It’s one of the most ironic consumer trends in the travel industry today. Millions of web-savvy Millennials are shunning their smartphone/internet inclinations, and opting to plan their vacations with traditional travel agents.
According to MMGY Global’s annual “Portrait of the American Traveler,” 24% of Millennials said they used a traditional agent for a vacation in the last 12 months, versus 12% of Baby Boomers and 10% of Generation Xers. Additionally, nearly one out of four (24%) Millennials say they will use a traditional travel agent in the next two years, versus 16% of Baby Boomers and 15% of Generation Xers.
But if you’re a travel advisor looking to attract and retain Millennials, you may want to read 27-year-old Julia Glum’s Aug. 19 article that chronicles her education. This summer, Money began publishing Glum’s weekly personal finance newsletter, “The Dollar Scholar.” In the fifth issue, she described how, while researching and fantasizing about a vacation, she began reading about travel agents.
“I’ve always assumed they’re only for rich people — that the services are way too expensive for my budget, so I shouldn’t even bother — but now I’m reconsidering,” Glum wrote in an article entitled “Travel Agents Can Score You Hotel Upgrades, Better Flights, and Free Beer — and They're Surprisingly Inexpensive.”
“Can someone like me, who’s not rich and relies largely on Google Flights to plan trips, use a travel agent?” she asked.
The column originated in a quintessential Millennial way – Glum was researching about travel agents on an Ask Reddit thread, she told Travel Market Report in a recent telephone interview. “I couldn’t believe that there are advisors out there that don’t charge fees. When I read that, I said, ‘Wait a second, you can get that for free?’ And I read that agents are not just for the super wealthy.”
Glum told Travel Market Report that her family had never used a travel agent when she was young, so she had very little exposure to advisors and what they do – especially how the profession has evolved. “I was very uninformed,” she said.
While researching the column, Glum spoke with industry members like Cheryl Bunker at Virtuoso, and Erika Richter at the American Society of Travel Advisors.
The first thing Glum learned, and a helpful tidbit for tenured advisors unfamiliar with Millennial clients, was why agents now refer to themselves as advisors. “That made sense to me. These people are becoming travel experts, in the locations they sell, the various methods of transpiration, all of the options. I can see how they are called advisors.”
Glum realized she would have to invest hours trying to attain the knowledge advisors have, which didn’t make sense to someone busy enough with her career. “As a young person, I can do all that research. But I don’t like to do it. I don’t want to do it,” she said.
How a Millennial learned what a travel advisor can do
Glum said she also found it interesting to learn how 21st-century agents operate. “I kind of assumed you would still find them in a small office, or a strip mall, walk in and ask them to book a flight for you. Since I can book airline tickets on Google flights, I might not think to use an agent. But the more I learned about what they do and how they do it, it was interesting to find out how they do a lot more.”
She also was surprised to learn about the perks that advisors can add to a vacation at no or little extra cost, like free room upgrades and complimentary breakfasts. In her column, Glum wrote about “out-of-the-box amenities, like a private coffee tasting in Costa Rica, a horse show in Argentina, or a pub visit in Ireland. (I don’t know about you, but beer would definitely add value to my trip.)”
Speaking to Travel Market Report from her Money Magazine desk, Glum said: “I didn’t understand that they could access these amenities through the buying power of these networks they join. I didn’t realize that an agent could open doors that I couldn’t,” she said.
While Glum has become a fan of travel advisors, feedback from her “Dollar Scholar” subscribers has been mixed. “I’ve had a couple of people reply to me that, ‘I have never used a travel advisor, and I am not going to start.’ While other people said they had used one, and it didn’t work for them,” Glum said.
But she also had readers say things like, “Yes. I was ready to go to Australia, or some other kind of big trip. And another person told me they usually use an advisor in interesting way. Build the itinerary, and have an advisor check their work,” Glum said. She believes Millennials are definitely more inclined to use an advisor when traveling internationally, or on a longer, more complicated trip.
Advisors can also win over Millennial clients simply by reviewing and offering guidance on the prices and suppliers that a Millennial produces on their own. “I want that kind of validation, that I am making the right choice. Some Millennials would be willing to pay an advisor for that,” she said.
Wrapping up her August column, Glum wrote: “Bottom line? Travel agents — ahem, advisors — aren’t just for the wealthy. If I’m planning a complicated trip that involves multiple people or a unique destination, I should seek one out. Not only will they take care of a lot of legwork and score me some sweet perks, but they’ll also be there in case something goes wrong.”