You wouldn't think a world-class ski resort like Whistler would have to compete with off-the-beaten-path destinations like the Galapagos or Antarctica in the battle for coveted tourism dollars.
But with the "Millennial mindset" transforming not only the way people travel but the kinds of experiences they're looking for, it's just the new reality in the ever-shifting tourism landscape.
"There are still pieces of the world that are relatively unexplored, and the Millennial mindset is seeking unique experiences by going to those places, so it really amps up the competition in terms of how we present ourselves to people (who feel) the appeal of the frontier," said Danielle Kristmanson, creative director for Origin Design + Communications, who led a talk last month at the Whistler Chamber of Commerce entitled The Millennial Movement: Key Trends Shaking Up Travel and Tourism. "It's hard to be a frontier when you're the No. 1 ski resort in North America. We have to look for ways to counter that and we have to look for ways to present out experiences as unique to compete with the Galapagos and the Antarctic."
The growing appeal of these "frontier" destinations is just one of the ways the Millennial's core values have managed to seep into other demographic groups.
"From our research, I think what's really interesting about this group is they're very value based and they're shaping trends, and I think that's what's so fascinating with a whole cohort of people coming into their own with their own disposable income," said Maya Lange, VP of Global Marketing for Destination BC. "They embrace social equality, authenticity, innovation and environmental consciousness as general themes, and that translates into the kind of experiences they seek."
So what exactly is the Millennial mindset? Well, according to Krismanson, it's as wide-ranging as the group of 18- to 34-year-olds from which it takes its name.
"(The Millennial mindset) is a lot of things. Probably one of the key definers is that they prioritize travel and they view travel as a birthright, and are more likely to spend their disposal income on travel and unique experiences versus possessions," she explained. "They're also the healthiest, fittest, most environmentally conscious generation ever, which also lends itself to outdoor sport and outdoor travel."
While mainstream media outlets have tripped over themselves writing thinkpiece after thinkpiece trying to peg down what makes Millennials tick, Kristmanson said lumping together a wildly diverse group of 1.8 billion people is something of a fool's errand.
"Most of the prevailing thought leadership in consumer behaviour and consumer insights is that the traditional demographic approach to identifying consumer behaviour is going to be obsolete within the next few short years," she noted. "Everyone is saying now that we have bridged that gap between the generations — technology has largely done it — in such a way that (age differences don't matter as much)."
Instead, there has been a move to psychographics, which tends to focus on consumers' shared values, interests and lifestyles rather than traditional signifiers like age, income and education levels.
"I think there's a danger in grouping them all together and saying we need one strategy to speak to this wide group," said Tourism Whistler manager of research Meredith Kunza. "I think if you ask many people about Whistler and who we appeal to, I think we appeal to the young at heart at any age."
In the hunt for uncharted, authentic destinations, can North America's most famous ski resort still hold appeal within the enigmatic Millennial mindset? Kristmanson thinks so.
"We can't stop being big and we can't stop being No 1, but we can definitely identify our core values and live them and articulate them in a way that is really compelling," she said. "It puts the pressure on to stay ahead of the game, and that's something Whistler Blackcomb has always done and will continue to do. That's where Whistler Blackcomb's and Whistler's edge will come from, this desire to be progressive and this desire to be innovative."