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Carl Michel

With ‘millennials’ very much front of mind for all those involved in the youth travel business, this year’s seminar on how to keep these young consumers close proved an invaluable session for WYSTC delegates.

We caught up with Carl Michel, Executive Chairman of Generator Hostels who presented the session, to get his thoughts on how businesses should be aiming to build engagement with this key demographic and to offer his practical tips on how to engage millennial travellers.

What practical tips can you offer when it comes to engaging millennial travellers?

Firstly, I would encourage businesses to revisit their budget and make sure they have given their team enough time to deal with social media. This isn’t something that you can simply outsource or dip in and out of periodically – this approach just won’t work with the millennial generation. There needs to be someone available to deal with replies and, whilst millennials wouldn’t necessarily expect someone to be on hand 24/7, they certainly will expect someone to deal with replying promptly.

Those in their early 20s and 30s are turned off by super-direct calls to action or anything which comes across as an advert so it’s important to figure out what makes them tick. You need to be somewhat oblique in how you reference your product when communicating through social media channels – if you can communicate something that chimes with them or that they personally like or can identify with they’ll like your brand in a way that is much more meaningful than just a Facebook like.

With this in mind, don’t get too fixated on crude stats – one common misconception is that Facebook likes mean consumer engagement. It’s important to ensure there is a breadth and depth to the way that you are looking to engage with youth consumers.

Essentially, you’re looking for them to think “this brand reflects my values” on a subconscious level. Once you are able to deepen their engagement with you through multiple interactions these customers will become brand ambassadors, talking to their friends about you and getting to genuinely like your brand.

One of the key messages from our session was that you really have got to be on top of visual content and to allow good budgets for photography. It’s important to be able to create an environment which encourages your audience to engage with user-generated content.

Bloggers can be very useful as they can help you fast-track content, for example if you have just opened a new hostel, in a way that you wouldn’t be able to on your own.

Do intermediaries pose a threat and how can this be countered?

To a certain degree you need to think of them as frenemies. They can be beneficial in penetrating markets that you wouldn’t otherwise necessarily be strong in but, equally, their commissions do have an impact on margins.

The potential threat is that if you don’t keep a sensible balance and make sure you manage the relationships your rates might increase but your margin will actually go down.

To what extent should customer service teams be involved in social media?

This is essentially the twin-sword of social media – it’s the place people go to when they have a complaint yet also where they look for fun things to engage with.

From a customer services perspective, you need to be able to quickly gear up activity if something goes wrong. This means you need to be constantly monitoring your social media channels to ensure you can send red alerts to the correct team if there is a sudden spike in activity, though the extent of this will depend on the sector and the culture of the business.

If you take the example of a flight delay, you need to be able to quickly assemble the correct information to ensure you’re communicating with them and to diffuse the situation.

The average Facebook user in the United States has 1,000 friends so it’s clear that they can spread a negative message far in a short space of time, and this is something that needs to be considered with the youth market. For this generation everything is ‘here and now’ so they don’t have the same patience.

For growing multinational organisations with many different channels and languages, it’s obviously vital that they ensure social media is fully integrated into the customer service experience.

Can you really measure the return on investment of social media?

When you look at the effectiveness of social media it’s important to consider its cumulative effect. There are lots of different interventions that help a customer gradually move from being moderately disposed to your business to becoming fully engaged.

At some point in the future people will be booking directly from Facebook and other social media channels but this will take some time. For now, I believe traditional return on investment is too harsh a measure for engaging with your customers.

What innovation excites you most about the future?

It’s got to be wearable technology. It’s incredible to think that people will literally be able to work their way through semantic search to reaching a decision having seen what they could be experiencing through an innovation such as Google Glass.

What does the future hold for young travellers?

I think one thing that will be interesting to see over the coming years is what happens to the post millennials, that is to say those currently aged under 18, and how the way they interact with technology will be different.

Only time will tell whether they will turn against certain bits of technology and whether they will want a different type personal experience to counter the previous generation. That said, obviously there will be a continuum and it is hard to imagine that they will be totally different but it is certainly that we will all need to look to understand over the coming years.

Join WYSE Travel Confederation’s youth travel seminars at WTM

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If you’re planning to visit WTM London 2014, join Carl for our one or both of our seminar sessions to gain the latest insight and take part in the discussion around two current trends in the youth, student and educational travel marketing: The emergence of brands in the hostel sector and understanding the millennial traveller.

The emergence of brands in the hostel sector: opportunity or threat?

Date: Tuesday, 4 November
Time: 14:00 – 15:00
Location: South Gallery 15 – 16


  • Philip Houghton, Director, Starboard Hotels | Chair, STAY WYSE (Moderator)
  • Carl Michel, Executive Chairman, Generator Hostels
  • Stephen Lane, Head of Sales & Marketing, Hostelling International
  • Eric van Dijk, Managing Director, MEININGER Hotels


Understanding the millennial traveller

Date: Wednesday, 5 November
Time: 15:30 – 16:30
Location: South Gallery 13 – 14


  • David Chapman, Director General, WYSE Travel Confederation
  • Carl Michel, Executive Chairman, Generator Hostels
  • John Firth, UK and European Sales Manager,
  • Anthony Stone, Global Campaign Manager, STA Travel


Register for WTM London 2014

It’s free to attend WTM London 2014 if you register in advance! Simply visit to register today.