Sara Bunny reports on the next big thing for the tourism market — the millennial traveller.

When it comes to travel, young people are doing it in spades.

And we're not just talking about a daggy OE spent hopping between bug-infested backpacker hostels, ticking off the tourist hotspots through the fug of a hangover. These days, the Gen Y traveller seeks unique experiences off the beaten track, meaningful connections with people and places, a hotel upgrade here and there, and of course, great WiFi.

Generation Y, also known as millennials, are becoming more discerning - and as the fastest growing consumer group in the travel industry, the sector is starting to take notice.

The demographics can vary but the term "millennial" generally means those born
between the early 1980s and 2000, roughly the 16-35 age bracket.


This rising wave of young globetrotters accounts for about 20 per cent of all international travellers (about 200 million people), according to the United Nations World Travel Organisation. A recent US study by the Boston Consulting Group found millennials are likely to make up 50 per cent of the travel market by 2020.

This means big bucks. The demographic generates more than $180 billion in annual worldwide tourism revenue, making the millennials an influential group when it
comes to what's hot and what's not in the travel sector.

So where do they like to go? What do they do once they get there, and what sets millennial globetrotters apart from the rest?

A hipster takes a selfie at Times Square.
A hipster takes a selfie at Times Square.

They see themselves as travellers, not tourists

Whether it be taking up volunteer work, dropping off supplies at a local school or learning about the impact of environmental issues, millennials want to connect with a place, rather than just snap selfies. A quick internet search reveals countless opportunities for young travellers to give back, as ethical travel becomes an increasingly important aspect of an OE.

According to the World Youth Student and Education Travel Confederation (WYSE), the trend is set to grow even further as the next demographic group down the line, Gen Z, is thought to be even more concerned with social justice than the millennials.

It's all about experiences

For younger travellers, "cookie cutter" tourist packages are out and unique experiences are in. Despite many being in the budget-conscious category, millennials are more likely to splurge on an excursion like scuba diving with sharks, rather than a fancy souvenir.
The same goes with accommodation. Gen Ys are on the lookout for design-savvy hotels that differ from the beige-carpet standard. A range of hotels, such as the Ace Hotel chain, have cropped up with the younger traveller in mind, taking in lots of shared spaces (millennials like to mix and mingle), high-quality amenities and power points galore to plug in laptops and devices.

Monica Scott at The Duck And Waffle restaurant London.
Monica Scott at The Duck And Waffle restaurant London.

Technology is vital

Smartphones and social media are a large part of a millennial's daily life, so great WiFi (preferably free) is a must-have. Aside from using technology for connectivity, convenience or work, young travellers are also the most likely group to read online travel reviews. According to WYSE, 80 per cent of millennials are influenced by peer reviews, and 56 per cent will post online reviews after their trip.

Babies travel, too

Gone are the days when having a baby meant relegating your passport to the bottom drawer. Just ask travel writer Monica Scott, who runs the popular website The Travel Hack and jets around the globe with baby in tow.

Then there's Karen Edwards, aka "travelmadmum" to her 49,000 Instagram followers. She featured in an NZ Herald story earlier this year after she used her maternity leave to go on a round-the-world trip with her husband and 10-week-old daughter.

Many millennials don't see a baby as a reason to curb their wanderlust and hotels and tourism providers the world over are responding to the demands of young parents.

Karen Edwards with Baby Esme.
Karen Edwards with Baby Esme.

They come from all walks of life

Ever heard of a Mipster? How about a Gummy? Mipsters (Muslim hipsters) and Gummies (global, urban Muslims) are considered one of the largest untapped markets in the travel sector. According to Dubai newspaper Gulf News, Muslim tourism is rapidly growing. Major hotels such as the Ritz-Carlton in Berlin and the Grand Hotel in Vienna now offer halal food, and some Western airports have opened Muslim prayer rooms. And their PR runs counter to the mainly negative narrative about Muslims in mainstream media.

According to a recent report in the Guardian, Gummies represent an emergent category of consumer - "hyperdiverse, spiritual rather than religious-with-a-capital-R, educated, transnational".

And mipsters? They're the young, hip end of gummiedom, sometimes known as Generation M. Their hallmarks are identity, fashion, friendship and education.
Chinese millennials represent another rapidly growing group of jetsetters. Global consumer company GfK reports 50 per cent of Chinese travellers are aged 15-29.

They want it now

Unlike their parents, millennial travellers don't want to put plans on hold until they've saved a hefty holiday nest egg. With their tendency towards instant gratification, young travellers are more likely to head away with less in the bank and skimp on meals and accommodation once they arrive. And when it comes to bunking off on holiday, Gen Y seem to be collecting their fair share of passport stamps. In a recent survey, tour company TopDeck quizzed 31,000 globetrotting millennials about their holiday habits and found 88 per cent of respondents travel overseas one to three times a year.

The most popular travel spots vary according to sales and seasons, but South America, the Mediterranean, the US, Indonesia and South East Asia - especially Thailand, with its cheap eats and abundance of free WiFi - all rate highly on Gen Y jetsetters' wish lists.