The explosion of social media use over the past five to ten years has impacted how marketers reach and interact with their audiences. Often, when marketers think of Millennials and Generation Z they think of social media. As digital natives, it’s true that these demographics and social media go hand-in-hand. But the real reason that social media is key for reaching Millennials is due to the type of content being shared on social media: Social media’s peer-to-peer content, not the channel itself, informs and influences Millennials’ purchasing decisions.
Millennials and Generation Z are more likely to pick a travel destination and activities based on what their peers share online over branded travel ads. As a result, Millennials and Gen Z have made an indelible mark on the travel and tourism marketing industry and have transformed what is means to be successful in marketing in travel and tourism.
With the prevalence of Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, Millennials and Generation Z grew up in a much more connected world than past generations did. As a result, the world seems more accessible to them. Millennials consider travel to be a birthright—and 68% consider it a top priority. Since 2012, the study abroad rate for Millennials has steadily increased. In 2013, 289,408 US students studied abroad to receive academic credit. As of 2016, a staggering 313,415 American students traveled as part of for-credit study abroad programs. An additional 22,431 US students traveled abroad to volunteer, or for non-credit jobs and internships.
When one of their friends travels, it is almost guaranteed that he or she will share photos on social media and, in turn, share the in-person experience of the destination with his or her online following. However, Millennials and Gen Z don’t just look to their friends for travel inspiration, they also look to social media influencers. Social media influencers are storytellers for the digital age and travel brands are relying on them to help tell a unique story that resonates with their online followings.
All this to say that Millennials and Gen Z don’t have travel ideas or destinations set in stone– undefined84% of Facebook users said their friends’ posts influenced them to make or change their future travel plans.
While past generations relied on travel agents, today Millennials (and other generations) use the Internet to do their research. Millennials are well researched when it comes to travel—whether it’s lodgings, activities, or loyalty programs. The barrier to travel research isn’t as high as it was in the past, and finding the best value has been facilitated through sites such as Expedia and Kayak. These sites not only enable users to find the best deals on flights and hotels but offer browsers social proof for each destination. Millennials and Gen Z rely on their peers online testimonials to guide their purchasing decisions– 92% of travelers trust reviews and make informed decision based on their online research.
Hotel marketing, in particular, has had to adapt as a result of the democratization of reviews – finding new ways to build brand loyalty and return visits. Sites like Trip Advisor curate communities of reviewers who rate hotels, restaurants, and activities. A positive review on a trusted site can confirm a travel decision while a negative one can cause potential travelers to rethink a particular hotel or restaurant.
“Since last year, we’ve seen a 33% increase in online reviews shared by our hotels’ guests. This trend shows no sign of slowing down,” says Federico Lalatta, EVP of Global Strategy at IHG Hotels. “We have over 1 million reviews and counting for our 5,200 hotels around the world. These reviews serve to inspire potential guests to visit our hotels and we actively encourage our customers to share their travels as a way to inspire other guests plan and book their visits.” The reactions, likes, and comments that your guests receive on these visual reviews can positively reinforce their experience and affirm their travel choices.
Millennials and Gen Z not only use social media for inspiration and research, they also use it to share their own travel experiences. Some brands have tried to take advantage of this by offering, so-called, Instagrammable moments that their destinations have to offer. These places or activities are focused on the kinds of content that Millennials are most likely to share—such as adventure activities and excursions, restaurants, and the outdoors.
One of the biggest changes is that for today’s travelers, social media and sharing has become part of the guest experience. Travelers share photos and reviews both before and during their travels — not just after.
New technologies and trends have shifted what it means to be successful at marketing in the hospitality industry. In order to appeal to Generation Z and Millennials alike, travel and hospitality brands need to be more than just social media friendly: they need to have an online presence supported by social proof, brand ambassadors, and user generated content.