The Millennial Business Traveler: Preferences and Trends

Despite some trepidation over the rise of the Millennial business traveler, our industry will unquestionably change as this group advances in their careers and steadily overtakes the majority of business travel in the next five to ten years. What can companies expect? Although Millennials’ business travel habits and preferences differ in many ways from those of Baby Boomers and Generation X, forward-looking companies have an opportunity to preemptively craft strategies that take into consideration the coming changes. With that in mind, here are five trends to expect in the coming year, and beyond:

  1. Millennials Embrace Business Travel
    Despite their rapid adoption of technology (more on that later), this generation places a high value on face-to-face meetings. In fact, Millennials are almost twice as likely to want to travel more for business than Baby Boomers (45 percent to 26 percent, respectively), and a strong majority believes technology can never replace face-to-face meetings to get business done. I admit I’m in total agreement on this one. Although I love to email, text, Snapchat and Instagram just as much as my Millennial peers, nothing beats an in-person meeting. And although videoconferencing technology has made great strides in the past few years, anyone who has conducted an interview or had a meeting using it can likely attest that we’re nowhere close to the face-to-face experience… at least, not yet.

  2. Technology Adoption is Rapid
    No surprise here – Millennials have grown up with technologies that used to be the stuff of science fiction movies and are comfortable with rapidly adopting all the latest and greatest. For program success, travel managers must remain up to date on emerging trends and innovations, and evaluate if and how they could be successfully incorporated into the program. Soliciting regular feedback from travelers can highlight differences in opinions between Millennials, Baby Boomers, and Generation X, and can provide opportunities for suggestions for any new technologies.

    Millennials are also more likely to use online social networks to ask for advice or connect with friends while traveling. I had this happen on a vacation not too long ago. I posted a photo of the beautiful landscape on Instagram, and received a message from a stranger traveling in the same area asking about the condition of the hiking trails (some were closed at the time). Along the same line, Millennials are also more likely to value online reviews – eight in ten 18-30 year olds worldwide consider travel reviews to be “very important” or “somewhat important.”Finally, Millennials are more likely to use multiple devices to book a trip – perhaps reading reviews on an iPad before bed, researching prices in an app on the way to work, and making the final purchase on a laptop at the office. Continual education about the “why” behind the managed travel process will become increasingly important as the ways in which Millennial travelers are able to make bookings expands.

    Although it can seem difficult at times to keep up on all the new developments in this area, rapid adoption of technology is not going away. It seems every time I speak to anyone under the age of 18 there is a new app or social network that I didn’t know about. My generation may be known for our tech acumen and rapid acceptance of change, but we will need to continue to be so as the next generation (one that never knew a world without the Internet), enters the business world.

    That said, rapid adoption means most Millennials are comfortable with change, such as the introduction of a new online booking tool or virtual card… as long as it works well. The group is also more likely to broadcast displeasure; 18-30 year old business travelers are the likeliest to post a negative review online. Therefore, it is advisable to beta test any new technology with a sample population – preferably one that includes a mix of Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials.

  3. Value Trumps Cost
    Millennials are used to weighing many factors before making a decision. We have come of age in a world where there are 4,233 results in a search for “lightbulbs” on Amazon, and each bulb has 500 – 1,000 reviews. The same can be said for business travel selections.Which is better – a mid-tier hotel room at $200 or an upper upscale one discounted from $400 to $250? How close is each to the office? Do I need to rent a car? Or could I take public transportation? Uber/Lyft? Which property has the better reviews online? Do I get loyalty points from my favorite chain at one versus the other? Although Millennials are more likely to spend more while traveling for business than they would for leisure, as compared to Generation X and Baby Boomers, they are also more receptive to alternative options that could save companies money, such as an eclectic independent hotel versus a major chain.

  4. Bleisure is a Thing
    Millennials are much more comfortable mixing business and leisure travel. Why? It may be partly due to the demographics of the group. According to a Pew Research Center report, 26% of Millennials are married, compared to 36% of Generation X and 48% of Baby Boomers at the same age, perhaps allowing for more business trips that extend into a personal vacation. The upside? This trend could save companies money by traveling during off-peak times and increasing employee satisfaction (reducing turnover).

  5. Homogeneity is Out
    Millennials make up the most diverse generation in American history. They are more interested in traveling internationally, for both business and leisure, than the generations before them, and they are more interested in global cultural experiences. The high value placed on these experiences carries over into other aspects of life, including income (Millennials would rather make $40,000 at a job they find interesting than $100,000 at a job they found boring) and travel preferences (they value hotel amenities such as stylish interiors, free Wi-Fi, social space, and shared workspaces, among others). That being said, Millennials typically display higher brand loyalty than their counterparts, and are relatively more concerned with getting reward miles or points than non-Millennials, which could drive the group to choose their favorite brands.

Although many reports present Millennial business travel preferences and habits as negatives for corporate travel programs, with the proper marketing, branding, and communication strategies in place to engage this generation, these trends can be turned into valuable opportunities for forward-thinking companies.

As noted above, Millennials identify with brands more personally and emotionally than do older generations, viewing them as extensions of their own values and status. With the right approach in place, companies can create internal brand affinity among Millennial business travelers, leading to a successful travel program for the next five to ten years, and beyond.