In 1964 Isaac Asimov predicted what the world would look like in 2014. The moving city sidewalks and moon colonies were (sadly) off-base, but other forecasts were spot on. “Communications will become sight-sound and you will see as well as hear the person you telephone. The screen can be used not only to see the people you call but also for studying documents and photographs and reading passages from books,” he predicted. The next onslaught of consumers — millennials — is also using it to book travel. That’s one of two trends that will soon cause an avalanche in the travel industry. But they probably don’t even notice the ground shifting beneath their feet, according to a report by PhoCusWright.
An article on Skift about the report calls out the issue: 40% of 18- to 34-year-old travelers booked a hotel on their mobile phones in the past year. Further, it’s not just mobile use that defines these “New Gen Renters,” but also their willingness to explore alternative lodging. The group bases decisions on accommodation less on physical attributes and “more on inspiration and aspirations, such as having a unique, casual and home-like experience,” say the report’s authors. As they point out, “The more travelers rent, the less often they book hotels.”
If you’re a digital marketer, my talking about the rise of things like Airbnb may seem like I’m telling you about yesterday’s weather. But in the larger travel industry, boom times and broader populations are at least temporarily masking this shift. The percentage of American leisure travelers booking private accommodations did rise, to 14% in 2013 from 8% in 2010, but as Skift notes, “The report found that 82% of U.S. leisure travelers who normally book hotels did not even mull private accommodations for their stays.” Plus, U.S. hotel industry performance “is at an all-time high,” so whatever movement their was barely registered on the scale.
To be fair, hotel chains have begun adding mobile check-in and digitally oriented lobbies to stay relevant, but that seems a bit like erecting a paper dam in the face of a tsunami. As the sharing economy and mobile-first consumer tendencies grow, vendors of more traditional travel accommodation will have to step up their game. Digital is not a separate experience for millennials — it’s part of the experience. They expect it, and they want “unique, spontaneous and personalized experiences” (Skift’s words). For the travel industry, change must be on the itinerary.