Winning the MENA millennial traveller: new data & how to use it

Vrinda Singh / July 2015

Travel in the Middle East is evolving into a more digital experience, driven by the preferences of millennials. Like their global peers, millennials in the Middle East are constantly connected, seek instant gratification, and value personalization. Uniquely though, they watch a lot more video and tend to be more brand loyal. Brands need a highly customized digital strategy to win this premium segment over.

Millennials as key influencers

 More than 50% of the population in the Middle East is between 18 and 34 years of age. These are the much sought-after millennials, the oldest of whom are already starting to reach the peak of their earning and spending years. Global brands are aligned in wanting to win over this key segment because of their soon-to-be-realized spend potential.

In spending their money, the internet has become millennials’ weapon of choice. 

They search online and on YouTube for ideas and inspiration. They use social networks to vet itineraries and information. They are hyper sharers and avid consumers of reviews, which makes them key influencers. Placed in the context of a more family-oriented, interdependent social structure in the Middle East, their sphere of influence could potentially extend much wider than that of their global counterparts.  

Travelers’ increased reliance on the internet

 Middle East travellers are dreaming online. For 40% of GCC travellers of all ages, the internet is the first stop when planning a trip. Travel queries from the MENA region have grown 33% in the last year.

Narrowing it down to millennials, 75% of millennial travellers in the UAE have researched their most recent flights online, and 34% of all millennial travellers purchased flights online. Even in cases where they bought a travel product offline, more than 30% reported having being influenced online.

Video is a key component of the travel-planning journey. With over 310 million video views each day in the region, YouTube is a phenomenon in the Middle East. Travel queries on YouTube had grown 22% year on year by December 2014. In KSA, 81% of leisure travellers report having watched an online video to decide on a destination.

Even once they’re on holiday, we see travellers increasingly use maps, language translation apps, and of course social networks. The majority of this kind of activity is on smartphones.

The Middle East is among the world’s most highly penetrated regions when it comes to mobile usage. For millennials, mobile usage is almost 100% and smartphone penetration is in the high nineties. The pervasiveness of mobile has an obvious impact on the travel journey.

Tips on a winning strategy 

Influencing millennials demands a well crafted and highly customized digital strategy.

A meaningful engagement with millennials necessitates a digital presence that extends far beyond a functional website. Very simply, to engage with millennials, travel brands need to convey the right message, in the right format, through the right medium, and at the right time.

1. The right message

 Millennials value authenticity. They like to differentiate themselves. The choice of brand is a way for them to stand out from the crowd, and they know this. So they will relentlessly seek information and ask questions to test what your brand stands for, what it conveys, and the value it delivers.

If you are able to convince them of your brand value, they will reward you with using their ‘influencer’ status to drive more people to your brand. GCC millennials demonstrate significantly more brand loyalty as compared to their global peers. In Saudi 33% of millennials report having considered only one brand when purchasing flights, and the number is higher for the UAE at 43%.

In this scenario, it is vital that you own your brand and control the messaging. 

2. The right format

We’ve already talked about the popularity of video as a content format, and this is especially important in the Middle East. However, less than 15% of videos currently watched by Middle East millennials are travel related. This is not for lack of demand (as the rapid increase in video queries shows us); it is more a signal of the untapped opportunity that lies in the Middle Eastern travel market today.

People primarily watch video for entertainment and inspiration. Brands therefore have the opportunity to appeal to millennial travellers by tying informational content to their interests. If you’re a hotel chain, you could stand out for your wonderful food (among the biggest categories on YouTube). As an airline, you could build positive brand perception by aligning your brand to a music genre or group that is popular among the audience you are targeting.

3. Through the right medium

More than 30% of millennials in KSA go online only on their smartphones. Of those under 25 in the UAE, 34% watch videos on their smartphones several times a day.

The proliferation of mobile devices in the Middle East makes it a unique market. Millennials in the GCC tend to be less forgiving when they encounter issues on mobile sites. If they encounter issues while accessing a site on their smartphone, 43% of millennials in Saudi Arabia look for another site that is mobile optimized.

And therein lies the key. Given the global nature of travel, audiences are by definition finicky, preferring service providers local to whatever market they’re in at the moment. Only the most loyal audiences will stay with you wherever they roam. To win the long game, you are possibly best served through a mobile optimized website. Millennials are well known for preferring online booking to speaking with staff. If they can’t book a table on their smartphone, they’ll just look elsewhere.

4. At the right time

MENA millennials exhibit greater spontaneity than their global peers, with more than 70% starting research a week or less before their travel booking. Smart brands can consequently leverage spontaneous behavior through last-minute booking offers.

To conclude, the best strategy to capture a millennial audience as a travel brand is to anticipate the questions they might ask and where, and answer those proactively. Be visible when they’re browsing destinations; be authentic when they ask for information; and be accessible everywhere so that they can spontaneously act on their choices (and book immediately).

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