Last week I attended the inaugural Future Leaders in Travel Retreat in Aspen, Colorado. I applied and was accepted into the Retreat along with 40 other millennial advisors and 25 suppliers from across the country between the ages of 22 and 37.

If you aren’t a millennial, you may be thinking to yourself,

“There 37 year old millennials?!” 

Yes, yes there are, including myself who is pushing the upper limits of the generation.

During the Retreat we commiserated at how we despise the term “millennial” because it automatically comes with negative connotations like entitled, self-centered, impatient, and easily distracted. However, those characteristics can describe some people in any generation…especially the part about short attention spans, amirite?

I was thrilled to hear that TravelAge West realized the potential of bringing this group together and took a chance on creating a unique retreat to foster relationships and generate ideas to shape the future of the travel industry. This type of forum was needed because the average age of travel advisors is 50. Since it’s a career people are deeply passionate about, people don’t tend to retire at 65 like in other industries. There is a significant number of advisors working well into their 70s and 80s and some that start their career in travel after retiring from another job.

I remember walking into my first travel industry conference in 2016, which was the American Society for Travel Advisors (ASTA) Global Convention in Reno. It felt like I was one of about five people people under the age of 60. Looking around the room, I started to second guess my career transition from management consulting to being a travel advisor! That room was in stark contrast to the consulting world where most of my coworkers, and many of my clients, were younger than me by the time I was in my mid-thirties.

However, I quickly found a wonderful group of people my age and connected with ASTA’s Young Professionals Society. I was so excited to meet other advisors that were also running their own businesses and creating customized trips for clients like I was doing, not just booking cruises and all-inclusive resorts. I felt a sense of belonging, and relief, that I wasn’t alone in doing things differently.

I felt a renewed and deeper sense of belonging by attending the Future Leaders in Travel Retreat last week because it was ONLY for like-minded individuals around my age that are motivated to make changes in their businesses and the industry. It provided a safe, serene, and inspiring space as we were surrounded by the gorgeous mountains of Aspen and supportive peers.

The biggest thing I miss from my consulting career is the camaraderie that comes from working in a team of smart and talented people. It was a big shift to working as a solopreneur. I’ve really been craving that interaction and brainstorming, which this Retreat fulfilled.

Aside from personal reasons for why I loved the Retreat, it was beneficial to bring this group together to discuss how the travel industry is working (or not working) well with millennials. During the Retreat there was a storytelling competition, similar to format of The Moth. Interestingly, half of the competitors shared stories of their experiences being a part of travel companies that are launching offerings geared towards millennials.

The theme with these product launch stories is that the brainstorming discussions generally took place in a board room-like environment filled with older (and, reading between the lines, probably mostly white) males. As you can imagine based on the group demographics, there were a lot of incorrect, and sometimes hilarious, assumptions about what millennials want in a hotel or cruise.

My absolute favorite moment from the competition that had the audience roaring in laughter is this paraphrased description of millennials from an older gentleman in one of these analysis sessions:

Millennials don’t. sit. down. They don’t want to spend two hours watching a show! They don’t want to have a reservation for dinner at a specific time! They want to be constantly moving around and doing what they want, when they want. They are like baby goats! 

I’m positive these stories are not unique to the travel industry. Companies across all industries are vying for the millennial market without totally understanding who their customer is and what they actually want vs what they think they want. The ones who are doing it right consult a wide variety of millennials instead of making assumptions.

Unfortunately, a lot of business decision makers don’t realize millennials aren’t all in our twenties anymore, more than half of us have kids, and we aren’t all just looking for the best deal.

About 40% of my clients are millennials, and based on my experience, they are looking for personalization, unique and immersive cultural experiences, a high level of service, and good value for their money, which does NOT equal the best price.

Where I’ve observed travel companies going wrong when designing offerings targeting millennials is that they often try to hit lower price points by squeezing room sizes by removing basic things like closets or cutting key services. Other companies go the route of charging for everything a la carte to attract customers looking for a deal, but when you add in all the things you likely want, it ends up being comparable or more expensive than a competitor’s product that is superior in quality. A good travel advisor will see right through these strategies 😉

I’m a millennial and I happen to like bigger rooms, I am patient enough to sit and watch a show for 2 hours, and I get frustrated by having to pay individually for everything. I’m all for having options, but too many options is overwhelming and making more decisions while on vacation is the last thing most people want to do, regardless of their generation.

I recognize my clients and myself may not be the target market for all of these “millennial” offerings, but my point is all millennials are not created equal. The more we make our varying opinions known, the more companies will hopefully use that information to tailor products and services to fit our real needs instead of their perceived notions of what millennials want.

Comment below and let me know your thoughts…

What products or services geared towards millennials do you love? What ones really missed the mark? Why?