When was the last time you saved six months of your salary to spend it all on a dream vacation? If you think that’s a crazy idea, chances are that you represent Generation X or maybe the Baby Boomers. Your millennial offspring, nephew or niece is probably saving their money and busy on their preferred device, planning their next experiential holiday.

To understand how millennial travellers think, we first need to ditch some of the notions we have about this generation. They are not always backpackers looking for cheap deals, nor are they a “silver spoon" generation, enjoying lavish holidays sponsored by their parents. Spanning the age group of 18-38, 93% of millennials have taken an international leisure trip in the last 12 months, according to the Media GPS Study 2017. Conducted by the UK-based BDRC Group, the survey examines trends based on the media consumption of a sample of 16,000 respondents, representative of the 9.9 million adults who are booked on international flights each week.

Like me, you’re probably wondering what makes millennials unique enough for the travel industry (amongst many others) to recognize them as a key demographic. The trends reveal that millennials are different in every way, from how they plan their holidays, to how they book, and what they do when they get there. And this has compelled the industry to change paradigms. Here are some key trends.

Longer holidays

The generation considers holidays a reward and a time to indulge, averaging 13 nights per holiday as opposed to Generation X, which travels largely for business or for that one “annual family trip". While millennials are not extravagant, they are willing to pay more for services they deem to be of great value, making nearly two-thirds of all millennials luxury travellers, according to the Media GPS study.

So it is no wonder that prominent hotel chains like Marriott, Hilton and the Shangri-La are coming up with new brands targeting the millennial traveller, like Mama Shelter by Accor or Indigo by the InterContinental Hotels Group. Their offers include free Wi-Fi, an Instagram-worthy atmosphere and locally inspired cuisine.

While the US is the front-runner in hotel offers to the millennials, the rest of the world is catching up quite fast. Airbnb has refined its offerings to include activities like cycling tours led by locals and graffiti trails. With Wi-Fi everywhere, cold-press juice bars, cocktails on arrival and personalized itineraries, the “tripsters" are being wooed like never before. Millennial-inspired hotels still get older travellers, but hotels for older travellers rarely get younger guests.

Calle del Embudo, a graffiti-filled street in Bogota, Colombia. Photo: iStock
Calle del Embudo, a graffiti-filled street in Bogota, Colombia. Photo: iStock

Always connected

The survey shows that 70% of millennials are connected all the time and over half feel more insecure without their phone rather than their wallet. This trend might take the rest of us some time to come to terms with, as we see travel as an opportunity to spend time with family or friends without any hindrance from the outside world. While millennials may prefer to travel solo or with a few friends, they look for ways to stay connected with the world and their social groups. They read, look, compare and assess offers from travel brands on their handheld devices—something that travel brands should pay attention to when communicating their offers and attractions in an interesting way to millennials via social media.

Big on Asia

Being from India, I may be biased, but I didn’t find this outcome surprising, considering that Asian destinations offer immersive cultural getaways that most millennials from all over the world will love. Aiding the popularity is Asia’s dizzying rise in the world culinary map, with 30% of millennials travelling to experience local culture and cuisine. Europe is also high on the list of vacation spots.

Thrill seekers

Whether it’s jumping off an aeroplane, flying in a fighter jet, bungee jumping, swimming with the sharks or climbing mountains, millennials want it all. They will experience it, they will share their photographs, and they will have their followers pining for the same experience.

While surveys and statistics will reveal trends and numbers, all you really have to do is look at the younger generation around you. In my immediate circle of relatives and friends, there are at least three youngsters who have planned a vacation around the Tomorrowland music festival in Belgium. A young colleague bought a GoPro camera to record his cliff-diving adventures in Eastern Europe, and my daughter just went for a vacation to Vietnam and discovered quaint bars with the music she likes and made friends for life.

Am I, or my generation, as open to embracing all that travel offers? That’s a question which might never have the right answer given the in-depth cost-benefit analysis that our minds slip into at every given opportunity.

So here’s my suggestion. The next time you’re thinking of a holiday, take a millennial into confidence and leave the planning and itinerary to them. You’re likely to have a holiday experience like no other and feel young once again.

Sonali Chatterjee is director, sales, CNN International, India and South Asia.