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Millennials love travel. How travel brands can love them back.

It’s time to take millennials seriously.

Take, for example, MGM Grand Hotel & Casino, which installed a new experiential gaming space with giant versions of Pac-Man and Connect Four. Starwood Hotels hired social media influencers to post images of their favorite moments to followers. Princess Cruises launched a 360-degree virtual reality experience for website visitors. And hotels around the world are changing up décor and adding amenities, such as 24-hour cafes, full-service bars, yoga classes, concierge apps, free Wi-Fi, and mobile-friendly room keys.

These brands understand that millennials — generally defined as people born between 1982 and 2000 — are changing the travel industry one trip at a time. So they’re thinking more creatively about how they relate to this generation of jet-setters who crave experiences over things.

As the first generation of digital natives eclipses baby boomers in population, it’s critical for travel marketers to know millennials and what technology, channels, and experiences resonate with them. The challenge is to reach them in a way that does more than market to them, but instead truly speaks to their experiential sensibilities.

“By 2020, millennials will control $7 trillion in liquid assets.”

— U.S. Census Bureau Data

Julie Hoffman, head of T&H strategy and marketing at Adobe.

“There’s great value in taking time to understand millennials now rather than later. Millennial interests aren’t exclusively unique to this demographic alone. Over time, we’re seeing other demographics develop a millennial mindset with similar interests and expectations.”

Julie Hoffmann
head of T&H industry strategy and marketing, Adobe

You knew travel was about experiences. That’s even truer for millennials.

Millennials and travel image 1.

Travel and millennials are a match made in heaven. According to the 2017 Adobe Digital Index U.S. Working Millennials Survey, 70 percent of this generation — particularly the younger ones, ages 18 to 24 — value experiences over things, and 86 percent say they don’t want to miss out on life experiences. This generation is more interested in traveling abroad, and it travels more frequently than older age groups.

“70% of millennials would rather spend money on experiences than things."

— ADI US Working Millennial 2017 Survey

Not only do millennials particularly gravitate toward travel, but they also actively enjoy engaging with brands that play into the experiential nature of it. It’s part of the reason 70 percent of millennials follow travel brands on social media. The journey, for them, is one of engagement, interaction, and collaboration. 

“Millennials enjoy the possibility of collaborating with businesses and brands,” says customer service expert and Forbes contributor Micah Solomon. “They don’t necessarily see a clear boundary between the customer and the brand, the customer and the marketer, and the customer and service provider.”

Travel brands have tremendous opportunities to channel the inherently experiential and adventurous nature of travel, crafting experiences that will resonate with this generation. They just need to embrace the millennial mindset in a way that feels authentic.

Dan Vinh, VP of global marketing at Marriott International

“Millennials reject anything that feels like corporate marketing, and they've pushed us all in how we guide our brand experience.”

Dan Vinh
VP of global marketing, Marriott International

Moxy Hotel is dubbed Marriott International’s bold, experiential brand, and it offers prime examples of how to cater to millennials. Last fall, it hosted a party inspired by the prolific nightlife culture in Berlin, showcasing the music, dance, art, and sexual expression that are the lifeblood of the city. Moxy Hotel’s NOW + WOW communal spaces, including its living rooms, game rooms, and bar, come alive with a thoughtfully crafted assemblage of spontaneous and organic décor designed to cater to younger travelers and locals who like to hang out with their friends and meet new ones without breaking the bank.

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Moxy’s experiential brand is a success not only because marketers tap into data to think like millennials, but because they empower these youthful travelers — from the health nut to the party-goer to the artsy cinema goer — to drive and help create the experience. This generation ultimately wants to control how and when they engage with brands.

“This generation takes control of what they want. They want to see what they’re getting —transparency is critical. They want seamless and convenient experiences across devices and content,” says Tamara Gaffney, principal analyst for Adobe Digital Insights.

Six ways to build dynamic experiences for millennials.

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As millennials encroach on baby boomers’ status as the industry’s highest-value audience, wise travel brands are hustling to prepare for that tipping point. They’re keeping the basic understanding about millennials — their desire for both experiences and control — at the root of what they do. And they’re going beyond that foundational understanding by truly embracing the full potential of analytics, programmatic advertising, and cloud-based marketing tools. They can use these tools to get to know their own specific millennial customers, then actively deliver to and co-create with them.

Here are six ways these brands are combining broad trends, specific insights, and digital technology to make a lasting connection with millennials.

1: Think mobile first.

Millennials use mobile and trust mobile. According to Google, two thirds of millennial travelers are comfortable booking an entire trip on a smartphone, while only one third of travelers over 35 are comfortable doing the same. And eMarketer notes that millennials are also far more comfortable with mobile payment than Gen Xers. 

This is why Starwood Resorts and Marriott International are exploring the potential of mobile check-in processes: You can now check in, get your room number, and even get into your room with your Apple Watch. And Hilton and Hyatt now have digital concierge service accounts on Twitter for round-the-clock mobile access.

This kind of mobile integration demands a dynamic digital foundation to deliver seamlessly. But once a brand is armed with the tools to do so, it can use mobile to its highest potential to reach millennials at every stage of their journeys. 

2: Make it personal.

Even more than other demographics, millennials want content to be personal and relevant. They not only appreciate personalized experiences — they now expect them. And while travel brands have always known that a little personalization goes a long way, they should now consider themselves tasked with finding new, digitally empowered ways to custom-tailor experiences for individuals, at scale. 

The biggest travel trends today, especially for millennials, revolve around personalization and connectivity. By using analytics to create a whole customer view, travel brands can deliver dynamic and optimized creative targeted to specific customers and tailored to their needs in an exact time and place. And the potential rewards are significant. 

“The implications are off the charts,” says Kevin Lindsay, product marketing lead for Adobe Target. For example, once a hotel knows the mobile-enabled guest has checked in, “You can cull details on their whereabouts and upcoming plans.” Which means brands can and should jump right in with thoughtful, customized offers, assistance, and ideas to make their visit smoother and more exciting. It’s the kind of customer engagement that doesn’t feel overly promotional, but rather personalized and helpful.

3: Plug into their social network.

Sixty-one percent of U.S. millennial Facebook users spend an hour or more on the platform daily, according to eMarketer. And according to Amp and Blitz, an impressive 84 percent of millennials are likely or very likely to plan a trip based on someone else’s vacation photos and updates on social media. 

Millennials’ trips are experienced vicariously by their network, which offers the traveler real-time commentary, questions, and ideas. And it offers travel brands a way to engage with travelers as a natural fit within their network.

Travel brands can integrate social media into their marketing strategy, channeling the natural strengths of programmatic advertising in this realm: it’s automated, transparent, data-driven, and effective. And in the travel realm, it not only plays a part during the journey itself, but it has a major influence in others’ planning stages.

4: Take the time to learn what channels they like — and use them.

eMarketer reports that 63 percent of millennials listed email as their preferred communication channel with brands. It’s handy, mobile, actionable, and personal. They also lean on online searches daily, which creates an opportunity for brands to target paid search ads and tailor them to the millennial’s liking. 

Video is another way to speak their native tongue. Animoto reports that 70 percent of millennials watch videos when shopping online, and they’re 2.5 times more likely to share videos than other age groups. And according to eMarketer, travel-industry video ads tend to have a higher completion rate compared to other industries. 

This means travel industry marketers have an opportunity to make more use of a medium millennial audiences are likely to spend time with. They can fine-tune their targeting using cross-channel data and ensure the video content resonates, inspires, and is share-worthy (and easily sharable).

5: Be as seamless as possible.

Digital tools are almost always at millennials’ fingertips, so brands should keep an eye on seamless functionality. Since MGM Hotels realized that most of its visitors come infrequently enough that they wouldn’t want to download an app, they resisted the temptation to make a new app for mobile-focused millennials. Instead, they created a great mobile-responsive site, so visitors don’t need a special app to book rooms, search for events and shows, or communicate with MGM restaurants. This move by MGM was geared toward sheer helpfulness — and it was a win. 

With millennials, don’t try to be cool. Be vulnerable and authentic. In MGM’s case, this translated to simply being practical with technology.

6: Push innovation.

The first digital native generation feels at home with emerging technologies — so travel brands should stay in step with them. It creates opportunities to think creatively and craft fresh and interesting experiences. For instance, Marriott launched virtual-reality (VR) driven experiences for its guests to let them explore far beyond their own geographic location. Dubbed “VRoom Service,” the experience headsets are delivered to guests’ rooms, where they can set out on a virtual journey to other corners of the world. 

While wearing the headsets, guests choose from multiple “VR Postcard” options to experience 360-degree video footage and sounds from the Andes Mountains, the streets of Beijing, and even an ice cream shop in Rwanda.  

“Travel expands our minds and helps push our imagination,” said Matthew Carroll, vice president at Marriott Hotels. “Our guests want to be in inventive spaces that help foster their creativity and thinking. VRoom combines storytelling with technology, two things that are important to next generation travelers.”

A gravitational shift in travel marketing.

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The possibilities in travel marketing have never been more exciting — nor has a generation’s expectations ever been so high. With the right tools, it isn’t too tall an order to deliver mobile-ready, personalized, and socially connected experiences. 

Travel brands can now arm themselves better than ever for the task at hand. Analytics give them vision, cross-channel planning gives them reach, media optimization gives them predictability and automation, and creative optimization gives them a higher chance of success.  

By building a holistic view of millennial customers, embracing their increased prominence, and delivering content and experiences that matter to them, travel marketers can have a fun adventure themselves — right alongside their millennial traveler friends.

Let what millennials value inspire marketing opportunities.

Experiences image.


Deliver dynamic creative and programmatic capabilities that foster a two-way interaction, not a one-way marketing message.

Transparency image.


Use in-depth analytics to deliver brand-specific insights to their mobile devices and apps in a seamless way.

Social image.


Invest in optimizing display ads in social channels. And put real manpower behind day-to-day social media engagement.

Personalization image.


Put the power of analytics and audience management to use and offer 1:1 interactions at scale.

Mobile image.


Build innovative and cohesive digital experiences on mobile devices, such as mobile check-ins and digital concierge services.

Channels image.


Pay close attention to channel analytics and invest your resources where they’ll make the most impact. Email and video resonate with millennials.

Innovation image.


Explore up-and-coming technologies and apply them in delightful and unexpected ways.

Frictionless experiences image.

Frictionless experience

Map out the friction points in your audience’s journey, then eliminate them.

Adobe Digital Index U.S. Working Millennial Survey, 2017.

“Felicia Greiff, “Millennials, Now Bigger than Boomers, Offer Hotels Challenge,” Advertising Age, July 24, 2015.

“Five-Star Digital Marketing Results. Book Today,” Adobe Industries Video, Travel and Hospitality.

Julie Hoffmann, personal interview, April 28, 2017.

Kevin Lindsay, “Targeting the Hyper-Connected Summer Traveler,” Adobe Digital Marketing Blog, July 9, 2015.

“Marriott Hotels Introduces the First Ever Virtual Reality Room Service,” Marriott News Center, September 9, 2015.

Megan O’Neill, “Millennials Love Video (And Why You Should Too),” Animoto, June 23, 2015.

“Millennial Travelers: Mobile Shopping and Booking Behavior,” Think with Google, December 2016

Pete Kluge and Megan Estrada, “DCO: Programmatic’s Evolution from Ads to Experiences,” 2017 Adobe Summit .

Stephanie Overby, “MGM Resorts’ Tomovich: There’s No Substitute for Experience,”, March 6, 2017

Tamara Gaffney, personal interview, April 24, 2017.

Yory Wurmser, “US Millennial Shoppers 2017: How a Digitally Native Generation is Changing Retail,” eMarketer, January 2017.