Millennial travellers and how they’ve changed travel for the better

April 5, 2018 by Matthew Charles

Millennial travellers are pioneering the way forward.

Though they may be left behind in other areas of life, in travel they rule the roost. Travel companies and other demographics are following their lead into a new dawn of global travel, from booking to sharing to doing.

As they become a more powerful socio-economic force, travel companies are taking note. The sharing economy and the insatiable desire for ‘experiences’ are starting to take centre stage.

There is a fundamental change at play here, not just a different set of preferences.

Whereas previous generations see travel as luxury, millennials see it as essential. That may appear misplaced or come across spoiled or twee but consider that for millennials, 78% would rather spend their money on ‘experiences’ than ‘things’.

Millennial travellers

Experience is the new social currency and millennials prefer a killer Instagram photo from a remote beach, or zip lining through a rainforest, to a shiny new car or luxury handbag.

You can either see this as a new expression of status, whereby material goods are substituted for social capital and physical activitiy, or as a seismic generational shift in lifestyle preferences.

Young people travel lots and they travel well. So how exactly have they changed travel?

Millions on the move

They may have less money to burn than the previous generation but travel is considered so essential that they do it more and they spend more.

According to the American Society of Travel Agents, in 2016 millennials took 44% more holiday time and trips than the average baby Boomer (50-70).

Millennials are also the fastest growing demographic of international travel accounting for around 20% of the current market and predicted to expand from 270 million visits to 320 million by 2020 as more begin to leave school, enjoy greater pay packets and the desire for travel continues to spiral.

Authoring experience

‘Experience’ is the magical keyword here.

A telling survey carried out by Eventbrite discovered the following insightful statistics from young Americans:

  • More than 3 in 4 millennials (78%) would choose to spend money on an experience or event over buying something desirable
  • More than 8 in 10 millennials (82%) attended or participated in a variety of live experiences in the past year, ranging from parties, concerts, festivals, performing arts and races and themed sports
  • 72% say they would like to increase their spending on experiences rather than physical things in the next year

Those statistics apply to everyday life but are even more poignant when combined with travel.

This thirst for experience, coupled with the time limited nature of travel means millennials want to cram in as much as possible – especially considering we’re a generation crippled by FOMO.

Millennial travellers

‘Experiences’ come in many forms, not just budget back-backing through the jungle. This demographic are willing to spend a higher percentage of what they have on travel and experience. They’re not saving for a Rolex, but for another opportunity to live the moment. Commentators have gone so far as to call this transformation the ‘experience economy’.

An experience is anything that either captures a slice of authentic life, something out of the ordinary, connecting with other people or an event where you can say ‘I was there’. It could be as simple as walking down a beautiful alleyway in a new city or it could be bungee jumping off a bridge or going to a music festival on the other side of the world.

It’s now common knowledge that this generation wants to feel like a local rather than a brusque tourist. So part of the experience of travel is in really getting the ‘feel’ of a place.

This generation aren’t content to be locked away in an all-inclusive beach side hotel (although, as we’ll see, they wouldn’t turn it down either). They want to feel in the thick of the action – hanging out in a local piazza, or browsing the local market.

This is partially to do with authorship, having the choice to go where you want and do what you want rather than be dictated to by the tour bus, or limited by the buffet selection.

They are also allergic to anything that appears false, fake, designed to appeal to tourists. This desire for choice and authenticity is enabled by the advent of personal, transportable technology. You can easily meet new people or book a remote mountainside log cabin with a few taps on your phone.

Millennial travellers


Thanks to young travellers, the ‘experience’ and ‘tours’ sector is booming and many companies are jumping on this expanding market. $135 billion is the current worth of tours and activities and it’s expected to breach $183 billion by 2020.

Activity provider GetYourGuide has recently seen a further $75 million investment, the largest ever raised in the activities sector.

Airbnb have dived in at the deep end – their homepage first displays curated ‘experiences’ before it even shows its available homes.

‘Wolf Encounter’ in Seattle, ‘Urban Cycling Adventure’ in Osaka, ‘Hidden Jazz Haunts’ in Harlem and ‘Meet-up with a local & fellow travelers for a good cause’ in Paris are just a few of the experiences featured on Airbnb’s homepage from a quick scan.

These are the sorts of activities young travellers are pioneering and the industry, as well as other demographics, are starting to wake up to this new form of travel.

Cultural & environmental sensitivity

All this experience hunting plays into the socially conscious nature of millennial travel.

They aren’t going all inclusive: they’ll pay to stay at a remote boutique hotel set in the wilderness or hire a local guide to feel closer to the locale or see a desert night sky. They’ll pay more for an environmental option, eat local food, tip for the privilege and buy a treasured memento from the heart of their destination.

A 2017 study by Deloitte found that millennials are the demographic most willing to pay more for sustainable and socially responsible products and services.

The desire to ‘live like a local’, combined with social awareness results in more ethical travel. They are more likely to buy a cup of tea at a small out the way cafe, which puts funds directly into local hands, rather than stopping at the city centre Starbucks. Money is more likely to circulate within a local economy rather than get hoovered up (and out) by global corporations.

The ever expanding ‘adventure travel’ market, particularly popular among this demographic, has long maintained a good reputation in this regard. According to the Adventure Travel Trade Association 67% of an adventure travel budget stays in the local region and, due to an emphasis on the wilderness and nature, ethical practice is standard with associated companies.

It’s not just about budget backpacking

A generation growing up in economic turmoil and employment uncertainty is naturally cost conscious.

And while this generation has less to spend than the previous, they are becoming increasingly affluent as many come of working age. More importantly, as already discussed, this generation sees travel as an integral part of self identity and expression.

The image of the young adventurous backpacker travelling to exotic lands is one deeply etched into our collective consciousness. But you are far less likely to meet the classic fully converted, hostel-hopping, backpacker these days.

The tribal backpacker mentality, enhanced by the ‘uniform’ (bandana, hiking shoes, etc.), once so prominent, is now in decline as travellers attempt to slide into the local scene and technology means you needn’t be so self reliant. People still hit the open road on a budget but a young traveller would be less likely to refer to themselves as a ‘backpacker’ or their trip as ‘backpacking’.

While of course many millennials stay in a hostel and budget their travel, many are willing to fork out for a weekend yoga retreat, a mountain trek or even a luxury spa treatment.

When more expensive activities are seen as an ‘event’ the desire to be a part of it increases further. Joining a one off secret concert or seeing a rare cultural spectacle is worth spending on to ‘live in the moment’, take some great photos and feel a part of something bigger than yourself.

But it’s not just one off splurges and back to basics after. There’s been so much talk about this generation ‘living like local’ that we miss the bigger picture – millennials want a bit of everything.

They want to go undercover, have a drink at a local bar, eat what the locals eat. But they also want to see the Mona Lisa at The Louvre, go to the British Museum and all the other classic tourist hotspots. They want it all, they want it now and they want the Instagram photo to go with it.

There are many different types of travellers within this umbrella term, lest we forget. Chinese millennials prioritise feeling pampered on holiday as well as allocating a significant proportion of their budget to shopping, while trip activities top the list for Chinese Baby Boomers. For older Japanese travellers, low prices are the top concern, but other generations focus on the food experience ahead of price.

So this group are traveling more and in all sorts of ways and – as we’ve seen from the Eventbrite study – millennials may not command the same purchasing power as previous generations but they are more willing to part with their hard earned cash on an authentic, experiential travel adventure.

The world follows suit

The all inclusive beach side retreat is in decline and the adventurous, sharing economy of experience is on the rise and now a billion dollar industry.

This doesn’t mean there aren’t problems. Over-tourism, no matter how sensitive, can erode the delicate balance of local life. A tourist population spread out across home-stays, rather than concentrated in hotels, can lead to rent increases and noise disturbance for locals.

However, considering the explosion in global travel, best practise is becoming the norm and – with an understanding of the issues and desire to change for the better – solutions will come.

Millennials have transformed how the travel world operates and we’re happy to say, so far, it seems for the best. Let’s see what tomorrow brings.

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