If you’re tired of talking about Millennials and how they’ve forced us to rethink and reshape the world of travel, you should know there’s another generation waiting in the wings that’s even bigger and potentially more lucrative that will no doubt put their own stamp on the way our industry operates. It’s Generation Z—those born from roughly the mid-’90s—the oldest of which are turning 20 years old and looking toward college graduation and adult life.
Generation Z actually represents 25.9% of the population, making them a larger demographic than Millennials (24.5%), Gen X (15.4%), Baby Boomers (23.6%) and the Silent Generation (10.5%), according to a study by the agency Sparks & Honey. And despite their youth, they already represent about $44 billion in spending power.
If Millennials are the first generation raised as “digital and computer natives,” Generation Z are the first generation to be “cellular, smartphone and social media natives,” and they prefer to multitask across five screens, compared to Millennials who prefer working across two.
As travel marketers, it’s not too early to be thinking about how Generation Z acts and what they care about. They are already influencing travel choices being made by their parents and before long many will begin making their own decisions on where and how to travel.
The good news is that the investments travel brands are already making in technology and content creation are all necessary steps in how they’ll need to communicate to Generation Z, but there are striking attitudinal differences between Millennials and this younger generation. Here’s a few of their distinguishing characteristics:
Want to make a difference. They are a very future-focused generation that wants to do good and make a difference in the world. Over 60% want their jobs to impact the world and 76% are concerned about humanity’s impact on the planet. With 28% of 16 - 19 year olds currently volunteering, they are poised to want to have their travels attached to giving back and making a positive impact on wherever they travel. Recent research from Tourism Cares showed Millennials as being the most-engaged generation, but I’d wager that Generation Z will ultimately set an even-higher standard in giving back. Social responsibility will be an essential component to how Generation Z will look to buy and experience travel and brands will need to find ways to more overtly connect to this reality.
Open, accepting and diverse. This is a generation truly embracing individuality. Almost three-fourths of them believe everyone has the right to marry and that transgender people should have equal rights. Over half think that everyone should have the right to become a citizen. They have grown up in a mixed-race, multi-ethnic and multi-generational world and they are tolerant and accepting in ways that have eluded other generations. More than ever, brands will need to embrace this diversity in their marketing and operations and provide a true reflection of how this generation sees the world.
Socially conscious, social natives. Taking it one step beyond Millennials, Gen Z has grown up on social media and uses it to be “friends with brands.” They connect not just at the brand level but via causes and issues that are important to them. They join communities of like-minded souls to learn and grow, but they’ll expect control over preferences and high degrees of personalization. Similarly, they’ll want greater levels of privacy and security having seen how social media and the permanence of information on the web have hurt previous generations.
Keep it short, visual and engaging. Generation Z wants to be communicated with visually and with short, bite-sized content. This is a generation that knows how to search and find exactly what they want, so when expectations aren’t met, don’t expect them to hang around and give you a second chance. Their limited attention span means brands can never stop working for their business and, since they don’t like being sold to, you’ll need to find ways to deliver relevant, engaging and immediately beneficial experiences.
Independent, entrepreneurial and inquisitive. This generation is excited to get going with life. They are self-educators who seek out information and knowledge then put it to use, and they aren’t waiting around for anyone to tell them the answers. A recent survey found 72% of high school students want to start their own business some day and many of this generation have already taken a DIY and crowdsourcing approach to launch organizations or companies to solve issues they believe are important. Travel brands will be wise to feed their curiosity and entrepreneurial spirit.
Ready to work hard. As a generation raised in the wake of 9/11 and an economic recession, they don’t take earning a living for granted. They’ve seen their parents’ purse strings tighten and watched Millennials migrate back home. As a result, Generation Z has become much more pragmatic and realistic in their view on careers and financial stability, and they aren’t afraid to work hard to make it all happen. They represent an exciting work force and educating them to travel as a successful and rewarding profession would be an important initiative for our industry.
Every generation has its own attributes and while they all continue to evolve over time, it’s important to understand the nuances that distinguish one generation from another. Ambitious, entrepreneurial, philanthropic and socially independent, Generation Z wants to make a difference and there’s a great opportunity for travel brands to start collaborating with tomorrow’s travelers today.
Move over, Millennials. There’s a new generation of travelers on the way.
Editor's note: This article originally appeared on Nov. 2, 2015, in Marketing:Travel.