Strategies for Reaching the Next Generation Traveler

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By John W. Penney

In addition to my day job as Creative Director at an ad agency, I’m also a youth sports coach. The teens I coach, as well as my own two children, belong to a generation that is commonly referred to as Generation Z (Gen Z). The opportunity to spend time with this group has not only been a privilege but an invaluable learning experience as well. They are, for the most part, design savvy, opinionated, proficient researchers, and they have access to more instantaneous information than any generation before them. Unlike my generation of Xers, who as children were rarely involved in family travel decisions, Gen Z is heavily involved in family vacation planning and their interest is not exclusive to amusement parks & attractions. If you manage a brand that relies on tourists, then Gen Z is most probably an emerging market with whom you need to develop a marketing strategy.

Who Are They?

By the end of 2019, Gen Z will make up 32% of the global population. The first Gen Z’s were born after 1996 and they differ from their forebears on many fronts. For instance, Millennials currently are being segmented by life stage (single, married, couple, etc.) which is in stark contrast with the narrow life stage that describes Gen Z. The one common thread that binds Gen Z is they are the most digitally connected generation yet. Gen Z is sometimes referred to as iGen, because they don’t recognize a world without iPhones & high-speed internet.

Key Family Decision Makers

Although the majority aren’t old enough to vacation on their own, Gen Z is highly influential within their family dynamic. Because they’ve been raised in a household where their opinions carry weight, they have a big say in how the travel plans are made. You can even see this in the trend of destination birthdays, where kids get to choose among several locations that fit within mom and dad’s budget. For example, this summer my children took it upon themselves to help plan our family vacation. They researched hotels, flights, and points of interest via blogs, videos, social influencers, and consumer reviews. The result was a vacation that everyone in our entire family was invested in and frankly a better-researched and planned vacation than I would have done on my own.

Older Gen Z Travelers Are Careful Spenders

Current research indicates that older Gen Z-ers are decidedly more frugal than their predecessors. They are shown to be a group that seeks to travel, but they are looking for the most bang for their buck. As one would expect, they look to the web search and social media for suggestions and consultations. They read reviews as well as write them, don’t limit themselves to organic search and look for destinations that are highly Instagrammable.

They Understand They Have Brand Choices

Gen Z is highly brand aware but is very malleable, jumping from one brand to another so long as those brands are speaking their language and have a distinct set of benefits that are important to them. Gen Z can be influenced by other factors not related to name recognition such as their preference for experiences over material goods. When they travel, they are eager to do as the locals do and interact with others they’ve never met before, even if that interaction is digital in nature. This is why it is crucial to reach this group through the screens they hold in their hands.

Bringing the Experience to Life on Digital

Suffice it to say, they respond to user-generated content from friends and social media influencers over what they see as traditional advertising messages. In fact, they see right through paid actors and scripted marketing, instead opting for relatable messaging through digital channels. They were born online, remember? Travel brands that want to corral this group often pepper the internet with bucket-list worthy blogs that speak to them about places they want to explore. Instagram is a very viable and beneficial channel to display carefully curated content in the travel industry because Gen Z is as ‘grammable’ as they come. Moreover, since they are watching YouTube more than TV, travel brands and influencers are directing more and more resources towards producing video content. However, make sure to keep your message short, as this group is accustomed to scanning through feeds at breakneck speed. Even TripAdvisor has recognized the importance of social media within travel and is revamping the platform to be more social in nature.

Your Brand’s Future

For travel marketers, Gen Z is the next frontier. Millennials were “Pioneers” in the digital age, Gen Z’s, on the other hand, are “Settlers.” Don’t market to them as if they are merely Millennials 2.0. They grew up in the smartphone universe, with the power of all the world’s information in the palm of their hands. They expect technology; they have a great sense of design aesthetics and are hard to impress. As you reach out to Gen Z be creative, be real, make sure you hear what they are saying, and involve them in your brand’s conversation. So with your new Gen Z focused marketing strategy at hand, your travel and tourism business will be ready to embrace the next big audience of travelers.

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