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Across economies seriously battered by the coronavirus, young travelers emerging from weeks of lockdown are expected to be the most eager to explore the world once restrictions are eased, given their more fearless outlook and desire for unique experiences.
Due to the nature of Covid-19, which has the most severe impact on the elderly and on people with underlying medical conditions, it is generally assumed that the young and non-family segment are more open to resuming travel in the first wave after the crisis, as what has been seen so far in China.
Data from China’s travel operators and authorities point to youngsters as a main force of travel as the country’s tourism sector showed encouraging signs of recovery. According to Trip.com, the post-90s and post-00s — travelers born after 1990 — accounted for more than half of the total bookings during the recent May Day break.
As Covid-19 lockdowns end and travel is tentatively restarting in parts of Asia Pacific, will China’s early signs of youth-led tourism recovery be replicated in other countries and regions?
First real crisis for millennials
The expectations that millennials will be the most risk averse and the first ones to jump into overseas vacations when international borders open up again may have to be tempered with reality in Asia Pacific, some industry members noted.
After all, the coronavirus pandemic is the “first real crisis” millennials worldwide are facing in their adult lives, said Jakub Piwowarski, general manager at Thailand’s Cosi Pattaya Wong Amat Beach. “Every millennial is affected the same way around the world – they can’t get out of the country now. An entire millennial generation has been affected [by the pandemic-induced downturn] and it has never happened before.”
Major events like September 11 attacks, SARS epidemic and 2008 recession have led to economic downturns in the last two decades, but as far as crises go none of these earlier ones have had such severe — or global — impacts on the millennial generation as the current pandemic.
In contrast to the financial crisis of 2008/2009 when the oldest millennials, in their early to mid 20s a decade ago, were still at an early stage of their careers, Piwowarski said they now have greater familial responsibilities and mortgages — and a lot more to lose if they are not able to earn a living and save up.
With those between 20-29 hardest hit by the estimated one million job losses across the Australian economy due to the coronavirus outbreak, it is more likely that millennials and Gen Zs will prioritize on getting jobs or improving their job security in the months ahead, she added, said Bronwyn White, CEO of New Young Consulting, a market intelligence agency that specializing in the senior travel market.
It is hence not surprising that Covid-19 will drastically alter millennials’ behavior and spending habits moving forward, Piwowarski added. “Millennials will still travel but they’re likely to save up more to prepare for worst-case scenarios in the future,” he said, adding that the coronavirus crisis has shown that things can swiftly change in “the snap of a finger”.
Meanwhile, senior travelers have been flying under many destinations’ tourism recovery radar as they have been widely perceived as an age group wariest of post-pandemic travel, said White.
While older people are believed to be at higher risks of developing severe illness than other age groups if they contract Covid-19, it’s a “misconception” that the seniors are more likely to put off travel post pandemic than their younger counterparts, said White.
In the case of Australia, which White says has “a fabulous healthcare system”, seniors who were fit and active travelers pre crisis will retain their interest in overseas holidays once they are given permission to do so, she added.
“You’ve got to remember that seniors and baby boomers have been waiting to travel for 30 years, so this [pandemic] is just a blight and inconvenience. Furthermore, they are more likely to listen to the government’s advice and take the necessary precautions than younger generations,” said White.
Unlike younger generations or families juggling work and homeschooling, the baby boomers have the flexibility of time and availability of money to pack and go, she opined. “There’s been so much evidence of how baby boomers hold the highest household wealth and they are wealthier than other generations, so I don’t understand the aversion of marketing at seniors.”
Likewise, Alicia Seah, director of marketing communications at Singapore-based outbound Dynasty Travel agrees that Asian baby boomers will the first to travel when it’s possible, although travelers across all age groups will adopt a more cautious approach and book trips with more robust cancelation policies and more comprehensive insurance coverage post pandemic.
“If China were to lift its inbound travel restrictions, many senior Singapore travelers will like to visit the country,” she said. China, with its modern offerings and diverse natural landscapes, have been strong draw cards for the older generation, according to her.
Piwowarski, however, believes Gen X – now from 40 to 55 years old – as a segment is most primed to recover fastest. He remarked, “They have the money and are young enough to put them at lesser risk of coronavirus complications and also savvy enough to use digital tools.”
Not an age thing
Interestingly, the coronavirus lockdown has also hastened the uptake of technology among older travelers with even more free time at hand, said White, cautioning travel marketers against making sales and marketing assumptions of older generations.
The customer journey for baby boomers, like other age groups, have become more complex as they research and shop across multiple devices and touch points round the clock – both online and offline. “This perform storm has made them the perfect segment to market to.”
For Sri Lanka-based Resplendent Ceylon Director of Sales Chamindra Goonewardene, the first wave of post-pandemic travelers will cut across age segments, driven by those “who are not as risk averse and those who are not as affected from a financial standpoint”.
The key would be to tap into this psychographic, he said, likening these travelers to early adopters in the context of a product lifecycle. “When borders do open up, the feedback from these early adopters will really define how the early majority travel,” he added.