Last updated: 11:42 AM ET, Tue July 21 2015

Web Gems: Are Millennials Really Using Travel Agents?

Travel Agent | Tim Wood | July 21, 2015

Web Gems: Are Millennials Really Using Travel Agents?

Two very different takes on millennial travel and the usefulness of travel agents have come out over the past few months. 

MMGY Global's 2014 "Portrait of the American Traveller" found that 28 percent of millennials surveyed said they'd used a travel agent over the past 12 months, the largest percentage of any age group. Meanwhile, a 2014 survey by Skift painted a drastically different picture, saying that only 10 percent of millennials surveyed used a travel agent over the past year.

So whose numbers should we believe? MMGY has been presenting the Portrait for 25 years and has shown no bias in its presentation of the statistics. Skift has, at times, been anti-travel agent but has also done quality reporting on the industry's efforts to stay relevant.

As much as we love a good survey, and report on them plenty, we prefer to do the litmus test on what we're seeing in the trenches. There's an optimism among travel agents growing with every conference we attend and every letter to the editor we see. It certainly helps that the travel industry is fueling an economic upswing in the U.S. and worldwide. But more than that, travel agents have adapted to the times and have managed to get ahead of the travel trends instead of just reacting to them.

Millennials are a unique traveler. That definitely threw off the established agents at first. But a combination of older agents educating themselves about millennials and a trend of younger agents entering the field and marketing to their contemporaries have made travel agents a viable option for millennials when planning vacations.

Conde Nast Traveler also went into the trenches and asked the agents. And they too got a wide range of responses just from three interviews.

A couple of key takeaways for us here. First, Context Travel co-founder Paul Bennett said that the key is presenting interesting options:

" ... the key with millennials is to not be boring...their time is valuable. It’s a big world; they want to make the most of their experience and they’re not going to waste their time. The key to attracting millennials is to have really interesting ideas, showing them something that’s different, [and] maybe showing them something that’s known in a different way.”

It's a take we've heard from countless travel agents and it's working. Millennials have driven the experiential travel explosion and travel agents have listened. They want a trip that's far from regimented and lets them see a side of the destinations that goes much deeper than a large group tour. It's similar to ocean cruising versus river cruising, where the smaller size of the river cruise ships lets them get into ports that the larger ships don't go to, opening up a whole new travel experience.

Tufflepig Travel founder Jack Darcy pointed out that even within the millennials demo, there are differences. The upper age range, those 25 to 34, tend to reach out to agents more.

Dancy actually feels that the youngest travelers are “convinced they can find anything they want [themselves]” and that “they’re happier to deal with a robot or an algorithm than a human.” On the other hand, older millennials are more willing to trust in another's expertise and less inclined to give trip planning on their own the time it requires.

Enlightenment comes with age. The tech-savvy young adult feels they can tackle anything on their own. But as they get inundated with opinions and differing takes and with apps to give them those takes, they soon turn back to travel agents to cut through the overflow of online noise in favor of a true expert opinion.

Travel agents may only get one shot to show their worth. The ones who are educating themselves about millennials are the ones who will thrive.

Dancy mentioned that agents who are set “100 percent on the baby boom bullseye, and not talking the language of the younger client” will be behind the curve.

For the full Conde Nast Traveler article, click here.


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