The millennial generation has been at the forefront of the collective mind of the travel industry for years. But starting in 2020, Generation Z will begin entering adulthood. The travel industry would be wise to shift some focus here if it wants to stay ahead of the game.
This year the oldest members of Gen Z will be graduating from college and taking up larger portions of the global workforce and population. This generation is already travel-savvy and heavily involved in trip planning. Large numbers of Gen Z travelers around the world soon will have the money and autonomy to take control of their own trips for the first time. The year 2020 will also be the first full year that we expect Gen Z will take up the largest portion of the global population. Gen Z will have surpassed millennials in terms of global population share sometime in 2019, when it’s expected to reach 32 percent of the global population, according to an analysis of United Nations data by Bloomberg.
Defining Generation Z
Generation Z — the oldest members of which are about 22 years old right now, with the youngest still to be determined — is defined by the fact that they have been surrounded by technology, like mobile phones and social media, from a very young age if not their entire lives. As Cassandra Napoli, associate editor and generational trend expert for WGSN Insight explained, “They are growing up in an era of shifting values and huge technological change.” This difference in context means that Gen Z is developing some unique traits and behaviors that are made even more distinct by their country of residence. These contexts will only set this generation apart further as they mature and gain more independence.
Gen Z Already Takes an Active Role in Traveling, Planning and Paying for Trips
It will take some time to see the true preferences and behaviors of Gen Zers, but a Skift Research survey fielded in July 2019 in five different countries revealed that members of Gen Z are traveling at relatively similar rates to their millennial peers in most countries.
Gen Zers might be following in the footsteps of millennials when it comes to mobile usage, but in other ways Gen Zers are charting their own path — and truly going their own way. WGSN Insight’s Napoli explained that members of “Gen Z are digital natives, have depleting attention spans, desire personalization, and have a love-hate relationship with connectivity,” which makes them stand apart from millennials.
These differences are extremely visible when it comes to social media use. While Facebook is a top choice among millennials in all countries except China, where the site is banned, it only appears in the top three among Gen Zers in Australia. Instead, the visual-laden and bite-size-video-heavy platforms of Snapchat, YouTube, and Instagram are capturing more of the screen time of the younger generation.
Differences like these are revealing themselves all the time and are crucial for travel companies to be aware of if they’re hoping to capture a slice of the Gen Z pie. The Airline Tariff Publishing Company, also known as ATPCO, is the airline-backed tech organization that is tasked with helping the industry run more efficiently. It’s already thinking about how to engage Gen Z flyers based on the unique behaviors they’re displaying. At the organization’s conference in October, a panel explored the importance of connectivity and autonomy to this ultra-connected generation and how airlines need to prioritize rich, mobile-first content, with Gen Z’s preferred social channels in mind.
It’s important to keep in mind though, that while strategizing around generational cohort trends is a useful place to start, brands need to also realize additional context, like country of residence and life stage, that often provides more clues about behavior and preferences. For Gen Z, this nuance might be particularly important. As Napoli cautioned, “Remember, they expect personalization, so lumping one strategy to reach the entirety of this group will not work.”
So What’s Next for Gen Z?
As members of Gen Z fully enter adulthood in the next decade, they will have greater autonomy over their travel decisions, and as their spending power increases, so too will their ability to travel. The oldest Gen Zers by 2030 will be in their 30s, and many will likely have children by then, bringing Gen Z family travel onto the radar of the travel industry. It will take time for us to see the real travel behaviors and preferences of Gen Zers as they continue to come into their own. Unlike millennials, however, Gen Z travelers will continue forging their own path when it comes to digital behavior, especially as they continue to come of age in an era wrought with privacy concerns and scandals involving Big Tech and social media companies. Gen Z is already giving us a look at where it’s heading, and as the decade progresses, we will know as much about this generation as we do about millennials today. As 2020 gets under way, travel companies that want to remain a step ahead will need to keep their eye on Gen Z.
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Photo credit: Gen Z will enter adulthood in 2020. A group of young people watch a sunset. Afta Putta / Pexels