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The Biggest Thing We Learned About Millennials in Meetings in 2015


Skift Take

Dramatic socio-economic and political events over the last 15 years have formed the priorities for Millennials more than the advent of digital technology.

— Greg Oates

Skift spoke with a wide range of millennials working in the meetings and conventions industry in 2015, including both meeting planners and young executives in hospitality and tourism who assist planners.

While millennials in general have typically been defined by their affinity for technology and faculty with social media, we attempted to identify the deeper roots underpinning their behaviors in the events sector.

The most predominant motivations driving Gen Y decision-making and demands in meetings, we discovered, are in large part the result of dramatic socio-economic and political events and an ultra competitive job market over the last 15 years.

What Millennials Want

In a partnership with the Meetings Mean Business alliance this year, we published the Skift Trends Report: What Millennials Want in Meetings. We interviewed dozens of Gen Y members who repeatedly told us that they rely on technology as a tool to help expand their networks above all else, but it doesn’t define them.

Our premise about what’s motivating millennials as young professionals was summed up in the report by the following:

Since 9/11, millennials have entered the workforce during a time of drastic economic and political upheaval that caused a major shift in their priorities, compared to Gen X and boomers. Millennials are more inclined to believe that a wide network of professional contacts and continuing education within their particular industry are more important than advanced degrees or longevity with any one company for professional growth opportunities.

For many millennials, there is no such thing as a corporate ladder, and a college education provides drastically fewer job options and much more debt than it did for previous generations.

Whereas, meetings and events offer one of the best possible platforms to help them expand their networks, customize their self-education, and personalize their career trajectory to increase their earning power and industry equity.

One of the best quotes this year relating to that came from Rosa Garriga Mora (29), a Barcelona-based meeting planner who’s becoming something of a spokesperson for the millennial generation.

“We have to keep learning and developing new skills all the time because we are living in an age where change is so fast, so forget CVs, we need to build our networks,” she told Skift. “More than anything, millennials want to get to know people and network at events because that’s one of the best ways we can develop our market value for clients and employers.”

That resonated with the travel and tourism industry.

“The emphasis on technology as a generational differentiator has in some ways oversimplified the role that millennials play in the workplace,” said Richard Scharf, president and CEO of Visit Denver, in the Denver Business Journal. “This [Skift] report offers a snapshot of research and insights that paint a much fuller picture.”

That overall premise differentiates millennial behavior and motivation. It emphasizes the need among Gen Y to speed up their learning, networking and professional development in ways that older generations weren’t forced to.

We heard that from many sources. For example, the American Program Bureau speaker association published: “How Millennials See Meetings Differently” in 2015. According to Dan Schawbel, a speaker and New York Times bestselling author, “Millennials find value in conferences and meetings… because they are seeking networking and career opportunities more than ever before. Millennials are searching for rewarding jobs, so they view conferences as a way to connect with great organizations face-to-face.”

Why Millennials Think Different

Here are some stats and expert insight into the context surrounding the millennial mindset.

According to 2014 Pew Research data about millennials in America, published in the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s EconSouth magazine, “In 2012, 63% of people ages 18–31 had jobs, down from 70% of their same-aged counterparts who had jobs in 2007.”

In the 2014 book “Knowing Y: Engage the Next Generation Now,” author Sarah Sladek writes, “Generation Y has come of age during a time of economic recession, digital innovation and political revolution. All too often we refer to [this generation] as being purely driven by technology, but that’s not the case at all.”

Instead, Sladek writes there are multiple major “currents of change” that are so trenchant that they’re referred to as economies, such as the Sharing, Freelance, Knowledge and Experience Economies.

“Not surprising, these economies have shaped the opinions, values and behaviors of Generation Y in radical ways.”

The 2015 Goldman Sachs Macroeconomics Insights report suggests a somewhat optimistic view that because of the challenges Millennials encountered during early adulthood, they are much more strategic in their professional goals than previous generations.

The report reads: “[Millennials] have struggled with the Great Recession as a much more visible part of their formative years. But we don’t see that tipping into negativity. Instead, we are seeing them laser-focus on where they want to be, what they want to do, and being strategic about how they’re going to do it.”

Working With Millennials

Based on an industry conference call that Skift participated in this month, there’s still a lot of work to do to elevate the conversation around Gen Y.

We spoke with a group of senior level executives in the destination marketing organization (DMO) sector, which included a C-level member of a major tourism bureau in California. During the call, we submitted the idea that many millennial-age DMO staff feel their bureaus are not doing a very good job in digital communications, especially to engage meeting planners and attendees.

And, they say, they’re often overlooked and not taken seriously in their efforts to help drive digital strategy.

The C-level executive agreed that that’s something he “hears everyday.” However, he said the situation is no different than previous generations because ambitious young executives have always bristled at their lack of impact within their organizations early on in their careers.

Except, it is different.

Let’s use the media industry as an analogy. For those of us Gen X’ers who were moving up the ranks 15 years ago, we tended to respect senior staff because we were all working in the same medium — print. Experience and longevity mattered.

Today in media, millennials have far more impact than a generation ago because they have just as much, or more, experience and understanding in digital communications than older staff. The technology didn’t exist in 2000, so millennials have just as much experience as anyone else in terms of digital platforms.

Which means, for millennials working in tourism, media, and any other fields in marketing and communications, they don’t necessarily believe that their seniors know more than they do when it comes to engaging customers on digital, mobile and social.

So today’s workforce is not in quite the same situation as every other generation, because we’re communicating now, or trying to, in unprecedented ways.

This is even more pronounced in the meetings market, where some older planners and those who engage planners are still learning about, or even debating, the value of social media and digital communications.

“There hasn’t always been a lot of thought around creative media for the meetings and conventions market,” said Jackie Spencer, 29, communications coordinator for meetings and conventions at Destination Cleveland, during a meeting with Skift this year.

“I work closely with our senior marketing manager and our senior interactive media manager to put together integrated digital content packages that expand the reach of our meetings-specific Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn channels,” she added. “I think it’s important for millennials to point out to their senior leadership that the intent behind these campaigns is not just to do something fun…. There [is] a strategy behind it and a lot of ROI.”

Expect to hear a lot more from Spencer and her millennial colleagues in 2016.


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