A lot of things have been said about the millennial generation, which consists of those individuals born between the years 1980 and 2000. Many have claimed that this is the greatest generation of young adults ever to have lived. Others state that this is a selfish and entitled generation, digitally inclined but emotionally handicapped. Perhaps the greatest hallmark of millennials is their diversity and their adaptability. They are an independent and tech savvy people, but they also are straying from the traditions of their predecessors. As this demographic matures and becomes the next generation of travelers, those of us in the dude ranch industry or larger travel industry would do well to understand how their non-traditional tastes might affect our marketing efforts and product offerings. So how then, can we determine what they will find most satisfactory in a vacation? Herein lies the rub.

As a millennial myself (and daughter to a dude rancher), I have grappled with this question. How can a wayward, stubborn, yet brilliant and educated generation of people be appealed to? Well, that is a pretty big can of worms, and all things considered, I decided not to open that one. So I opted for the smaller can; what kind of vacation would a millennial want to take? Being a bit of an old soul, I have never identified completely with other young adults from my generation, so I didn’t entirely trust my own opinions. To help me with this post, I created a survey and shared it on social media. I encouraged anyone who is a millennial to give it a go and take the survey. I was surprised and pleased with the positive responses my survey received. Here is what I found out:

  1. Most millennials prefer a slow paced sunny, beach-side vacation venue. I suppose this should not come as a terrible surprise, considering that one of the millennial claims to fame is their astounding capacity for laziness….. My study shows that 58.54 % prefer this type of vacation, and 31.71% prefer a vacation that involves active outdoor recreation, is located rurally, and involves mountains. I am not aware of any beach-side dude ranches, but I guess that is the type of location that might be expected to attract a swarm of millennial dude ranchers.
  2. The second question I asked was what time of year millennials prefer to go on vacation. The answers surprised me. In my mind I always imagined summer as the prime vacation time, but according to my survey, 48% of millennials prefer to vacation in the fall; a cozier time of year that has less of a tourist buzz. Only 31% of them claimed to prefer summer vacationing, and 17% preferred spring time.
  3. It is common for dude ranches/resorts to plan detailed schedules for their guests. This serves many purposes, including maximizing the amount of activities guests can participate in and increasing time use efficiency for employees and ranch facilities/ equipment. However, a whopping 87% of millennials say that they prefer a vacation that has only partial scheduling, and lots of play time. Another 9% say that they prefer 100% scheduling, and the last 4% said they prefer no scheduling. This suggests that millennials prefer to be spontaneous, and like to experience leisure at the expense of more structured vacations with obligitory time commitments.
  4. In question 4 of my survey, I asked millennials what style of vacation they prefer. It turns out the solo generation is not so keen about solo vacations. Both romantic vacations and family vacations received a 27% vote. However, 46% of millennials say that ultimately they feel impartial; open to vacation time in any form.
  5. In question 5, I asked what level of adventure and risk taking millennials look for in their vacation. 80% said that they like to experience a measured degree of adventure and that they look forward to trying new things. The other 20% state that they consider themselves to be total adrenaline junkies, and to ‘just keep the thrills coming all day long.’ Obviously we have a generation that excels in risk taking. Bungee jumping, anyone? I might be interesting to see if this risk taking propensity also translates into an entrepreneurial trend in their business endeavors.
  6. The vast majority of dude ranches offer some form of guided services for their activities. This may come in the form of guided horse rides, rafting trips, fishing trips, hikes, and the list goes on. I posed this question in my survey, to gage what level of guiding millennials might enjoy on vacation. 72% say that they enjoy minimal guiding; show me where to go, tell me how to do what I want, then leave me be. 25% say that they want absolutely no guiding, and prefer to go it alone. Sadly for the dude rancher, only 2% of millennials feel that guides are important and mandatory for instruction and hosting during a dude ranch vacation. This perspective is manifest routinely at Marble Mountain Ranch by visiting guests who have no clue how risky the activity is, and who push to have the boundaries removed. If risk management of inherently dangerous activities such as horse riding is impacted in the least by this trend, the industry is in trouble. Somehow, the dude rancher must convince the millennial traveler that their safety is more important than gratifying their need for a thrill. I propose that this process must start in the very early stages of marketing outreach.
  7. It is rare to go to a dude ranch and not get a glimpse of other vacationers. For me, I often enjoy mingling with other people when I vacation. It turns out I might be the only one that feels this way! 46% of millennials say that they prefer to avoid other vacationers and be alone with their traveling companions, i.e, spouse, partner, or family. And 53% say that they are impartial; adverse to crowds, but open to making friends.
  8. Often, what gives a dude ranch its unique charm is due very much in part to location, location, and location! The remote location of dude ranches can be a struggle for those vacationers who have limited vacation time. We often say that it’s just as much about the journey as it is about the destination. However, not everyone wants to spend half of their vacation time traveling on a plane, a train, a bus, or a car. 43% of millennials say that they prefer minimal travel to their vacation destination, with no more than one day of driving and or flying to arrive. However, 48% say that for them, the journey is an important and rewarding chapter in their vacation. Lastly, only 7% say that they want as little travel time as possible before reaching their destination; distance is definitely a deal breaker.
  9. The ninth question asked millennials whether they preferred to be around individuals their own age while vacationing. 41% answered that the relative ages of fellow vacationers was insignificant to them. They feel that they can get along decently with people of all ages. 48% say that they enjoy it when opportunities to mingle with other millennials are facilitated, but that it is not mandatory. And the last 10% say that mixing and mingling with other millennials is absolutely mandatory; it is the why and the how of their vacation.
  10. The final question on my survey asked millennials if access to night life was mandatory for their vacation. Since many dude ranches are remotely located, there is usually no guarantee there are local opportunities for social bars, dance clubs, or even movie theaters and shopping. Surprisingly, 39% of millennials say that they go on vacation for the explicit purpose of getting away from the night life scene. Another 47% say that they feel impartial to the presence of night life; they don’t mind if it is there and they can avoid it if they need to. The last 10% of millennials say that yes, night life is vital to them. If the vacation doesn’t have it, then they don’t want that kind of vacation.

As a millennial, I did find many of these results to be surprising. Granted, I had a total of 41 people participate in this survey and I have not done any statistical analysis, but these results are interesting and might offer some anecdotal insight into the prospects of millennial dude ranching. It should be noted that dude ranching is typically considered a family style vacation, and millennials are now marrying at an older age than any of their predecessors. So the majority of millennials who would attend a dude ranch are likely to be on a romantic holiday, or an extended family trip. Also, a significant portion of millennials are drowning in school debt, which obviously limits vacation spending. If nothing else, millennials are a strange new breed of human, whose predictability is, well…. unpredictable. Let’s hope they turn out to be as enthusiastic about recreational vacations as they are about technology and taking over the world. Here at Marble Mountain Ranch, my father quipped that it might just be safer to market to fiscally secure grandparents and skip the marketing efforts aimed at the millennial generation.   Traveling grandparents can conscript their millennial grandchildren, construct a multigenerational dude ranch vacation, and show them some authentic old-school adventure.