Vail studies how millennials vacation |

Vail studies how millennials vacation

Melanie Wong
DJ Naka G plays at the 2014 Burton U.S. Open to a packed out crowd in Solaris Plaza. The U.S. Open is Vail's signature event targeting Millennials, whom researchers say are willing to travel and pay for unique experiences versus coveted goods.
Jeff Patterson Photography | |

VAIL — For Denver resident Natalia Ptas, 34, a typical weekend getaway might look like this: driving up to the mountains to meet other friends, renting a VRBO or Airbnb house together, maybe doing a mountain bike race or a big ride, then heading out to find a local restaurant they’ve heard good things about.

“When I travel, the most important thing to me is the experience. I look for adventure,” she said.

According to market researchers, Ptas’ typical vacation isn’t too different from what others in her generation are seeking. For people ages 18 to 34, gone are the days of timeshares or second homes that they return to throughout the year (although there is still some of that). Instead, researchers say that millennials aren’t partial to ownership, preferring instead to rent a condo or home with friends or family. They want a unique, high quality experience, whether that’s a bike race or music festival, and they want to be connected, both through social media and to the place they’re visiting.

Those are millennial travel trends in a nutshell, but resort communities like Vail are starting to pay closer attention to the details of what that demographic wants and needs as they come of age to travel and spend money.

“They’re driven by high-quality experiences,” said Danae Kingsley of advertising agency Goodness Manufacturing. “The trends are all very much connected, but what this means for Vail is a lot of opportunity to provide those experiences.”

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Tuning in to Millennials

The fact that millennials should be the next crop of Vail vacationers is no secret — the town has been actively researching and taking steps to attract this younger generation. Still, the town and the resort have to keep up with guests’ changing tastes and also compete with other resorts.

“It’s about a shift in awareness and helping Vail create these experiences,” said Kingsley. “For example, take the idea of having fun activities later into the night — people are eating later at night. They grew up with the idea of always snacking and having five small meals instead of a few big ones. Not everyone is sitting down to dinner at 7. How is Vail going to accommodate that?”

Kelli McDonald, Vail’s economic development manager, said the town is interested in learning all about what makes millennials tick.

“Everybody’s really digging into it. In fact, the town has contracted a full presentation on millennials (this summer). The intent is to find out how they want to marketed to, how they travel and where they stay. Then there’s the whole other side, which is having millennials in the workforce. We’re interested in that, too,” she said.

A number of events already target that demographic, including Snow Daze and Spring Back concerts, the GoPro Games and the Burton U.S. Open, which had a crowd that was made up of 45 percent millennials this winter.

Part of the challenge is marketing effectively to that group, said Ryan Jenkins, a millennial who helps organizations lead, communicate and brand for his generation.

“They’re massively persuaded by their peers,” he said. “They have large social networks and will crowd source a lot of their decision making to places like Facebook. Brands need to have their ear to the ground to keep in with the conversations going on, or leverage the millennials who are already talking about it.”

The VRBO phenomenon

The appeal of renting someone else’s house or condo has created an entirely new segment in the resort industry, and researchers say there are several different reasons that places you might find on VRBO and Airbnb appeal to the younger crowd.

First, it’s often more cost effective for a generation that has seen financial instability and is looking to maximize hard-earned dollars. Also, the setup allows for bigger groups or families to travel together.

According to Goodness research, 90 percent of millennials say they try to do a multi-generational family trip at least once a year.

Ptas said she does stay in hotels sometimes on trips, but renting a place feels more authentic.

“I feel like you’re like a local. You get a local feel, but staying in hotel you feel like a tourist,” she said.

Kingsley calls that feeling cultural immersion.

“Many millennials are global citizens and have the desire to live like a local. They’re looking to live in other people’s places, so they get an idea of what it’s like to live there. Before it was all about the traditional route of hotels and the amenities that come with it,” she said.

The foodie vacationer

Another growing trend involves food — learning about food, eating good food, attending food events and, of course, posting about food on social media. Some people even travel expressly to experience food and drink.

Vail officials have noticed that trend in its food festivals, which with pricey tickets, historically drew an older, more affluent demographic. However, at this year’s Taste of Vail in late April, 40 percent of participants were identified themselves as millennials.

“It’s all about the social currency. They’re not just looking for ramen, but the ramen burger that they can post on their Instagram account,” said Kingsley.

Of course, food experiences like these are tied in with the innate social connectivity that seems to define the millennial generation.

“I’m always looking for good food when I travel. My wife and I will pick a location with some different types of food offerings,” said Jenkins. “Of course, everything’s on my mobile device. I’m bouncing ideas off my social networks, and I’m looking at reviews. We have all that info at our fingertips.”

Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.

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