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According to Digital Tourism Think Tank, Generation Z will account for 40 percent of all consumers by 2020. Of course, a lot of them won’t have a heck of a lot of money to spend, given that the oldest of the lot have just reached their 20s. (The inception of Gen Z seems to be a matter of debate, with start dates ranging from 1995 to 2000.) Even so, while they are young — and mostly poor — they are having a big impact on luxury travel.
What makes members of Gen Z so different from prior generations? They literally grew up with technology in hand. That technology, and social media outlets like Instagram and Snapchat (Facebook is so old school) and platforms like YouTube, have exposed them to a world of destinations and experiences at a very early age. As a result, according to data gathered by Expedia Group Media Solutions, Gen Z is more likely than any other generation to travel outside the United States, with most favoring off-the-beaten path destinations.
While Gen Z is not paying the bills, it is most certainly influencing family spending decisions.
“When you look at what Gen Z prioritizes, experiences are toward the top. Plus, the vast majority of parents say they consult their kids on major purchasing decisions, including what kind of car to buy or where to go on vacation. That bodes well for the travel industry,” said Jonah Stillman, the 19-year-old co-founder of GenZGuru.
According to the 2019 Virtuoso Luxe Report, “They may be young, but Gen Zers have strong opinions and exert considerable influence over travel decisions.”
The report notes Gen Z is very involved in family-trip planning. They are “persuading others to embrace their desire for more active experiences [and] seeking out unusual destinations.”
The more off-the-beaten-path, the better, as social media factors significantly in their drive for more unique experiences. Why? In part, according to Terrie Hansen, Virtuoso’s senior vice president of marketing, highly visual locations and exotic activities make their lives look more exciting on social media.
Thus, when you look at Virtuoso’s 2019 top ten list of the most in-demand family travel destinations among the luxury travel crowd, you see the likes of South Africa, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic. When travel advisors were asked specifically about the top unconventional destinations that families were requesting, the top five were Iceland, the Galapagos, Cuba, Antarctica, and Morocco.
Social Media inspiration
They are coming up with such exotic choices, according to Jack Ezon, founder of luxury travel advisory Embark, thanks to the overwhelming amount of information available on social media.
“I think Gen Z, while having the same impact over travel planning as millennials did with their parents,” said Ezon, “the knowledge they come to the table with is amplified. They are much more savvy about what they want to do and where they want to go, more educated because there is so much more access to information online.”
According to the Virtuoso study, the top two family travel trends are active/adventure and multigenerational, both of which are more strongly influenced by the desires of Gen Z.
“When grandparents are planning the trips, for example,” said Kimberly Wilson Wetty, co-owner of Valerie Wilson Travel, “they are tailoring choices to the grandchildren more so than the parents. It’s about making the kids happy and experiencing the world together as a family — it’s educational and family bonding time. After all, if you pick a destination that the grandkids can’t enjoy, no one will be happy.”
Given this influence, travel industry marketers need to be figuring out how to market to Gen Z. According to Hansen, it’s important to involve them early in the travel planning process. One way Virtuoso is doing that — introducing Wanderlist, an online planning tool that helps family members weigh in on travel decisions like destinations and experiences.
Hansen, Wilson Wetty, and Ezon all agree that the travel industry also needs to be all over social media, providing content focusing on unique experiences. But the challenge, Stillman said, is that Gen Z prefers to get information from peers online rather than so-called experts. Therefore, if the travel industry tries to present destinations without including “someone that looks like them,” the message may get ignored.
It will be a while before Gen Z is actually paying for its own luxury travel. But, in its Gen Z report, entitled Looking Ahead: How Younger Generations are Impacting the Future of Travel, Expedia Group Media Solutions said, “In the coming years, as more Gen Z enter the workforce and increase their disposable income, their prioritization of travel and growing budgets will unlock myriad opportunities for marketers.”
Of course, even when travel marketers eventually figure out Gen Z, their jobs won’t be over. After all, Generation Alpha is coming next. Want proof? Expedia just came out with a report entitled Generation Alpha and Family Travel Trends, How the World’s Youngest Generation is Influencing Family Travel. Oh, brother. The oldest Generation Alpha member, by the way, is currently nine years old.