Industry Update
Opinion Article14 May 2019

How the Travel Industry Should Up Its Online Game To Win Over Millennials

By Josh Camire, Travel Industry Solutions Leader at UserTesting, a Human Insights Platform

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Millennials aren't only the first generation to come of age in the new millennium, they may be the most travel-crazy generation ever.

"In addition to being hyper-connected and digitally driven, Millennials are focused on personal experiences. And for many, those experiences happen away from home," says a Nielsen report. "In fact, they travel more than any other generation, including Baby Boomers, and they'll likely travel more as their incomes and financial standings grow."

As the summer travel season draws near, Millennials will be burning up the internet with their vacation planning. Millennials on average spent $6,800 on leisure travel in 2018, according to AARP's annual travel trends report. An Expedia study found that while 57 percent of Americans are currently saving money specifically for travel, the figure for Millennials is 65 percent.

Millennials have different expectations of travel providers than previous generations. After all, they have grown up in a time when digital pioneers like Amazon, Airbnb, Netflix and Uber have reshaped their everyday lives with killer convenience and exceptional, personalized service. Millennials count on the same from airlines, hotels, rental car firms and online travel agencies, rather than allowing brands to drive their experiences.

That's why it's essential for travel providers to heighten their focus on customers' experience when using their websites and apps. Tapping into these travelers' needs and desires, as a report by Expedia put it, "will give travel providers a head start in reaching younger generations set to become powerful consumers. Earning their attention early will pave the path to winning their loyalty."

But the industry overall has a ways to go in meeting the challenge. As travelers of any age can attest, the experience of booking a flight, hotel or car online can be clunky, frustrating and time consuming.

Time, money and peace of mind are the coinage we pump into the booking engines on our desktops and mobile devices. This is especially true of Millennials, who research has shown value travel over buying a home or paying off debt and want the same easy, seamless experience they've become accustomed to in their digital interactions with other brands.

Here are four things every travel provider should be doing to infuse more customer empathy into their products and delight demanding Millennial customers.

Get their mobile act together.

Forty-six percent of Millennials book travel through a smartphone or tablet, according to Internet Marketing Inc. And 86 percent of them are disappointed if that mobile experience is poor. The obvious conclusion: A strong, appealing mobile presence is crucial.

However, the booking functionality of a surprising number of providers - especially long-established airlines, hotels and rental car agencies - still seems rooted in the desktop environment, with mobile an inferior add-on. Today, it's important that the mobile platform be just as feature-rich and easy to use. Every provider should make this a top priority.

Reduce cumbersome screens and processes.

Booking travel simply shouldn't be as time consuming or complex as it often is. Searching for the right flight or hotel room can take too long. Choices aren't presented logically. Screens of irrelevant information appear seemingly out of nowhere. And if confusion causes you to make the wrong choice or forget to check some box, it can be hard to toggle back without losing the data you've already entered.

This is a problem for people any age - an oft-quoted Microsoft study said humans now generally lose concentration after eight seconds, one second less than a goldfish - and Millennials seem especially selective about the content they consume.

Thus, travel providers need to do better at seeing their sites and apps through their customers' eyes. Are information and choices easy to follow? What might be confusing or frustrating? What could cause a busy or impatient user to give up and go to another site?

Stop the upsell madness.

Airline sites in particular are guilty of bombarding travelers with screen after screen of upsell attempts - better seats, credit card offers, trip insurance, frequent flyer mileage boosters, etc.

Airlines should question how much these tactics are annoying customers, who merely want to book the cheapest flight at the most convenient time, as easily and quickly as possible. Studies have shown that most Millennials aren't interested in these extras; the one they do find appealing, in-flight Wi-Fi, is rarely offered until the plane is in the air.

Knowing what customers want, when they want it, is one of the biggest signs of customer empathy. Airlines could use more of it in the online booking process.

Embrace technology that can help.

Travel providers don't have to go it alone in sorting out these challenges. Technology exists to help companies test every aspect of a site or app and gain valuable insights into what users are experiencing. A recent New York Times story reported that Expedia is using facial recognition and eye-tracking technology in tests to gauge how subjects are interacting with the process of booking a flight or planning a vacation.

Alex Hopwood, a director of product management at Expedia, told the paper, "We get so close to a feature that we start making assumptions and think we know what the customer wants." Seeing how a real traveler uses the site and reacts to it "is almost like a slap in the face – in a good way."

If they're going to win over Millennials, every travel company needs to embrace the same principle: Without fervent attention to customer experience, you won't get far.

Josh Camire

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