What do a suite in a luxury hotel in Morocco, a teepee in a campground in Joshua Tree, and a barn in New York’s Hudson Valley all have in common? All are destinations along the ever-expanding migration trails of the discerning millennial traveler. And, when it comes to tracking how this next generation is choosing to explore the world around them, a common thread emerges throughout these very different itineraries. Once you dig into the details, in terms of lodging and choice of activities, all are similar if you consider these customers’ taste: eclectic, adventurous, with a propensity to travel and celebrate events in groups, and always geared toward valuing experiences above all else.
While I love discovering new destinations and researching great places to stay, until more recently I had always found that the actual process of sitting down to plan and book a trip hadn’t really changed since the early days of the internet. My experience was tedious, clunky, and ultimately disappointing.
In the not-so-distant past, search engines ruled over the would-be traveler’s planning phase. Every different stop on a journey required hours of separate searches, digging through pages of results, trying to interpret the reliability of countless random reviewers, and wondering just how long it’s been since that remote lodge in the jungle last updated its website.
TripAdvisor has been marginally helpful because it has so many listings, but it feels like a relic of the 20th century and hasn’t really changed much over time. UGC for a travel site sounds great in theory, but TripAdvisor’s user base is so broad that the comments simply aren’t all that helpful. I don’t really care to know that you burned a hole in your shirt because the iron in the room was faulty — though I’m sorry that happened to you. And don’t get me started on the horrible photos. In fact, strike what I said earlier — we all use it, but TripAdvisor is kind of a downer.
But now, with the rise of platforms such as Airbnb, ridesharing, cheaper air tickets, and social media, today’s traveler is better equipped and more informed than ever. It’s easy to share and discover information, tips, and favorite destinations with like-minded souls, such that learning from local expertise, along with the shared experiences of friends, becomes a no-brainer. This, coupled with the millennial quest for the authentic, has created great opportunities for some travel industry players, but also confusion and angst for others struggling to adjust.
With that in mind, I’m excited to have recently joined the board of The Venue Report, a travel curation and booking site which caters to this growing, powerful, global demographic, and I’m thrilled to be working with such a talented team there.
As online platforms like The Venue Report continue to grow and shape the travel industry, it’s worth reflecting more on how these disruptive forces came about in the first place, and how savvy millennials manage to take full advantage of the new status quo.
If you’re looking for a single game changer that really set this all in motion, it’s impossible to avoid the influence of Instagram. Time Inc’s Senior VP of Travel and former Publisher of Travel & Leisure, Jay Meyer, says: “Instagram sparked the greatest transformation I’ve seen over the course of my career in travel. Suddenly, anyone looking to play in the travel space was faced with the demands of becoming a media company. Every image shared on Instagram simultaneously announces a new experience and offers it up as a possibility for the viewer. If my friends can jump into that secret waterfall in Jamaica, why can’t I?” Ultimately, it’s where new players need to convince travelers that their brand is worthy, and traditional players need to get with the times — or get left behind.
Enter the “transactional media” model. Content becomes commerce and commerce is reflected throughout the content — the two are intertwined. Traditional ad models for content-driven sites are problematic because ARPU’s are so low, so the only way to generate meaningful ad revenues is at massive scale. The best formula for transactional media? Targeted audience + high quality content + calls to action and ability to make purchases throughout the site, and across social platforms.
Think “Refinery29 for travel,” and a myriad of possibilities appears. Remember the random reviews I was talking about above? Now it’s easier than ever to read journalistic-level reviews of places from all over the world, all without the headache of a lengthy search engine session. From there, it’s a short hop into affiliate marketing, social media retargeting, an ability to easily book event and group travel, and much more.
In sum, here is what today’s millennial travelers understand better than most; What if planning and booking your travel experience was just as exciting and fun as the travel itself? That’s what The Venue Report is already doing, and I’m excited to be part of that effort.