Gen Z in Travel: How to Plan Travel for the Youngest Generation

Group of friends taking a selfie in London. (Photo via iStock / Getty Images Plus / ViewApart)

Generation Z is the newest generation of travelers on the scene, and they have marked differences from Millennials and the other generations that come before them. So how does a travel advisor help plan travel for this generation, especially when they might not have experience or knowledge of Gen Z travelers?

That’s where this guide comes in.

According to a YouGov survey conducted in July 2022, Gen Z will comprise 40 percent of the consumer market in the United States by 2030 and comprise 34 percent of the U.S. workforce. They’re also willing to spend more of their money on experiences than things, something that travel definitely capitalizes on.

The Difference Between Millennials and Gen Z Travelers

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Millennial is the term for people born in the period of 1981-1996, while Gen Z is the term used for the generation born directly after, in the period from 1996 to the early 2010s. Despite both of these generations intermingling in the form of siblings or other family relationships, or at school, they are markedly different generations when it comes to travel.

Adam Armstrong, CEO of Contiki, explains that Millennials are much more apt to plan vacations further out, making use of vacation time or traveling for specific events, such as during a summer holiday or for a honeymoon.

Gen Z travelers tend to take a much more flexible approach.

“When analyzing Gen Z travelers, we often see the trend of more spontaneous bookings with less of a lead time versus Millennials who prefer to plan ahead according to their allotment of vacation days and planned life events,” said Armstrong. “Now that work-from-anywhere roles and gap years are more common, Gen Z travelers are more likely to choose to travel solo instead of waiting for someone to be available. They seek more adventurous destinations than generations before them, looking for the off-the-beaten-path places and experiences that offer them the immersion they desire.”

Both generations seem to place priority upon sustainability and cultural immersion: they don’t want someone to hold their hand throughout their vacation and take them only to the most popular attractions, without experiencing a true part of the destination they are visiting. In short, they’re the most curious generation of travelers yet.

Gen Z in Travel: How to Plan Travel for the Youngest Generation

Woman interacting with a monkey in Bali, Indonesia. (photo via filipefrazao/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Millennials, though, since they have been working longer, are more apt to have greater incomes, and therefore are generally willing to spend more for their travel, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that Gen Z travelers aren’t willing to go all-out for that bucket-list experience.

“This generation is not afraid to adventure and go into a new country,” Katie Lynn Reynolds, Travel Advisor with Travelmation. “They want to experience it all on their trip and have the time plus finances to do so. Millennials can be similar, but I find that Millennials aren’t as adventurous or curious. They are more cautious and take safety as a big deal.”

So while there are definite similarities between these two generations, their approach, and their travel desires are probably going to look a little different.

Gen Z and The Use of Social Media in Travel

One of the most markedly different things about Gen Z travelers is their reliance upon and use of social media. Whether it be TikTok or Instagram, Gen Z travelers often see certain attractions, resorts or destinations from travel influencers and want exactly that same experience.

Armstrong, CEO of Contiki, knows this first-hand from Contiki’s specialization in offering tours to young people: “Gen Z has social media ingrained into their everyday lives which heavily influences their travel behaviors and decisions,” he said. “In recent years we’ve seen a large shift in destinations that get overexposed through social media which ends up contributing to over-tourism and crowded experiences. Now, Gen Z travelers value trips that not only let them see the bucket-list destinations but also go beyond to experience off-the-beaten-path destinations that allow them to dive deeper into the country’s culture and experience the destination through the eyes of a local.”

Gen Z in Travel: How to Plan Travel for the Youngest Generation

Staying connected on social media. (photo via VioletaStoimenova / getty images)

This is something that many travel advisors who have experience planning travel for this generation have seen.

Sydne Stubbs, Travel Advisor with Those Who Wander Travel, explains: “A lot of these Gen Z travelers are heavily influenced based off of what they are seeing on social media, and they aren’t typically open to suggestions based on our knowledge. They have seen a property or destination on TikTok, and they know THAT is what they want!”

Yet she also explains that her clients are often surprised by the price tag of that experience and that that’s where the advice of a travel advisor can be helpful.

“Despite Gen Z travelers coming to us thinking they know what they want, I think it is still important to educate them based on our knowledge as a travel advisor,” Stubbs continued. “A destination could look absolutely stunning on social media, but we travel advisors have first-hand knowledge of these destinations and properties. Get to know the client you are talking with, and determine if it is actually a good fit for them. Your client may not be open to your suggestions, but it is important we inform them of what to expect. Instagram vs. Reality if you may!”

According to the YouGov survey, Gen Z travelers are much more willing to seek advice from friends and family (at 50 percent) than they are to engage with an expert (16 percent) – which is why social media is such an important method travel advisors can use to reach this generation.

The Nitty-Gritty: Advice on Planning Travel for Gen Z Travelers

So you’ve found yourself with a Gen Z client or two. Now what?

The first thing to do, and this is advice for any client you may have, is listen to their travel desires. Get to know what they specifically want from their trip, and, as JoAnne Weeks, Director, Vacation Division Acendas Travel mentioned, collaborate with them instead of telling them what they should do.

Recommendations that aren’t requested will probably not be as helpful with this generation as with others: they don’t want someone to hold their hands and let advisors do the hard stuff without them. Instead, they are more apt to participate in the necessary research and share their thoughts along the way.

They’re also more likely to choose less-visited destinations and more transformative experiences, in which they feel like they’re coming home to memories that will last a lifetime. They’re not just checking boxes off their bucket lists.

“Gen Z travelers seem to be skipping ‘the classics’ and going to more exotic locales that I know I myself never dreamed of when I started traveling,” said Carly Heyward, Travel Agent, Flight of the Educator. “I think they’re really starting to prioritize travel in a way that we’ve never seen before. It’s probably a mix of availability and prioritizing mental health.”

Gen Z in Travel: How to Plan Travel for the Youngest Generation

Travel agent working from home. (photo via Ridofranz/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

While planning travel for this generation might offer different challenges than planning travel for other generations, it ultimately pays off, as this generation of travelers is loyal once they are won over by an excellent travel experience.

“The key for travel advisors working with Gen Z travelers is to stay on top of trends to be able to offer the most relatable and top-of-mind experiences…” said Adam Armstrong. “Connecting with customers through social media allows travel advisors to reach a new audience in a relatable way and learn what they’re passionate about. Gen Z is loyal, which means if they’re happy with their travel experience, they’re likely going to repeat it in the future and spread the word amongst their friends.”

Planning travel for your first Gen Z clients can be difficult, but they are an enthusiastic travel group that places unique importance upon travel’s ability to help people learn, grow and impact the world in a positive way. As this generation continues to grow in age and importance within the travel industry, it’s important to begin taking time to grow your presence as a travel advisor online.

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