(this article is adapted from the transcript of my talk at Travel Tech Summit, Sydney Australia, 12/2018)
Millennials are now the largest demographic on Earth. It’s said those born between 1980 - 2000 (like me) have got a short attention span, that we spend most of our time day dreaming on social media, and have no idea what it means to work hard. We also get a bad rap for sponging off our parents, but I can assure living with your parents after the age of 30 is very hard work!
On the subject of parents, when my mum and dad were growing up they had one house phone, two newspapers and 4 television stations - upon which from midnight to 6:00am the next morning there was nothing on! Us Millennials have to deal with Youtube, Netflix, Showtime, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, WeChat, Snapchat, Reddit, Flikr, Pintrest, Bumble, Tinder, Email, Linkedin, Google+, Messenger, Skype, Vibes and Whatsapp...Should I go on?!
There’s over 5 million apps available and as many websites as grains of sand. By age five, Millennials have had access to more information than our great-grandparents did in their entire lives. We’ve also had to process 500 times more information than our parents did at our same age.
Millennials were born digital natives. We had no choice but to become highly adept at absorbing and prioritising information, in order to cut through the white noise and find what we are looking for. So it’s not that Millennials, or those with our mindset, have a short attention span. We’ve actually adapted, our brains have evolved into a Super-Brain with an elite 8 second filter with infinite processing power!
A few more truths… We are passionately curious. We do like to be acknowledged and rewarded for our ‘good’ deeds. We work hard so we can play harder. We want to become the masters of our own destiny.
We love to travel. We live for it. We crave unique, personal experiences.
We want to come back from a holiday with new knowledge and new skills. We want to give back, to contribute to the people and places we visit.
We’re fascinated by new cultures and avoid the mass and mainstream at all cost. We define ourselves less by material things and instead by the rich experiences we keep. Millennials are more interested in visiting 30 countries by the age of 30, than saving for a house or our futures.
I maxed out my credit card to go on a girls surf tip in Sri Lanka last year. It was amazing and I’d do it again with no regret. I’ve starved myself during the week, so I can afford to go on a weekend road trip to a music festival. I missed my father’s 70th birthday because I was siting with a Himba Tribe in Namibia. I’ve had friends choose a motorbike trip in Mongolia over a best mates wedding.
So why is the Millennial generation so willing to go beyond its means to collect these experiences? There are a lot of contributing factors, but ultimately we’re on a journey of self-discovery. We are searching for our purpose! Purpose is developed and refined throughout our lives in response to our experiences. In my case, adventure plays an important roll in my ongoing transformation.
I didn’t really fit into the school system. My greatest achievement came when my Headmaster asked me to climb over a few fences, and the one I found most challenging is now wrapped around the junior school campus.
Both my parents are academics (Mathematics and Artificial Intelligence) and the apple could not have fall further from the tree. I felt an enormous pressure to follow in their footsteps. Upon finishing high school, I was accepted to study for an International Marketing degree. My parents were proud, but I’d never felt more lost. So, I used the money my mother gave me for textbooks and ran away to the jungles of Costa Rica. For 18 months I lived with sloths and toucans while learning to become a river guide.
It’s said the quickest way to acquire self confidence is to do exactly what you are afraid of - and in this situation I was both terrified and empowered at the same time. It was in Costa Rica, leaving the expectations of others behind, being immersed in nature and a new culture, all while being pushed out my mental and physical comfort zone that I started to discover myself and transcend my old limits.
My time as a river guide for Outward Bound gave me a unique opportunity to work with troubled youth. They would arrive with little direction, and I would watch how they too would transcend their limits and find purpose. I discovered the true power of adventure - to help us grow and develop as individuals. For me this experience was fundamentally life changing and nudged me back into my path of purpose, which ironically led me back to university.
For those lucky enough to work in travel, as I do, we are in the business of changing lives. I’m confident you all can remember a travel experience that fundamentally changed your trajectory, because travel by nature, when done well, is transformational.
But let’s talk about our relationship with smart phones. It is a topic that is much bigger than Millennials. ’Generation C’ (Generation Connected) is not defined by an age group, but rather a set behaviours centred on technology. Together we have become a powerful new force driving global communities and culture.
You’ve heard of the geologic periods: Jurassic, Triassic, etc. We are now in the era of the ‘Didgaddic’ - the digital addict!
There’s now more devices than people on earth and we check them at least 140 times a day. In our lifetime on average we will spend over 37,000 hours looking down at our phone. 12% of us use them in the shower and one in five during sex! In a recent American study, one third said they would give up sex over their phone (survival of the fittest I guess).
We’ve all experienced the dreaded ‘low battery’ pop up. Your heart races and your palms get sweaty. You start thinking ‘where is the nearest charger?’ Then you see one. You size up it’s owner. Could you out run them if you stole it? But you have to finish your Instagram post first, because it could be your last... Just as you add the final touch on your filter, BOOM the screen goes black. Frustration, anger, annoyance, denial, followed by an overwhelming sadness - Welcome to inner logic of a teenage girl!
If a friend was using a substance to this extreme you’d intervene and send them to rehab. Our hyper connected world is taking a toll. Our digital addiction is removing us from the present moment, and funnily enough each other. We care more about how we craft our life for the perception of others versus simply living in the moment. Comparison is the thief of joy, leading to depression anxiety, and a loss of purpose.
Which leads me to the humble selfie, invented by a young Australian on the 21st of September 2002. He was drunk, tripped over, smashed a beer bottle through his lip, took a closeup and captioned it ‘selfied’. The rest is history. Zoom forward, some 24 billion selfies were uploaded in 2015. Our need for acknowledgement is on the rise.
But the selfie is no harmless phenomena. It’s impacting the way we travel. Are we really going to discover the place we visit, or are we simply in a rush to be seen there?What’s the first thing we do at an iconic place? We pull out our phone, stick our face in front of it, click, #blessed #yolo #wishyouwerehere, then post. For those back home, it’s hard to tell whether it’s the Eiffel or Leaning Tower, because "your head" is filling the frame!
It’s actually astounding how far we will go. We disrespect signs, cultures and our own rationality. I’m sure, just for a second, it’s ok to step on that sacred ancient ground, where they asked me not to photograph ‘click’. How about do a handstand on the edge of Trolltunga, a cliff in Norway some 1,000m above the fjord. It’s not surprising, there are significantly more deaths by selfie than shark attack.
We’ve developed technology tunnel vision. We’re travelling the world collecting travel trophies, and posting them on social media to build our personal brand. We will go to any length to outdo each other and get our dopamine fix. See a red dot, get a LIKE, hear a DING. Like an addict, we’re oblivious to everyone and everything around us. We’re not seeing our effects. We are being SELFIsh.
The ‘selfie phenomena’ it can be argued is a big contributor to overtourism. In 1950 there were 25 million international travellers per year. Today there’s over 1.1 billion.That’s 3 million people crossing international borders every day (and a lot of inflight meals wrapped in plastic).
The 55,000 residents of Venice have to cope with an influx of 30 million tourists every year. Ancient sites like Angkor Wat in Cambodia and Machu Picchu in Peru are struggling with the sheer volume of tourists, increasing 20% year upon year. Islands in Thailand and the Philippines have been shut to because they are unable to handle tourism waste, and have literally turned into cesspools. The Maldives, only 2 metres above sea level, has a plastic rubbish dump 12 metres high. Sadly the list goes on...
Imagine what it will be like in the 2030’s, when today’s number of travellers doubles, and another billion people are living on the planet. Overtourism is threatening the people and places we love to visit and our planet’s wellbeing.
The travel industry must change its mentality and become more accountable and aware of its impact - cultural erosion, climate change, plastic waste, mass and irreversible habitat loss are just some of the serious side effects of overtourism, which stems from our businesses inspiring billions of people to explore the globe.
That’s not to say there aren’t those leading the way. Intrepid Travel is a great example through their recent transition to a ‘B Corporation’, and not purely for altruistic reasons. The Millennial traveller is seeking sustainable experiences and they are willing to pay more for them.
Our planet is at a critical turning point. My hero, 92 year old Sir David Attenborough recently shared the 'voice of the people’ in Poland at the UN Climate Summit, urging leaders to LEAD at this most critical time for our planet. Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, in the same week gave away the millions of dollars his company saved from Trump’s tax cut, back to the planet. With help from wise elders, such as these, I am convinced the Millennial generation can save the world from over tourism.
Millennials are now the biggest demographic on the planet. There’s 1.98 billion of us.We’re also now the highest earning demographic, having overtaken Baby Boomers in 2018. We travel more than any other generation in history. In the US alone Millennials spend $250B on travel per year. On numbers alone, our decisions will shape the future of travel for decades to come
So how is it possible to tap into a spirit of this generation to reinvent the way we travel? I’ve got a theory - it’s all about PLAY. From the moment we are conceived, the desire to PLAY is hardwired into our DNA. PLAY is fundamental in developing our social skills and how we learn to interact with one another. It allows us to dream and imagine, unleashing happiness.
As we get older this evolves into social games - sports - more structured and organised versions of PLAY. Games encourage us to problem solve, to explore alternatives. They teach us new skills in an engaging and entertaining way. They allow us to be spontaneous, removing fear of failure - because you’ve often got another life.
Games give you a goal and encourage tenacity and resilience, to keep trying! Games can move us through our comfort zones. They acknowledge and reward us for our achievements, rank us so we can see our place against others and gain perspective. A great example is Scouts and the Girl Guides - using patches and ranks to motivate, encourage teamwork, collaboration and learning.
Games have the great power to bring people together whether it be friends or an entire family. What did we do before the internet, we sat around with our families on a Friday night playing Monopoly, until the inevitable fight broke out!
With the help of technology, games now have the power to create global communities well beyond the lounge room - to allow us to escape the everyday.
Games hold our attention span. Games build loyalty and huge followings. Games often focus us on a single collective goal. Games give us another form of connection and purpose!
Right now the new hip and happening game is Fortnite it has over 150 million users and 1/3 of them play daily! Did you get into Angry Birds? It was so popular they made a feature film and a sequel to appear in 2019. If you added up the time spent playing this game, collectively the human race has played Angry Birds for over 13,000 years!
It is no surprise that the corporate world have adopted game concepts to keep staff motivated and engaged - through ranking and rewards. Not only to enhance performance but keep them from playing other games at work.
Then some savvy tech marketers cottoned onto the trend and ‘gamification’ was born - applying game elements to non gaming environments to make them more interesting. Games and play it turns out are are actually powerful tools for changing behaviour, building customer loyalty, increasing engagement and importantly learning about your customer!
Fitbit, DuoLingo, Waze, are good examples of brands using gamification. Strava is another having revolutionised the cycling and running world. They are currently attracting 1 million new users every 40 days. You don't "download" Strava, you "join" the Strava community.And "if it’s not on Strava, it didn’t happen".
Travel is the biggest games of all. From collecting frequent flyer miles and hotel points, to collecting passport stamps, or ticking off your Bucket list and there’s billions playing.
At Adventure Junky it’s not all fun and games. We have a grand purpose. We’re trying to positively influence the future of travel, by turning sustainable travel into a global game.
So how does it work? Imagine all of the Earth’s greatest adventures are all part of a global game. And that each one has been given a points score. For each one you complete, you earn points and move up the Leaderboard. You can play against your friends for bragging rights, or play against the entire world, for the title of ‘Earth’s Number 1 Adventure Junky’.
We’ve assembled over one thousand adventures in over 100 countries, there’s something for everyone. We’ve empowered our awesome community to become co-curators of the app, with 70% of all adventures added by our uses. To make the cut, adventures must be high on experience and low on impact.
Each adventure is given a points score and a series of patches, based on its characteristics. The more sustainability characteristics the higher the score. We’re taking the mystery out of sustainable travel by breaking it down into tasty, bite-sized chunks. We believe that travel should be an equal exchange - It must enhance the wellbeing of the traveller, just as much as the wellbeing of the people and places they visit.
By using these fun tools, and surprise and delight moments, we nudge our community towards completing their travel goals and inspire them to go out and collect healthy experiences they didn’t even know existed. All while they climb up our leaderboard in friendly rivalry. Who would not want to be earths #1 Adventure Junky?
So what do all these ideas have to do you with you and your business? Firstly you don’t have to create an app or completely gamify your brand. Just take the simple thought of PLAY to see if there’s an opportunity for you to have more fun and engage with your clients or colleagues differently.
Secondly join our mission to save the world from overtourism. If we all play our part right and run collaborative, ethical, responsible and innovative businesses, I believe that together, we can succeed in brightening the future of travel.
But don’t forget to make real change we will need the help of Millennials (and those with their mindset), because we can harness their sheer size and power and their most critical traits.
92% of Millennials believe business should be measured by more than profit. We want to leave the planet better then when we found it. We almost always choose sustainable over cheaper options, and have money to spend.
For those brands that meet our needs we become your ambassadors. Our friends trust what we have to say about your brand and we avidly share your experiences across our social media channels.
We become hyper loyal to brands based on their values. We want to be part of a community that contributes to something we believe in. We define ourselves by our experiences. We are searching for our purpose - help us find it!
Well my phone battery is in the red zone, so I better start wrapping things up. I’ll leave you with this parting thought from Sir Robert Swan - the first person to walk to both poles. “The greatest threat to our planet is that we think someone else is going to save it...”
Thank you for listening, I must go the mountains are calling...
Fuchsia Claire Sims, Co-Founder Adventure Junky