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Upshot Research Chicago

Millennials actually travel like the rest of us, study shows


By Doug Zanger, Americas Editor

July 14, 2016 | 5 min read

The advertising and marketing worlds keep chasing Millennials, doing their best to cater to their desirable dollars and hefty commercial influence. The travel industry is no different, courting this generation that is seemingly always on the go.

But is the industry trying too hard to define how Millennials travel? Is there an ideal Generation Y customer that is the pinnacle of desire for airlines, travel companies and hotels? Are Millennials radically different travelers? According to Chicago-based agency, Upshot, no.

While it’s true that Millennials do some things differently, like using technology, mobile devices and social media to help plan their trips, most travel like travelers of other generations. Still, there have been numerous articles trying to sway the conversation to catering to this unique segment. Some say that Gen Y book more hotels and flights online and pay for upgrades and amenities, while others claim they are more spontaneous, aspirational, experiential and social travelers.

That being said, is it worth it for travel brands to make wholesale changes to appease Millennials? Many already have. The change to a more mobile and web-based way to market travel was inevitable, regardless of the generation. Many companies have already made digital shifts, with sites like,, Travelocity, Kayak and the like already optimized for the new tech world, with new sites popping up all the time — not to mention the darling of the cool set, Airbnb. Expedia has gone a step further, investing in virtual reality technology to give people a dose of what it would be like to be immersed in the traveler’s destination.

A recent study by Expedia found that Millennials around the globe are less adventurous, and certainly more socially vain. They are less likely than previous generations to want to travel alone, but they want to appear like they are having an incredible experience, sharing self-curated images on social media that create the appearance of an incredible vacation, which some cited as more important than the actual trip. They are also more willing to give up their personal data for relevant and accurate advice, according to the study.

While these trends are noteworthy to travel marketers, perhaps targeting individual travel styles might be more pertinent than grasping at demographics, especially considering that Baby Boomers are still spending more money on travel, especially as they hit retirement years. To target Millennials may seem like a good idea (and in many ways, it is), but more research into how they travel may produce more sound tactics.

Upshot’s research on how Millennials travel yielded some interesting results that pointed to the fact that this coveted audience is likely more like Gen X and Baby Boomers than we all thought.

Some key findings:


Cruise ships are often caricatured as only appealing to older travelers, but Millennial travelers are planning to take nearly as many cruises as Boomers in the coming year.

Per cent of frequent travelers who plan to take a cruise in the next 12 months:

Millennials: 15.9 per cent

Gen Xers: 14.8 per cent

Boomers: 16.6 per cent

With their all-inclusive price tags and stops at multiple destinations, cruises are able to appeal to a wide range of travelers. This is especially true as people choose different themed cruises and ships that offer multiple amenities beyond the usual shuffleboard and lido deck buffets, like climbing walls, water slides and more exciting ship-to-shore excursions to appeal to a younger crowd.

Not necessarily off the beaten path

Despite the romanticized version of Millennial travelers who ditch the guidebooks for spontaneous and impulsive cultural immersion, frequent-traveling Millennials are more likely to go on pre-planned, structured vacations where activities are organized for them than previous generations.

Percent of frequent travelers who like to go on vacations where activities are organized for them

Millennials: 33.1 per cent

Gen Xers: 27.2 per cent

Boomers: 25.2 per cent

Millennials, it seems, are big planners. One recent study found that 60 per cent of Millennials would rather spend their money on experiences rather than things, which has given rise to travels to big festivals and other planned events.

Bigger ticket travelers are older

Travel marketers over-focusing on the Millennial media darlings are likely missing out on the people who are actually hitting the road. While Millennials are often most vocal about their wanderlust, it appears that these trips haven’t often panned out.

Percent of frequent travelers who spent $1,000+ on their last domestic trip

Millennials: 16.8 per cent

Gen Xers: 26.3 per cent

Boomers: 28.5 per cent

Not-quite the adventurous souls

Percent of frequent travelers who took 4+ international trips in past 3 years

Millennials: 16.5 per cent

Gen Xers: 17.8 per cent

Boomers: 20.7 per cent

Millennials are less adventurous than we might think. In the Expedia study, 43 per cent of Millennials were risk-averse when it came to travel, compared to 32 per cent for Boomers and 33 per cent Generation Xers. Plus, Boomers still let their money do the talking and traveling, with this group willing to spend on trips geared towards their individual tastes.

With these stats in mind, travel marketers and advertisers should be appealing to all modern travelers while keeping an eye on shifting trends and new technologies that can help them stand out from the pack. Putting all eggs in the Millennial basket might be shortsighted, especially as the next generation – Generation Z – matures in an even more connected world.

Millennial travel infographic
Upshot Research Chicago

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