adventure, flexibility and freedom at a really affordable price,” said Tyler Zajacz, regional sales manager, Eastern Americas. “It gathers a greater degree of like-minded travelers with a 24-hour appetite for experiences that are both inexpensive and flexible.”
Among Gap’s most successful itineraries are a 30-day Indochine excursion for $2,199; a 20-day Cambodia/Vietnam adventure for $1,449; and a 17-day South America trek for $1,799. And since there’s no single-supplement fee, YOLO is ideal for solo travelers.
Kicking its eco-commitment up a notch in 2002, Gap launched Planeterra Foundation. The nonprofit links travelers to unique opportunities for maintaining a meaningful difference in the lives of people and communities via some 30 global projects — including providing water tanks to families in Kenya and working on a community farm in Mwandi, Zambia.
According to Liz Manning, Gap’s sustainability manager, Planeterra appeals to travelers who refuse to simply observe. They grasp the relevance of experiencing cultures that reflect very different views of the world.
“We’re seeing travelers of all ages becoming more socially responsible and environmentally conscious,” said Manning. “For younger travelers, this is a great opportunity for both personal and professional development as they enter the workforce.”
She adds that while the current economic environment hasn’t squashed this niche’s travel plans, they are becoming more conscious of their spending.
“Voluntourism programs can be more affordable because of their nature,” Manning said. “They can also be more soul-satisfying.”
Manning noted that both Gap and Planeterra worldwide sales teams provide product, brand and destination support programs to empower agents’ sales efforts. Gap further accommodates agents with its Sherpa online booking system. Here, agents can easily reserve itineraries, as well as request changes, update information, review commission details and peruse other relevant topics.
Ultimately, the Gen Y demographic is going to travel and, if an agency wants to ensure future growth, it must attract future consumers, pure and simple. In order to make this happen, travel agents would do well to follow in the footsteps of suppliers like those mentioned here while there is still time.