Today’s youth travellers are looking for more meaningful, experiential and responsible travel experiences. Abra Dunsby reports on key trends
With a thirst for seeing the world and a readiness to spend their money on unique, meaningful travel experiences, the youth market can be a great audience for agents to tap in to. But what’s important to today’s Generation Z travellers? We speak to three travel companies for their insights and to learn how to sell effectively to this sizeable market.
South-east Asia remains number one on the wish list for many young travellers and is a bestseller for Intrepid Travel’s 18-29s trips. “Vietnam and Cambodia are still incredibly popular with first-time travellers – the people are friendly, the food is delicious, and they’re very rich in culture and history,” explains Aaron Hocking, the operator’s commercial director.
Emily Mikus, brand manager for G Adventures 18-to-Thirtysomethings trips, reveals Thailand remains the first port of call for its young travellers. “It’s the perfect jumping point for a trip to south-east Asia. For a lot of people, this will be their first international trip, and 70% of our 18-to-Thirtysomethings travellers are female, so they appreciate the safety of travelling here in a group.”
For youth travel agency STA Travel, Thailand also remains in the top three alongside Australia and New Zealand, while Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos are the most popular destinations for group tours.
However, according to its Youth Travel: Past, Present and Future trends report, young people are also becoming more adventurous, with STA’s biggest growth coming from destinations including the Philippines, Colombia, Kenya and Japan. “These are destinations that weren’t on the round-the-world route five years ago,” points out Tim Fryer, STA country manager. “Because of Instagram, [young people] want to travel there and, because of increased flight capacity, it’s easier for them to get there.”
In-destination, young clients are looking for “authentic, immersive experiences”, from rustling up home-cooked meals in Vietnam to playing backgammon with locals in a Turkish cafe, says Hocking. They’re also keen to stay active – according to a 2017 survey of 4,000 young people by G Adventures, 37% of respondents wanted moderate activity on a trip, while 31% preferred more demanding activity. The operator has shaped its 18-to-Thirtysomethings product accordingly, and now offers more hiking and guided walks.
“More so than other generations, Gen Z has a genuine, almost intrinsic desire to make a difference and change the world; ultimately making this generation one of the most socially conscious and philanthropic,” says Hocking. Local guides are therefore essential and cultural experiences are in demand – from haggling in markets to staying with a family in a homestay.
The desire for today’s young people to help with worthwhile causes is reflected in an increase in demand for volunteering projects – STA Travel saw 11% growth in volunteering products in January compared with last year, with the top sellers in south-east Asia.
G Adventures has included tailored, social enterprise-focused G For Good projects on its 18-to-Thirtysomethings trips, while 18-35s specialist Contiki has also included more sustainable and responsible travel experiences on its trips all over the world. Donna Jeavons, Contiki sales and marketing director for the UK and Europe, gives the example of its new Israel and Jordan Uncovered trip, which includes a visit to the Iraq Al Amir Women’s Cooperative in Amman where travellers will meet the women who benefit from the cooperative, and learn about their lives and work.
Social media and the internet have led this generation to have a greater awareness of where they want to go and what they want to do.
“The expectation is definitely whatever they want, they can get,” says Fryer. He adds that “awareness is now ten-fold”, with young clients often knowing exactly what seat they want on a plane, or what their luggage allowance is.
Yet despite this self-assuredness and forward planning, young people still value booking with an expert. “Though they might want an off-the-beaten-track experience, they still want someone to put it all together for them and offer advice,” he says.
“The days of flying out with just two nights’ accommodation booked, some local currency and a backpack are long gone. People want to be much more organised now, which is where an agent comes in.”
The “gap year” concept is less relevant in 2019, with more cash-strapped young people opting for shorter trips, notes Fryer. Escorted tours are therefore becoming more popular, allowing them to maximise their time away by seeing as much as possible. “They’re getting the best-value experience in terms of time on the ground,” he adds.
Mikus says shorted trips are also becoming more popular with G Adventures’ young clients. “Since 2016, we’ve noticed people starting to shift away from long trips and towards 7-10 days of travelling.” The operator has since created shorter versions of its classic itineraries to cater to demand. Trips that are 13-20 days in length are also proving popular, with 39% of G’s young travellers opting for this time duration.
Flexibility is also key to today’s young travellers, with STA seeing an increase in bookings for its tailor-made Flexi and INDI products. The former allows clients to change flights, accommodation or transportation at late notice, paying a small initial deposit to secure the trip, while the latter allows couples, groups of friends or solo travellers to travel on their own bespoke itinerary.
So what top tips can the experts offer for selling to young people? Intrepid, Contiki and G all recommend using social media to effectively market to young clients, though activity should revolve less around promotions and more about building a personal brand for your agency. Young travellers will also expect to use social media for customer service.
“Visual assets like brand videos and user-generated content and images are really effective selling tools,” adds Jeavons. “Every Contiki trip has its own hashtag, and Contiki’s YouTube channel has a load of aspirational video content, from destination guides to travel hacks and vlogs from Contiki Trip Managers.”
Hocking says content should “focus on unique activities and holidays that allow them to give back to the community. They are also influenced by ‘what’s hot right now’ trends, such as veganism and wellness.”
Fryer believes it’s important for agents to have experienced the product in order to sell effectively. “We’re sending more of our agents on volunteering fams for this reason.”
Younger agents will also likely be more successful at selling to this market. Most importantly, ensure the “hard sell” approach is left behind: “They want a relationship with [an agent] who has travelled and experienced the product for themselves, and an open and honest conversation about their trip.”
Contiki’s 11-day Cape, Safari & Falls South Africa trip is priced from £1,785pp, including 10 nights’ accommodation (three in a hotel, six in an African lodge and one luxury safari camping), breakfast, some meals and transport but excluding flights.
Intrepid’s 11-day Essential Morocco is from £513pp, including accommodation and ground transport but excluding international flights.
G Adventures’ Indochina Discovery 30-day tour runs from and to Bangkok taking in highlights including Siem Reap, Ho Chi Minh, Halong Bay, Chiang Khong and Chiang Mai, priced from £1,749pp excluding flights.