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How Generation Z is changing, and challenging, the future of travel

Posted October 22, 2019 - Updated June 3, 2021
Generation Z traveler looking at phone while waiting at the airport with luggage

For Generation Z (born after 1995), there’s no other world than the connected one they’ve experienced since birth. Amongst all other generations, Gen Zers have an unparalleled sense of global awareness, they move comfortably across borders and above all, they view travel as a priority.

And while Covid-19 has put the plans of many would-be travelers on hold, the industry’s comeback is highly anticipated. Gen Z is going to play a prominent role in revitalizing the travel and hospitality industry post-pandemic. In fact, a recent Study by Contiki revealed that 63% of Gen Zers and Millennials surveyed want to travel in 2021, while 58% stated they would travel right now even if it required paying for quarantine upon return. The desire is clearly there.

According to Booking.com’s Destination Gen Z report, 65% of Gen Zers ranked “travel and seeing the world” as the most important way to spend their money. While the travel industry is still decoding the needs of Millennials, Gen Zers are already starting to shift the sector in other directions.

Fortunately, travel and hospitality brands don’t need to start from scratch to meet the needs of Gen Z. There is a lot of overlap between Millennials and Gen Zers’ travel traits: They are socially and environmentally conscious, they want a mobile-first approach, and they desire authentic local experiences.

However, these two generations are far from forming a cohesive cohort, says Meghan Carty, a research associate at Skift Research. They’re active on different social media platforms, they spend their money differently and they have their own viewpoints on how they impact the world through their explorations.

Here’s a closer look at how brands can connect with this growing generation of true digital natives by honoring some of these key differences when creating travel customer experiences (CX).

Not quite Millennials: How Gen Z stands out

Prioritizing experiences over the purchase of material things is a common mantra for Millennials, and Gen Z shares a similar outlook. While that particular marketing angle remains valid, Carty cautions that travel brands shouldn’t get too comfortable. Gen Z has many of their own unique habits and preferences impacting their travel and hospitality customer experience needs.

For one, the youngest segment of Gen Zers (16 to 18-year-olds at the time of study) use completely different social media channels than those over the age of 19. Snapchat is the go-to for travel accounts and influencers according to over half of young Gen Zers surveyed by Skift Research. “Snapchat’s not even in the top three for the other (age) groups,” says Carty, adding that YouTube is also an important medium for younger Gen Zers.

According to a survey conducted by the Harris Poll on behalf of TELUS International, Gen Z say they’re more likely to personalize their own company/brand experience by engaging in social media compared to Millennials. As digital natives, they know the value of their data and they expect their preferences to be known by the brands that collect it.

Gen Z is also more concerned about their environmental impact than previous generations, especially when it comes to traveling. Booking.com’s Destination Gen Z project found that over half of those surveyed consider the environmental impact that traveling has on their destinations when deciding where to go. In the report, 56% of young travelers said they’d want to stay in green or eco-friendly accommodations, and 60% are looking for more environmentally friendly means of transportation once they arrive.

And, they’re willing to pay more for it. According to Skift’s research, 54% of young Gen Z say they’re willing to pay higher rates/fares to use a travel service provider that demonstrates environmental responsibility, compared to 48% of Millennials.

These figures and traits may only indicate a subtle difference between the two age demographics but they are important enough to pay attention to considering the size of the Gen Z cohort. When it comes to your company’s travel CX strategy, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Instead, tweaking, optimizing and adding unique elements to be more inclusive of new generations’ preferences may be a smarter bet.

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How travel and hospitality brands can connect with Gen Z

The power of social media cannot be understated when it comes to serving Gen Z travelers. Many industry brands have already embraced Snapchat, TikTok and YouTube to capture and engage with this new demographic, serving as the perfect media to highlight their offerings and experiences.

A personalized approach to customer service via both digital channels and in-person interactions should also be leveraged. In fact, 22% of Gen Z say they would be much more likely to choose a company/brand that offers a personalized experience over others.

And when strategizing on customer-facing communications and brand voice, your company should consider incorporating more Gen Z friendly speak across service channels. According to a study by Bank of America, these customers are far more likely than older generations to use emojis (95% compared to 79%) and acronyms (87% compared to 69%).

Finally, remember that Generation Z is an “always-on” traveler. According to a study by UNiDAYS, half of those surveyed say they travel upwards of 50 miles every one to three months. “Gen Zers travel consistently year-round while still preferring to make spur-of-the-moment travel plans,” write the report’s authors. That presents “the global travel industry with an always-on, ever-renewable opportunity.”

For travel and hospitality brands, there’s a clear opportunity: Gen Zers are constantly on the lookout for that next great escape. Meeting their needs means knowing their values and preferences, embracing the social channels they live on, and taking a personalized approach to service delivery. Once brands can bring all these elements together, they will be in the best possible position to guide this young generation towards take off.

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