Millennials are changing the travel industry, and fast

As a nation, we’re in the midst of a season of change, which we fully embrace here at Localeur. And like many of the social issues being discussed in America today, the landscape of the travel industry has been impacted in tremendous ways by the Millennial generation.

Our collective obsession with authenticity, curation and design through social media has made the world a more open and connected place (shout-out to Zuck) while democratizing information like never before (thanks, Google). In travel, these innovations have paved the way for people to experience destinations in amazingly user-friendly, intimate iterations; now, we’re able to go and navigate wherever our hearts take us (Google Maps, Uber) and experience cities the way locals do (Airbnb, Localeur).

Over the past decade, I’ve traveled as far and wide as Tokyo and Tahoe, Paris and Puerto Rico, and have posted five straight years of at least 100 days of travel. Much of my personal interest in Localeur — and the inspiration I get in pursuing our mission to help people experience local — comes from these travels and my interactions with fellow Millennials. I’ve met professional photographers through Instagram, world-renowned DJs at New York City house parties, and fellow sneakerheads with serious lifestyle-brand cache hailing from both near and far. As my travels lead me to cross paths with and learn from these taste-making Millennials, I’m also learning more about the increasingly dynamic platforms they rely on every day.

Five years ago, Airbnb and Uber weren’t much to anyone outside of San Francisco — meaning our options for travel accommodations were limited to paying steep prices at chain hotels or crashing on friends’ couches. Now, these humble brands are two of the most successful startups in history, with private valuations north of $25 billion and $50 billion, respectively.

Twenty years ago, Virgin America and JetBlue didn’t exist. The creation of these boutique airlines — along with Southwest Airlines’s continued growth and the constant competitiveness of the airline industry — means that travelers are no longer forced to deal with travel companies that don’t focus on customer service. Better yet, we’re no longer inclined to stay closer to home because of surging airfare prices (thanks to deal finders like Expedia, Priceline and Cheaptickets).

Fifty years ago, travel by car (suitcases strapped to the roof of the car and all) and train (yes, even in the states) were more common methods people used to city-hop. Flying cross-country was a luxury, something the upper classes enjoyed Don Draper-style. What’s improved in air travel? Thankfully, you can’t smoke on planes anymore — and cheaper airfare means people of many socioeconomic backgrounds are free to fly, dulling our stereotypes and lack of tolerance. These are changes that happened before Millennials, but our generation has ushered them into reality with greater velocity.

All these factors point to one truth in travel: The greatest development over the past 50 years hasn’t been commercial flights or vacation rentals or online travel agencies, but something that’s at once broader and more personal. It’s been us Millennials. Here’s some proof.

Stats on — and Impressions of — Millennial Travel

“Currently the travel industry’s most influential customer, Millennials are becoming more and more responsible for changing the way that we travel. A generation that has never experienced life without computers, Millennials have come to expect everything to be available anywhere, anytime.” — Forbes, ”Millennials Are Influencing Digital Travel Trends More Than Ever

“Consumers — especially tech-savvier ones raised in the Facebook era — want an experience that is fun and personalized. Something they can share or even brag about.” — MarketWatch, ”Millennials are migrating away from review sites Yelp and Angie’s List

A recent report by the World Youth Student and Educational Travel Confederation found fresh insights into the changing landscape of travel:
o “Millennials are growing up in a world where travel is easier and relatively cheaper than for previous generations and they are taking full advantage of this to travel the globe in search of new experiences.”
o Australia and the United States are the preferred next-trip destinations (each at 11 percent), followed by the United Kingdom (8 percent) for Millennials, reinforcing the staying power of English-speaking countries as travel favorites.
o The WYSETC’s study also found that family and friends are the most influential source of travel information for 67 percent of Millennial travelers — and 80 percent of those surveyed feel travel reviews have a real influence on their decisions, with 56 percent posting online reviews after their own trips.

“The Millennial generation, defined as those between the ages of 16 and 34, is more interested than older generations in traveling abroad as much as possible — by a 23-percentage-point margin. The United Nations estimates that 20 percent of all international tourists, or nearly 200 million travelers, are young people, and that this demographic generates more than $180 billion in annual tourism revenue, an increase of nearly 30 percent since 2007.” — The Atlantic, “How Millennials Are Changing Travel

In the Millennial generation, we don’t view travel as a luxury, but a necessity. Travel has become something that expands our horizons not just visually, but also educationally, politically, romantically and professionally.

Americans Take a Lesson from Europeans

Europeans have benefited from the gap year for, well, years — but now (as the aforementioned study by The Atlantic shows), Americans are expressing a much greater interest in international travel. And while we know that political views are often shaped by one’s parents, travel is a significant way for young Americans to have their perspectives broadened on issues related to all things, from public transportation (plenty more biking in Amsterdam than Dallas) to same-sex marriage (Canada legalized gay marriage a full decade before the United States). Dating apps like Tinder make it easier to find a mate almost anywhere in the world, and LinkedIn makes it easier to browse your network for geographical connections.

So while the pop culture genesis of the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s made America fall in love with travel through the lens of a tourist (e.g. chain establishments like Hard Rock Cafe, theme parks), only in the last half-decade have we begun to scratch the surface of what the true value of travel can be: life-long learning. Long after the gap year, Europeans continue to demonstrate a high appreciation for traveling for weeks on end to experience new cities not for the tourism, but for the experience. Learning at its best takes place not in a classroom, but out in the world interacting with new people, seeing new places and experiencing new things.

In America, where an emphasis has long been placed on working hard, long hours, earning steadily increasing wages throughout our careers and saving time off for retirement, we’re only recently learning the value of leaving our home cities and experiencing what the rest of the world has to offer.

Experience Local, Not Tourism

The #experiencelocal sentiment here at Localeur goes far beyond how you live in your own city. To experience local is to learn as something more than a tourist, to fully embrace that the best kind of travel — like the best kind of learning — is authentic, is personal, is social, is rooted in embracing change.

The way you do things in your home city may not be the way the locals do things in another city, and Localeur is proud to help facilitate that exchange of culture and information to help us all broaden our horizons in a way that’s integral to the new shape travel is taking.

For us Millennials, this notion is something we had to teach ourselves by ignoring the sound advice of our parents: take fewer risks, find high-paying jobs and stand pat, they said. In spite of our unique difficulties in navigating the economic recession, the Millennial generation’s knack for travel has only sharpened, proving to previous generations (and the global economic forces that be) that we’re wired a little differently, that we love risk-taking and adventuring and, most of all, that we live for the lessons that come from travel just as much as those we get from traditional incentives like job promotions and home ownership.

Business and Personal Travel, Transformed

When our parents’ generation traveled for business, it was often carried out dutifully and with disdain — as in, “Darn, I have to fly to Buffalo next Tuesday” — but a 2014 study by Expedia found that Millennials are 62 percent more likely than older employees to extend a business trip into a vacation. For a Millennial, that may mean stretching that Buffalo work trip over the weekend and taking a drive cross-border to Canada. We’re opportunists.

Millennials — with apps like Airbnb, Uber, Google Maps and, yes, Localeur — have eschewed the now-stale mores of chain restaurants, corporate hotels, rental cars and tourist attractions and breathed new life into travel. We’ve made it local and personal, and we’ve gotten far more creative when it comes to charting our paths in new cities. Instead of blindly seeking the inauthentic, we maximize our time in a new place by sniffing out hidden gems. It can be a challenge, but isn’t it ultimately more fun than checking TripAdvisor’s tired round-up of attractions off our lists?

Understanding Millennials is no cookie-cutter proposition, though. Companies like Google have been busy acquiring the likes of Zagat and Frommer’s to amass a wellspring of travel-related content, but headlines like CNN Money’s “Frommer’s founder buys back travel guide brand from Google” and Bloomberg Business’s “How Google Has Completely Botched Zagat” hint at the difficulty in taking a data-driven approach to decisions that are intrinsically personal. Likewise, industry stalwarts like Yelp and Foursquare are at least considering opportunities to be acquired by larger conglomerates to better leverage the unique data they’ve spent years garnering (Techcrunch’s “Sources: Yahoo In Talks To Buy Foursquare” and Wall Street Journal’s “Yelp Seeks Buyer Amid Slow Growth, Rising Costs”) to reach new audiences, especially Millennials.

So while Google’s primary contribution to the new landscape of travel is its industry-leading Maps product — and while companies like Yelp and Foursquare have popularized sharing reviews and checkins, there are a few other companies both big and small that truly represent the new wave of travel for Millennials.

The Apps That Changed Travel: Instagram, Airbnb and Uber

Instagram isn’t a travel company, but talk to most Millennial travelers and the app will come up rather quickly in conversation. Why? Because Instagram is a new way to share experiences that represent the social and geographic anecdotes about where you’ve been. Anyone who thought the app was just a hipster’s take on amateur photography has surely changed their tune in the last 18 months.

Since its founding in 2009, Airbnb has established the world’s largest and most Millennial-savvy marketplace for travel accommodations. (Of course, Couchsurfing was a viable predecessor, but it quickly fell behind Airbnb when strangers’ couches failed to offer the appeal of choosing a place to stay based on a number of preferences, including the discovery of shared interests or mutual Facebook friends with potential hosts.) Today, along with the Marriotts and Hiltons of the world, you can also access thousands of uniquely designed and locally owned homes. Your business trips may still be the same as they always were, but your digs can be tailored to your tastes, and you can root yourself in a neighborhood rather than the corporate hub of the city. And Millennials have built Airbnb from the ground up; the founders are all in their early-to-mid 30s.

Today, getting back and forth between your accommodations and destinations is simple — just call a private car via Uber or Lyft with the use of your smartphone. That’ll sure beat standing on the corner waiting for a taxi like we used to (a challenging proposition depending on the weather or worse, your skin tone). Apps like Uber and Lyft also eliminate the need of standing in a 30-minute line at the airport’s rental car kiosk for a car that will almost certainly spend most of its time in a parking space.

The Task of Choosing Where to Go

You’ve got a great resource for finding a place to stay and an easier way to get around the city — which means all you need now is advice on where to go.

“Quality written content will always have a place card at any content strategy meeting and travel marketers trying to reach a millennial audience should know that articles are the most popular travel content consumed by this age group, a new survey found.” — Skift, “Millennials Value Stories and Photos Over Video for Trip Inspiration”

“A local business without online recommendations is at a major disadvantage. But getting the right reviewers is just as important as getting the right reviews.” — ThinkApps, “Two Years After Launch, Could Localeur Kill Yelp and Foursquare?

“Clearly, local reviews are becoming more important for travel brands. Startups such as Localeur have been proffering local content targeted to the millennial traveler for a couple of years now, while other companies such as Gogobot and Foursquare have pivoted more squarely into the user review and recommendation column. There’s also renewed competition in North America on the review front with Zomato buying Urbanspoon in a direct confrontation with Yelp.” — Tnooz, “Google pursues higher quality reviews with Local Guides program

At Localeur, the website and app we launched in 2013 that’s available in 16 major U.S. cities and counting, we’ve laid the foundation for what is quickly becoming the perfect companion to experience a city the way locals do. With recommendations written exclusively by locals on everything from the best restaurants and bars to where to get in a workout or go shopping, we strive to make Localeur an efficient and credible way to navigate a city’s best experiences without wasting energy on anonymous review sites, which have plenty of options and opinions but far too much clutter to maximize a weekend trip.

“Sure, you know enough to check out the Statue of Liberty when visiting New York or the Golden Gate Bridge when you’re in San Francisco. But what do locals love about their cities? Where are they eating, drinking and doing? These are the questions that travel site and app Localeur attempts to answer — by getting answers from the natives who know their cities best.” — International Business Times, “Travel App Tuesday: Get Locals’ Recommendations with Localeur

And one final point: as the travel landscape changes, it’s time to start thinking about how these changes will alter the way cities are experienced for locals, too.

“There is now widespread acceptance and understanding in the hospitality industry around the business impact of attracting the local community to a hotel. It’s no longer just a nice thing to have. It’s no longer merely an add-on amenity. By catering to locals, hotels are creating a more authentic and enriching guest experience, so hotel developers are aggressively expanding where locals want to congregate.” — Skift, “Hotels Look to Adaptive Reuse to Create Better Local Connections”

Hotels, airlines, tech startups — they’re all taking notice of the power of local. More importantly, they’re moving past the awareness stage and taking steps to embrace the authenticity in experiences we Millennials want. The global success of Airbnb and Uber prove we are not a fickle generation; we will be loyal to the companies that deliver on the things we want. Here at Localeur, we’re working every day to earn the business, trust and loyalty of Millennial travelers and locals alike.

This post originally posted on our blog.

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