Business travelers are a notoriously mercurial and diverse demographic, and as we’ve explored in previous posts, they can be tricky to target due to their vastly divergent booking protocols and preferences. Adding to these challenges is the fact that millennials are poised to claim their place as the predominant corporate travelers, a change that will radically disrupt the industry.
As a recent study by Skift reveals, in 2016, millennial business travelers took 7.4 annual business trips on average, surpassing Gen Xers’ 6.4 and baby boomers’ 6.3 trips. As older generations retire and millennials continue to rise in the ranks, this gap is only expected to widen further. This shift will have significant ramifications for all travel companies dealing in the corporate sector. Millennials’ buying habits differ greatly from those of their predecessors, and accordingly, travel companies will need to adopt new strategies to stay competitive.
More and more millennial business travelers are interested in taking “bleisure” trips, or sojourns that blur the line between “business” and “leisure.” Historically, business and leisure travel have been regarded as distinct markets. But younger travelers have erased this boundary, opting to add a couple of days of fun to cap off a work trip. If a somewhat clumsy nomenclature, “bleisure” will nevertheless redefine travel companies’ approaches to targeting business travelers. Savvy marketers might take advantage of the bleisure trend by offering discounts for guests who tack on a few additional nights, or alerting guests to substantial breaks in airline prices if they arrange a longer visit.
Sam Shank, CEO of HotelTonight, also notes that younger corporate clients are attracted to “experiential business travel,” seeking out authentic experiences and choosing to stay in boutique and independent hotels. This shift in corporate travel is in keeping with the broader popularity of experiential travel. Along the same lines, since more and more travelers (both young and old) now book their own trips via apps and travel sites, travel companies will need to learn to cater to these clients’ individual needs. In a recent piece, The New York Times reported on the uptick in these “rogue” business travelers, determining that this “direct booking trend is here to stay.” Gone are the days when the corporate travel agent would book the standard hotel room without any input from the traveler themselves. Travel companies should thus find diverse ways of marketing to an ever-widening range of guests through various platforms.
Skift’s study also found that not only are millennial business travelers drawn to unique travel experiences, they’re bored by traditional loyalty programs. Most young corporate travelers would rather book a quirky boutique hotel off the beaten path than stay in a standard chain that offers points but little else of interest. Some established hotel chains have found success by revamping their loyalty programs to offer inventive, often immediately gratifying, rewards. Kimpton’s Karma Rewards thanks members with instantly redeemable credits for their bars and spas, while the MGM group’s MLife program provides generous comps towards their up-scale restaurants. Ultimately, travel companies seeking to build a loyal base of corporate customers will need to start thinking outside of the standard model of accumulative point balances.
When all is said and done, one thing that hasn’t changed is the corporate traveler’s desire for convenience. Business travelers are usually short on time (not to mention, sleep) and any company that simplifies and streamlines their travel is bound to win their approval. In addition to standard offerings like fast WiFi and plentiful toiletries, hotels catering to business travelers should provide services and amenities that save time and reduce stress. Think perks like 24/7 dry cleaning, tech repair, late checkouts, or workout gear delivered straight to the room. Young travelers who prioritize maintaining a work-life balance even whilst on the road will especially appreciate these kinds of extras.
Business travel is an unquestionably large slice of the global travel pie, expected to reach $1.6 trillion by the year 2020. All the more reason for travel companies to pay attention to the millennial generation that now occupies the largest segment of this market.