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StrategyMay 22, 2019

Millennial Travel and Hospitality Personas: The Hopeful Realist

Emily Dunn and Daniel Hulse

The typical travel and hospitality customer is changing. The millennial share of this market is already significant, and it’s constantly growing. Travel and hospitality organizations must understand millennial segments’ priorities in order to offer travel options that can win and retain their business for the long term.

This article is the third and final installment of the Millennial Traveler Personas series, which aims to provide much-needed insights on unique millennial traveler segments. The two preceding personas are the bleisure traveler and the adventure seeker, and all three personas are evaluated based on key characteristics of millennial travelers as outlined in the Millennial Travel Behaviors and Attitudes whitepaper.

Hopeful realists: these are the millennials who love to travel but must limit their trips due to constrained budgets. The recession and increased costs of education hit millennials hard, but hopeful realists are dreamers. Conversations with spouses or friends often turn to wide-eyed, hopeful exclamations about what they could do for their next trip. Since they know they will not have as many travel opportunities as they’d like, they’ll ensure they get the most out of every precious dollar they spend.

For example, meet Henry and Hannah, the hopeful realists:

Henry and Hannah, a married couple living in a suburb of a major U.S. city, have two young children and bought a home six months ago. Both work stable full-time jobs, but they are feeling overwhelmed at the financial strain associated with owning a home, raising children, and saving for their family’s future, not to mention their $50,000 of student loans. They would like to establish a habit of traveling together as a family, but with limited budget and the difficulties of transporting small children, big trips feel increasingly impractical. They’re going to try to find ways to adventure, but it will require a bit of resourcefulness and clever planning.

Henry and Hannah offer a snapshot of the hopeful realist persona. These millennials are loyal, but rather than to a brand, they offer loyalty to savings. They care about table stakes technologies, and they’ll make plans based on recommendations from trusted friends and travel sites. And they will seek experiences they can share with loved ones.

loyalty: it’s about savings, not a brand

Hopeful realists make budget-driven loyalty decisions. They view flights, ground transportation, and hotel rooms as costly travel necessities, and they will strategically utilize loyalty incentives to reduce these expenses as much as possible. They’ll often stick with an airline or hotel to earn loyalty points and drive down future travel costs, but if a price is too steep, they’ll gladly show their brand agnosticism and book elsewhere to receive near-term savings.

Religiously following budget travel sites like the Points Guy provides hopeful realists with an extra dose of expertise in how to embark on their adventures for as little cost as possible. One hopeful realist we interviewed was able to pull off a high quality, multiple-week international vacation for well under $1,000 by scouring budget sites and racking up credit card points.

tech savvy: table stakes, not cutting edge

Because hopeful realists travel less frequently, they are less likely to care if top-notch technology perks are missing on their journey. As one hopeful realist with a young family put it, “I don’t care too much about technology in my travels. I just want the basics, like WiFi at the hotel and in-flight entertainment.” The desire for these basic amenities is often fueled by a need to entertain their children while traveling: In the U.S., 67% of parents of young children use tech gadgets to entertain their children, and travel is the most popular time for them to do so.

While the table stakes amenities are most important, flashy technologies can have a large “wow” effect on this segment. For example, the hopeful realist family described above is much more likely to create a shared memory with a voice assistant in a hotel room than the bleisure traveler who is well acquainted with Alexa. As another example, one hopeful realist said she would really like it if an online travel agency (OTA) sent her text messages with local deals during her trips.

Overall, travel and hospitality companies need not fret about providing hopeful realists with the latest and greatest tech, but this segment will appreciate the cutting edge if it is available.

social: they trust their friends

Baby boomers, gen Xers, and the like are accustomed to planning trips based on word-of-mouth recommendations and written publications, such as travel magazines. While millennials still value trustworthy conversational recommendations, they tend to ideate and plan in a new way—through online social outlets. And while all millennials are disposed to reading travel blogs, checking tips and tricks sites, and scouring the web for great ideas, hopeful realists place particularly high value on their friends’ social recommendations.

For example, one hopeful realist said that he and his wife were highly influenced by candid pictures on their friends’ social media accounts. Social sharing not only works to identify new destinations and build trust, it also leads travelers to pursue trips that they would want to share online. So much so that ‘Instagrammability’ is now a major influencer of travel decision-making.

To hopeful realists, these primary source materials feel more genuine and trustworthy than standard corporate marketing pictures. Again, while these travelers are idealistic at heart, they are also critical and realistic, and they want to be sure that every dollar they spend will generate maximum return. Recommendations and travel pictures from friends provide proven, secure options for hopeful realists’ next trip.

experiential: it’s all about shared memories

Like the other personas, hopeful realists place immense emphasis on experiences in their travels. But they’re experiential in a different way than their peers: they primarily desire to share experiences alongside others. One hopeful realist explained that at least 50% of the time, he and his wife travel for family vacations, weddings, and other “non-negotiable” trips. These occasions are not necessarily the most adventurous, but they are important to hopeful realists because they create lifelong memories with the most important people in their lives.

Even in the case of more adventurous trips, hopeful realists seek more than just to see new sites and experience different cultures. They want a chance to share something completely unique with the friends and family they love. As one hopeful realist remarked, “I have never gone anywhere just for the place. I only plan trips because of the people.”

hopeful realist snapshot

How to win their business: Get them to shared memories as easily as possible.

Travel and hospitality companies wanting to capitalize on this large millennial segment must align offerings with hopeful realists’ priorities. Airlines can offer targeted discounts to people they know will travel only a couple times per year. Hotels can offer activities that are fun for the whole family, such as hosting movie nights or board game nights in the lobby with hot chocolate and go the extra mile to delight for little expense, such as folding towels into fun animal shapes in guest rooms.

Meanwhile, OTA’s can form partnerships to offer booking giveaways. For example, Upside grants a $100 gift card at an outlet of your choice after booking your first trip. Ground transportation companies can make it easier to split costs among groups and use older model vehicles to offer more inexpensive options.

Due to the constraints of a low budget and small children, hopeful realists want travel for little money and even less complexity They’re going to be loyal as long as loyalty equates to savings. They expect standard technology amenities and will be amazed by the cutting edge. They will act on recommendations from friends and plan extensively using all sorts of social outlets. Above all, they want to share experiences with those they love most.

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