Hotel companies are in a race to appeal to younger travelers and for many that means first targeting younger travel agents.
Brands are adding awards that appeal to younger agents, upgrading their technology, hosting events, and gearing educational programs to travel sellers who are new to the business.
Social media . . . again
Social media, naturally, is top of mind for hotel companies to reach young agents. Old marketing techniques are no longer viewed as effective.
“The use of social media is important, as these are recommendations from trusted colleagues or customers to validate a traveler’s real-time experience,” said Elisa Chacon, Hyatt’s director of global sales for the Americas.
“This generation can see through the marketing copy.”
Younger agents—much like younger travelers—are fascinated by the stories and experiences behind travel.
“We have found that younger agents respond to stories – and what makes something unique makes those individuals even more eager to share,” said Chacon.
“In our research, it was interesting to find that most of the younger generation sells leisure travel – where stories are necessary to the traveler.”
Education and beyond
It makes sense that younger agents are more likely to take advantage of educational and training and hotel companies are eager to offer it to them.
“When you are new to the business, it helps so much because you have less experience traveling,” said Samarah Meil, owner of Amarillo Travel Network in Amarillo, Tx. “Even now, with 12 years of experience, I find it a great help.”
Meil said her goal is to every year complete new training and education offered by resorts and hotels. She has also earned free nights, cash and trips.
“As a younger agent I appreciate the cash and free stays, as well as the opportunities for fam trips,” she said.
Inspiring the next generation
Hyatt has been involved since its inception with NEXT, a joint initiative from Protravel and Tzell Travel (both Travel Leaders Group companies), geared toward the recruitment and education of young professionals in the industry, said Chacon.
A recent Hyatt partnership with Valerie Wilson Travel called WISES (Walking In Someone Else’s Shoes) provided a week-long intensive training program designed to have hoteliers and travel advisors learn from each other.
The goal “was to allow both parties to better understand each other’s business, to educate and inspire the next generation of hoteliers and travel advisors,” said Chacon.
‘New’ doesn’t always equal ‘young’
Being new, however, doesn’t necessarily mean being young.
“The educational programs are really helpful if you’re new to the industry, and that frequently means younger agents,” said Joshua Kittle, a travel consultant with Travel Options Inc. in Louisville, Ky., and vice president of ASTA’s Young Professionals Society (YPS).
“If you’re 60 and changing careers, however, the same is true as well.”
Personal and professional
SPG Pro, Starwood’s program for travel agents, made a splash earlier this year by allowing agents to combine points made from bookings and their own personal stays.
Chris Austin, Starwood’s vice president of global leisure and luxury sales, said SPG Pro is highly appealing to younger agents because some of its “merchandise partners, like Amazon and iTunes, are especially relevant to the younger travel professional.”
SPG Moments offers unique experiences like premium concert tickets, private acoustic performances, sports player meet-and-greet, skills clinics, and red-carpet premiers, he added.
Mary Jo Salas, a travel consultant with Alamo Travel Group in San Antonio, said she is a fan of SPG Pro because of its technological edge.
“I like that you can work with it on iPhone and Passbook (an iPhone ‘wallet’ app). That makes it very convenient.”
Another company targeting young agents is FRHI, which operates Fairmont, Raffles and Swissôtel.
“Next year, we will be tweaking our Famous Agents program so that it has greater appeal to younger agents,” said Jeff Doane, FRHI’s vice president-sales and marketing, at a recent event hosted by the company.
According to a FRHI spokesperson, that will include changes to rewards options.
Face to face
Hotel companies are also making sure they meet face to face with younger agents by hosting and attending the right conferences.
Hyatt hosts and co-hosts multiple industry events that feature and support young industry leaders including Young Travel Professionals, Millennials in Travel, and others, according to Chacon.
“We co-sponsored the Young Leaders Conference at the Luxury Travel Exchange recently in Las Vegas – just one example of our commitment to this audience and our effort to support the next generation of advisors,” she said.
“Through groups of younger travel professionals, members may have the opportunity to go on fams targeted for their demographic.”
And Kittle said several hotels have hosted Blue Sky Symposiums held by YPS.
A good fit
It may not just be the big brands who go down this road.
“Recently AM Resorts [an all-inclusive operator] revamped its agent program with some launch parties that looked like fun,” said Salas.
“I didn’t attend but some of my Facebook friends who are also younger agents did,” she said. “I never thought of them as going after younger agents but the kind of effort they had made me re-think that.
“If a hotel brand is a fit for a majority of your clients – and on top of that they make their program easy to use, mobile-friendly and provide you with a lot of educational training – that’s a no-brainer for a young agent,” said Salas.