The travel industry is beginning to recover post-pandemic, but it's taking on an entirely new shape. Read on for the first in our four-part series on changing traveler demand and how to be ready for what's next.
With widespread COVID-19 vaccine availability and regions opening back up, Americans are finally starting to travel again. Searches for "place to visit near" have grown globally by over 200% year-over-year, and searches for "flight booking app" have grown globally by over 70% year-over-year.
While most people planning trips during the pandemic prioritized health and wellbeing, safety protocols have now become table stakes for airlines, hotels, car rental companies, and others in the travel industry.
As travel bounces back, industry leaders are keenly focused on next-gen travelers, who have emerged as a critical audience for post-pandemic excursions.
Who are next-gen travelers?
The next-gen demographic is made up of 151 million Millennials and Gen Zers with $350 billion in combined spending power. They're 1.5 times more likely than older travelers to call themselves adventurous, and they are constantly dreaming of travel.
This active young cohort is the most eager to travel and is sure to be among the first to return to it. They consider travel to be a vital part of their lives, and took 1.2 times as many leisure trips as older generations in 2019. This generation of consumers under 45 are also 26% more likely to book a hotel than those over 45.
Plugged in and social-media savvy, 80% of next-gen travelers begin planning their trips online. As digital natives, they go broader and deeper than older demographics when it comes to travel research: in addition to the standard travel metasearch engines, online travel agencies, review sites, and brand websites, next-gen travelers rely on blogs, social media, and video platforms to plan their trips.
The breadth and depth of their research reflects just how determined next-gen travelers are to create the travel experiences of their dreams. Their goal is to make the most of each and every trip, and they're willing to put in the work to make it happen. Let's take a look at exactly what next-gen travelers want and how to reach them.
Inspire with digital
Digital content, such as videos and promoted and organic social media posts, inspires 65% of next-gen travelers to start planning a trip, which means content marketing is key. When compared to legacy digital ad real estate, such as websites or articles, ads in these newer digital locations are 28 points more likely to inspire a next-gen audience.
Video plays a particularly strong role, with 69% of next-gen travelers inspired by video platforms to plan trips. Instagram and TikTok both fare well with their content, but YouTube comes out on top, accounting for more than half of video inspiration among next-gens.
While sponsored content sparks interest, next-gen travelers often turn to their peers when it comes to actual bookings. In fact, 74% say that user-generated content has more impact on their booking decisions, outweighing sponsored content and information from industry professionals, such as journalists, well-known influencers, and guidebooks.
As next-gen travelers begin packing their bags, it's no surprise that digital content influences many of their travel decisions. For the once-in-a-lifetime trips that these travelers crave, sponsored social and video content inspires while user reviews and recommendations convert.
Lead with authenticity
For next-gens, every trip — whether business or leisure — is a chance to experience something unique, and anything less is an opportunity squandered. Indeed, 43% of next-gen travelers seek out experiences that are "new to me."
While older travelers prioritize family experiences, repeat visits, and familiarity, next-gen travelers are looking for social and adventurous experiences. These experiences don’t necessarily need to be extraordinary; instead, they want each experience to be authentic and reflective of the region.
Next-gen travelers are searching for emotional payoffs in their travels, and offering targeted experiences are core in getting them there. Focus on specific interests, like food and live music, that appeal to their sense of adventure, and provide authentic experiences they can't find anywhere else.
Be flexible with loyalty
Rewards points have always played a role in travel decisions, but the next-gen mindset of optimizing each trip doesn't play well with traditional loyalty programs. These travelers are 1.6 times less likely than older demographics to belong to an airline loyalty program and 1.9 times less likely to book a hotel through a loyalty program.
Sticking with a handful of brands simply doesn't afford next-gen travelers the flexibility they need to make the most of their trips. Far more important to them than loyalty rewards is the ability to book the ideal flight or the perfect hotel.
Marketers, therefore, will need to rethink traditional notions of loyalty to reach Millenials and Gen Zers. Focus on unique moments rather than points, and provide next-gen travelers with unbeatable opportunities.
Emphasize value beyond cost
So, if loyalty doesn’t speak to next-gen travelers, what does? Of course cost is a factor, but these travelers are value-driven, not cheap.
Convenience, comfort, and a brand's social responsibility and sustainability all factor into flight selection. When it comes to accommodations, comfort ranks as a key requirement, and convenience, reviews, amenities, and social responsibility all outweigh brand loyalty.
Despite their reputations for traveling on the cheap, next-gens are willing to shell out for what matters to them. A bottom-of-the-barrel pricing strategy may not resonate, but messaging that emphasizes value for the dollar will certainly appeal.
Preparing for travel's comeback
We're witnessing a critical moment for travel marketers as borders reopen, normal flight schedules resume, and wanderlust reignites. Leading the charge are next-gens, who are determined to seek out the journeys they’ve been waiting for and the experiences they've missed.
Reach them on the social media and video platforms where they find inspiration, and speak to their sense of adventure and desire for authenticity. Most importantly, help them optimize each trip with new and meaningful experiences.
Millennials and Gen Zers are fueling recovery, so focusing on this demographic is crucial to coming back stronger than before. The travel industry may look a little different these days, but marketers can be prepared with the right messaging and communication tools for reaching this key segment.
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For more information on targeting next-gen travelers, check out this visual story on Think with Google.