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How Millennials and Gen Z forever changed travel marketing

Millennials and Gen Z have forever changed travel – and the way that brands market destinations, hotels and related products. From the role of technology and apps to the increasing value of brand influencers with peer-to-peer visual user-generated content (UGC), new forces are shaping the industry.

Within tourism marketing, there’s a significant amount to learn and to experiment with new marketing techniques to connect with these traveler segments. What does Gen Z’s brand disloyalty mean for building relationships and long-term retention? How can marketers shape effective campaigns that are tech-savvy and visual enough to connect with Millennials, yet convey the authenticity that these travelers crave?

Here’s a closer look at some of the biggest factors impacting travel marketing and how brands are responding.

Millennial travel trends vs. Gen Z: Not the same traveler

Savvy brands are keying in on a critical differentiation point: there are distinct differences between Millennial and Generation Z travelers. Brands have to decide which group they’re targeting, or build these different preferences into their customer segmentations with unique campaigns for each group. Millennial travel and the generation’s overall habits are fairly well understood as they’ve become the most studied generation in history; yet many of those preferences are quickly evolving as Millennials shift to a different stage of life that may include partnership, marriage, kids, and more.

At the same time, Gen Z is emerging as a segment with a potential $283 billion in buying power for international tourism – and they operate with distinctly different preferences. A Skift trends report notes that this generation is still forming their loyalties (or may not form them at all), but getting in early is a blue ocean opportunity for travel marketers. Generation Z are mobile natives, constantly engaged with visual and livestreaming social media, and are still developing what they want out of their travel experience. Invest now in understanding what these customers want and develop user experiences and content marketing that speak directly to them to help solidify their brand loyalties for the long term.

‍The buyer’s journey is digital

Ninety percent of Millennials and Gen Z book travel online. Travelers under the age of 35 hardly remember using an in-person travel agent, perhaps with the exception of the most complex or exotic trips. If a traveler is thinking about a beach vacation, they simply go online to look at different options, read travel guides and visitor reviews, and compare prices. As a result, travel marketers need an effective content marketing strategy that responds to the digital buyer's journey that’s:

  • Informative: Travelers are conducting research online and want strategic insights that speak directly to them. Generic guides aren’t enough. Travel content must speak to your target demographic.

  • Visual: Articles and written guides remain important. Yet today’s mobile and social users – especially Millennials and Gen Z – are more likely to be captivated by visual content. Travel marketers are developing their visual assets. There’s an increasing focus on video, images, and finding ways to get influencers and travelers to share their experiences on social media and travel review sites.

  • Authentic: Authenticity means different things throughout the buyer’s experience. At one level, it means that travelers want the unvarnished truth about a destination. In part, they rely on influencers and other travelers’ reviews. They’re also looking for authenticity, more cultural connection and an ability to really experience a destination reflected in the marketing. Authenticity doesn’t mean a lack of luxury, necessarily; but the Millennial traveler and the Gen Z traveler want to walk away from a trip with an essence of a people and place through its food, music, and neighborhoods. Today’s most successful travel marketing conveys these possibilities in a way that feels honest and informative, without being salesy.

A backpack full of apps: Technology in travel marketing

Technology plays another critical role in the shifting landscape of travel marketing. As Conde Nast notes, today’s Millennials are traveling with a “backpack full of apps.” Today’s guidebooks are visual, fit into your pocket via a smartphone, and are fully integrated with features like audio tours and Google Maps. Destination marketing organizations and tour providers alike are finding ways to make it easier to navigate cities and countries.

Becoming a trusted advisor and offering proprietary tools – or digital experiences during the marketing process – can be an important differentiator. For example, several destinations are working with filmmakers to create 360-degree virtual reality videos to use in their marketing and give Millennials and Gen Z travelers a taste of what’s in store at specific destinations.

‍Marketing authenticity through UGC

Shullman found that 77% of Millennials travel for pleasure. However, they’re looking for authenticity in both destinations and marketing. As a result, marketing is shifting from polished, staged photo shoots to influencer marketing and leveraging user-generated content that captures authentic experiences through a relatable lens and voice. For example, a marketing campaign for tours of Paris no longer focuses on the iconic shots of the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame.

Millennials and Gen Z want to know where Parisians spend time, the best secret locations to get a great meal, and off-beat historic sites that others in their age group feel are not to be missed. Travel marketers with clear strategies for developing positive, helping UGC – whether through their own customer base or strategic partnerships with influencers – are effectively addressing this need.

Travel marketers have to keep one eye on the current landscape and one eye on the future. Marketing to Millennials and Gen Z requires a strategy that’s built around strong images, helpful content, a multi-channel approach and an authentic voice for each generation. Investing now in the partnerships and tools – from content creation platforms to the analytics to know what’s working – is the foundation for a strong ROI when marketing to Millennials and Gen Z alike.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on pixlee.com. Any statistics or statements included in this article were current at the time of original publication.

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