What Millennial travellers want: The shift from booze-fuelled tours to culture and adventure

When they're not frittering away their housing deposits on smashed brunch items, or making unreasonable demands of their employers, most Millennials are travelling. Young people have the means and the desire to travel like never before, and they're heading off in huge numbers, popping up in hostels and hotels and on tours around the world.

However, that doesn't mean they're exactly popular.

There's a fair bit of suspicion around these iPhone-toting Wi-Fi addicts. There's an assumption among older travellers (of which I guess I'm one, given I miss out on being a Millennial by about six weeks) that Millennials are a bunch of lazy narcissists, that they're more interested in a perfect selfie than a memorable experience, more obsessed with Instagram likes than with their own genuine desires.

Millennials won't rough it, the assumption goes. They want hostels to be clean and modern and run well. They want tour guides who are knowledgeable and professional. They lack a true spirit of adventure, a genuine desire to get out there and see the world as it is.

I've seen sentiments like these from older travellers all over social media. I've seen it in mainstream media too. Even a recent study by the travel brand Thomas Cook coined the somewhat sneering term "ego travel", to describe people who plan their holidays around the potential for great social media posts.

But is all of this actually true of Millennial travellers? My feeling is that it isn't.

Yes, Millennials have the annoying habit – which every generation has – of assuming they're the first to do certain things. They also have the slightly newer and fairly naff idea of being "citizens of the world". However, as a group of travellers, they're not the mindless selfie addicts some would like to believe they are. In fact, they're probably the most socially and environmentally conscious generation to ever hit the road.

"I think Millennials are interested in experiences, first and foremost," says James Thornton, the managing director of Intrepid Travel, a company that has just launched a new series of tours aimed at 18- to 29-year-olds. "Even 20 years ago, when I was first starting to travel, the adventure was just going overseas, just getting on a plane and going.

"Now, that's not enough for young people. They want to have authentic, immersive experiences. Younger travellers want to do things that other people haven't done, but they also want to make sure the things they're doing aren't detrimental to the local people or the natural environment in which they're doing them."


Yes, Millennial travellers are inspired by social media. They also want to share their own experiences for their friends to see, which some might find annoying. (Still, is that any different to slide nights? At least now you have the choice to just scroll on.)

But they are adventurous. Intrepid is running its 18-29-year-old tours in places like Turkey and Russia. Contiki, the classic European bus trip company, has announced the launch of small-group tours through southern and eastern Africa in 2019. Topdeck has multiple itineraries in the Middle East and Asia.

And, most importantly, Millennial travellers are also environmentally and socially aware – something that's reflected in the way tours for younger travellers are pitched these days, not just by Intrepid, Contiki and Topdeck, but by all companies attempting to attract the Millennial crowd.

These are travellers who have grown up with practices like recycling as the norm. They're keenly aware of social justice issues. When they go overseas they want to minimise the harm they do to the environment. They want to meet people who actually live in the destinations they're visiting. They want to eat good, legit local food. They want to experience the local culture. And, maybe most shockingly of all, they don't even want to drink that much.

"People want to have fun, there's no doubt about that," says James Thornton. "But that booze-fuelled culture that was there when I was growing up isn't quite as prevalent today. That's not to say it doesn't exist. It's just that there's a new generation of more socially conscious travellers who want to make sure they have authentic experiences, who want to benefit local communities when they travel, they want to travel in smaller groups and ensure their form of travel is sustainable."

That often means travelling on local public transport instead of the traditional large coaches or cruise ships. It means having a local guide instead of some Australian who thinks they understand the place. It means spending money on great – and, admittedly, highly Instagrammable and boast-worthy – restaurant meals instead of spanking all of their savings on Jaeger shots at the hostel bar.

Who's to say there's anything wrong with that?

Are you a Millennial traveller? Do environmental and social issues play into your travel plans? Or is "ego travel" a real thing?

Email: b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Instagram: Instagram.com/bengroundwater

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