Imagine that – a generation gap! Older people talking about younger people as if they were totally different creatures. I’m referring to travel industry commentary surrounding Gen Y, also known as the Millennials, those pampered citizens of the western world born somewhere between the early 1980s and the first few years of the new century.

They are different, completely different, speaker after speaker said at a conference I recently attended. They will change travel forever through their use of technology was the refrain. Really? Well, time for a reality check. The latest TripBarometer survey from TripAdvisor  shows that it’s the older travellers who are leading the way on many key travel metrics, including online.

The survey of 61,007 travellers across 32 markets showed that retirees aged 55+:

  • Are the least-cost sensitive traveller segment.
  • Took nearly 50% more international leisure trips last year than 18-24 year olds.
  • Are most likely to plan in advance, most commonly booking three to six months ahead of their trip (43%).
  • Are most influenced by ratings (82%) and reviews (75%) for accommodations, attractions and restaurants on review sites.
  • Are more likely to use tablets to find their way around (52%) while on a trip than the average traveller.

The final two points are, I believe, significant because it shows that travel tech use is very much a trait of older travellers, just as it is for their children.

They are also as prone to peer group pressure as their younger counterparts, relentlessly referring to their iPad to canvass the opinions of others.

Meanwhile TripBarometer shows the Millennials – which the survey defined as those aged between 18 and 34 – are still struggling in many ways to get it together.

As always. It’s the age we all search – for identity, career, our place in the world.

On the plus side, the survey says Millenials “plan to take significantly more international trips in 2014 – up 13% from last year”.

However, they have less money than other age groups and “are most likely to be saving up for travel”.

Instead of doing it?

They are also price-sensitive.

“This group is most likely to have their travel plans impacted by currency exchange fluctuations (45%) but will research more to find the best price (24%) and will look to economise on transport options and accommodation choice.”

There was no mention of their technology use, perhaps because it is an old story.

In a roundabout way, this brings us back to the point of this article: that the impact – imminent or otherwise – of young travellers on the travel industry through their use of technology is being over-stated.

Of course there is no question that Gen Y’s tech predilections have changed the travel marketing game, creating an incredibly complicated media landscape.

Yet we can’t forget that their parents (and in some cases their parents’ parents) are also in some way culpable.

Heck, we all are.

These days that marketers must push their product through a dizzying range of sales and distribution channels.

They also have to ensure products can be easily booked on any kind of personal device – from an old-fashioned PC through to the latest smart phone.

But not just for Gen Y – instant everywhere is the expectation of sophisticated travel consumers across all age groups.

This leads me to speculate that technology and youth is in many ways a distraction from the main game, which is selling travel.

Sure, younger travellers are difficult to reach – but there’s nothing new about that.

Since at least the 1960s, travellers in their late teens and 20s have played by their own rules – they are mostly single, don’t have much money and are looking for action of some kind.

They move in packs, do their own thing

No different to now, really, it’s just they have mobile phones and 1000+ ‘friends’ they’ll never meet on Facebook.

And while they spend so much time on social media, it’s becoming clear Gen Y (and everyone else for that matter) does not buy travel on those sites, for the time being anyway.

Priceline Group boss Darren Huston recently said: “For Facebook and Twitter we have endless amounts of money, but we haven’t found anything there.”

As a straight advertising medium…

But it doesn’t stop the world’s big brands experimenting, as Facebook’s strong first quarter results demonstrated.

Facebook’s profit almost tripled to USD642 million, up from USD219 million the previous year, driven by a huge increase in advertising, especially mobile

“What has really changed for us in the past year or two is that we are now a large and increasingly important part of what you have to do if you’re running a business,” CEO Sheryl Sandberg said.

Which is true, but not because the advertising necessarily works.

Forrester research analyst Nate Elliott told the Wall Street Journal that advertisers he’d spoken to were dissatisfied with Facebook ad results.

“They’re afraid of missing out on what they still believe could be useful and they are fascinated to see if it starts delivering,” he said.

That may be some time away, but it still doesn’t lessen the appeal of connecting with a hard to reach demographic.

And perhaps that’s really what’s driving people crazy – the challenge of cutting through the white noise of modern life to reach younger consumers.

This dilemma was neatly summed up in a recent article on Skift covering Royal Caribbean Line’s attempt lure more millennial travellers with faster wi-fi on board its ships.

“For many cruise lines, the battle for first-time passengers is a matter of life and death. And the market with the greatest potential is the 95 million millennials (in the US) that have yet to take a cruise.”

It quoted Dwain Wall of industry body Cruise Lines International Association: “We know that the future is bright for us if we can get them on their first cruise — they will come back multiple, multiple times”.

Hence the faster satellite wi-fi, the theory being it will prompt younger guests share selfies, photos, videos and comments from the ship.

Wow, look at me!

The point here is probably that a cruise company is trying to make itself more relevant to young people using technology as a hook or conversation piece.

In reality, it’s a marketing pitch as much as anything else, the technology in this instance somewhat peripheral to the main goal, converting “non-cruisers” into “cruisers”.

(The new faster wi-fi, now being being tested on the Oasis of the Seas, is expected to increase bandwidth from 22 to 500 megabytes per seconds).

In conclusion, I suggest that everybody calm down.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that old people were young once.

They were going to change the world too.

Then they got jobs, partners, responsibilities and children.

Many of their dreams remained just that – until they got older and left the workforce to relax and travel.

So, come to think of it, maybe Gen Y will have a massive impact on travel.

In about 30 years.

For now, Baby Boomers rule.

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