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Today’s 18-23 Year Old Traveler = Tomorrow’s Profitable Customer

Hudson Crossing’s most recent report focuses on the youngest group of US online adult leisure travelers, people between the ages of 18 and 23.

We estimate there are 20.3 million 18 to 23 year old travelers in the United States, accounting for slightly more than 10% of the market. A group who currently spends about $51 billion a year for their leisure travel, in just 10 years these travelers will account for both a significant number of your business and leisure customers and an equally significant amount of your revenue. We wrote this report to help travel organizations better understand how to appeal to 18-23s now, and gain insights into the strategies and tactics they will need to profitably appeal to this audience over the long-term.

Justin Bieber and his antics aside, what makes the 18-23 traveler unique? A few highlights from our report:

* They’ve grown up with smartphones. The first generation iPhone – the first true commercially successful, mass-market smartphone – was introduced in 2007, when this audience was between 12 and 17 years old. Neither mobile phones nor smartphones are “new” to them. Nearly three in four 18 to 23 year old travelers own a smartphone, which is 18% above the average for all travelers. If you don’t have a mobile strategy, you’re invisible to this audience. If you do have a mobile strategy, re-examine it, along with your smartphone UI and UX. 18-23s will judge your mobile experience based on how it compares with their favorite retailers, media/entertainment companies, games, and social networks.

* They’re highly individualistic. Accustomed to buying individual songs on iTunes, brewing single cups of coffee in their Keurig machines, and even customizing their fast food orders, 18-23’s are self-directed and accustomed to controlling their experiences. 18-23’s expect to be able to take everything you have available and tailor it to be meaningful to them. Authenticity is essential. 18-23’s expect genuine, “organic” experiences in the places they visit. And while they’re loyal to their friends, don’t expect 18-23s to be loyal to your brand.  This audience will only explore brand relationships if they believe that doing so will provide them with relevant benefits.

* They’re not enamored with the Web for travel planning. 18-23’s use whatever offline and online channels they consider to be helpful and convenient to plan and book their trips – and this includes several offline channels. 18-23’s are so nonplussed by digital travel that they exhibit almost “retro” travel planning and booking behaviors. For example, 21% of 18-23 travelers don’t buy any of their travel online -- comparable to other, older travelers. This should concern travel eCommerce and distribution teams, given 18-23s' tech focus and their comfort engaging in other online commercial activities, such as online and mobile shopping and banking. Another concern: 18-23’s aren’t entirely convinced digital travel is all that great. 18-23’s want, and expect, digital travel planning and booking to be as intuitive as online retail.

We'll leave it to you to decide whether your business wants Mr. Bieber as a customer. The "Beebs" aside, 18-23 travelers represent an audience who warrant your consideration, and whose business cannot be expected or taken for granted. 18-23s are an audience with literally a lifetime of travel ahead of them. They have unique perspectives, needs, and expectations when it comes to planning and buying their trips.

The complete report, with its dozens of data points, 12 charts, and Hudson Crossing’s distinctive analysis, will help your business ensure its marketing, distribution, and product strategies for this audience are, and remain, relevant. You can buy the report here.

As always, thank you for your time and for reading our posts.