Gonchar: Agents Should Take Millennials ‘Very Seriously’
by Marilee Crocker

Adapting to changes in today’s travel consumers – including who they are, how they buy and what they need and want from travel advisors – is critical to the continued success of retail travel sellers.

That was a key message that American Express Travel executives drove home to travel advisors attending the 2013 National Summit of the U.S. Representative Travel Network in Nashville this week.

In particular, agents should keep a close eye on the millennial generation. “Take them very very seriously,” said vice president Tony Gonchar during the opening general session on Sunday.

Why millennials matter
The millennial generation, born between 1980 and 1999, embodies the “combination of changing purchase behaviors, shifting demographics and multiculturalism” that characterizes the emerging marketplace, he said.

“This group is the country's largest cohort – already larger than the baby boomer generation. Worldwide they account for 20% of all travel spend, and 40% of them are multicultural.”

Understanding the increasingly multicultural nature of the population is also critical, Gonchar said. He noted that by 2042 minorities will constitute the majority of the U.S. population.

“This is much more than just demographics. It’s about individual lifestyles that are greatly influenced by strong ties to cultural backgrounds.

“There is no one size fits all approach to selling travel to multicultural audiences,” Gonchar said.

Purchasing behavior
Gonchar also pointed to fundamental changes in how consumers purchase products and services. “We’ve moved from a linear purchase process – buyer and seller, usually face to face – to what we call a customer-decision journey.

“Your customers have become digital omnivores, consuming information from multiple devices 24 hours a day across hundreds, even thousands, of sources,” Gonchar said.

As a side note, Gonchar predicted that the demise of the traditional travel brochure. “You can pretty much say that video will kill the travel brochure over the next few years, as consumers march online for dynamic, instantly updated resources to plan their travel experience.”

Advice for agents
How should travel advisors respond to these changes? Gonchar shared four suggestions.

#1. “Know who you're selling to.”

“Whether it's a millennial who knows it all and is looking for instant validation of their own research or a multigenerational Hispanic family looking to celebrate a quinceañera on a cruise ship, it pays to know your customers deeply, so you can probe and understand their specific demographic and social needs,” he said.
 
#2. “Know what you’re selling better than your customers.”

“Travelers want to be the foreign locals when they arrive at a destination,” Gonchar said. “The tools to enable them to do this are here, allowing instant familiarization with a location, right down to a neighborhood.

“So how are you getting this information ahead of your customers, demonstrating that you know it better than they do?” he asked.

#3. “Be accountable.”

“Shoppers will continue to be concerned about trust and transparency, just as they are going to continue to seek simplified lives and great value from their travel advisor relationship,” he said.

This calls on agents to “be the travel advisor who provides consultancy services on deep travel experiences,” he said. “Give them something they can’t Google.”

#4. “Never be afraid to ask.”

Ask for the upsell and for referrals of new clients, Gonchar advised. “You might be amazed at what happens.”

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The cruise lines are cozying back up to agents, paying higher commissions to win back their favor after agents began turning toward land-based products when cruises became a tough sell. For selling bigger-ticket trips to today's repeat cruisers, traditional agents are the cruise lines' best friends.
  
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