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Gen Z Loves To Travel, But is Your Destination Ready?

By: Angie Buchanan
April 2024

Travel is evolving. And you can thank Gen Z for that. Yes, a huge segment of these once pre-teens and teenagers are now in their 20s and getting out there—in droves. Over the past three years, Gen Zers, or Zoomers as they’re called, traveled more than any other generation. And considering many of these young adults are out of college and starting to make real money, this is a group that destinations can no longer afford to neglect. What differentiates these new travelers? We asked over 1,300 Gen Zers to tell us where they want to go and what they need from destinations. Here’s what we learned:

Adventure is calling
Every generation, even these digital natives, need time to unplug and get out there. And while nearly a third of Gen Zers want their beach time, another third feel the best vacations are adventures. And it makes sense. These travelers are young, free and want to explore. In fact, more than 50% of Zoomers plan to visit a National Park over the next year (source) and nearly 20% plan to visit a foreign country.

If your destination doesn’t offer epic mountain vistas and 100-foot waterfalls, it doesn’t mean this generation of adventure seekers won’t be interested. Adventure can mean different things, including exploring the history of an area, finding some nearby trails to hike or taking a hot-air balloon ride. Whatever adventures your destination serves up, make sure Gen Zers know what’s available.

Desire for new and different
As the biggest users of social media, Gen Z is extremely aware of the places their friends have visited. And while all those photos posted to their friends’ feeds inspires them to travel, it also fuels them to find something different to experience and share. In fact, Gen Z is the generation most likely to go somewhere their friends and family haven’t been with some 70% actively looking for travel experiences off the beaten path (source).

So, what does your destination need to do to deliver on this new trend? Promote your hidden-gem towns and attractions. Dig into what makes these places special and worth the trip, highlighting the unique features and touches that would appeal to a generation eager to explore, experience and learn. To prepare for these new travelers, you must also ensure your destination partners are ready.

Living like a local
Forget the theme parks and restaurants with the oversized drinks and frills. This generation is looking for authenticity. They want to experience life in the places they visit the way people who live there do—hitting a farmer’s market, a must-have coffee shop, an art fair and maybe some live music at a local bar. More than two-thirds of Gen Zers say that experiencing the local culture is important when traveling to a new place (source) and 86% want to shop at small businesses when they travel to a new location (source).

While it’s common for destinations to put their touristy attractions front and center, those who want to attract Gen Zers need to place a larger emphasis on the places and things to do that locals love, making it clear you understand this generation’s needs and can give them what they want.

Easy does it
Gen Z is used to finding what they need in an instant. This applies to almost everything in their life. In fact, 45% of Gen Zers will leave a website if it doesn’t predict what they like or need (source). So, when it comes to travel, they want things to be easy—before and during their trip. It’s one of the reasons Gen Z, along with their Millennial friends, are most likely to plan out their daily itineraries (25%) and use a travel planning service (15%).

I know what you’re thinking: As a destination, you strive to make things as easy to find and book as possible. But remember that easy to this generation means intuitive. To appeal to Zoomers, you need to ensure what you offer and how to book are very clear. Consider building in an itinerary tool into your website and provide easy access to accommodations, restaurants and excursion providers.

Eco-friendly or bust
The only thing Gen Z cares about more than travel is the environment. Compared to other generations, they’re the most concerned about the state of the planet (82%) and most willing to pay more for environmentally friendly products (75%). So, when it comes the travel, sustainability is a big deal for them. Over half of Gen Zers prefer to stay in green or eco-friendly accommodations and 60% look for environmentally friendly transportation once they arrive at their destination (source).

Destinations looking to connect with Gen Z travelers need to make sustainability a priority and carve out a space in your communications to promote your eco-friendly commitment and partners. If protecting the environment is a bigger mission that applies to businesses, parks and trails, these should be front and center for Gen Z travelers to see.

Welcoming wellness
It should come as no surprise that the generation that’s least optimistic about their future and the future of the country is making a commitment to wellness, both in their lives and travels. Nearly 40% of Gen Zers feel mental health is a concern. And 61% of Gen Zers and Millennials are prioritizing travel plans that focus on personal wellness this year compared to 48% of people overall (source).

Given the growing concerns over mental health nationwide, many destinations have already made a commitment to incorporating wellness into their offerings. If your destination isn’t putting an emphasis on wellness, now’s the time, especially knowing it’s important to this large group of new travelers. And keep in mind that wellness can mean spa time, but it can also mean nature, excursions and accommodations that focus on mind and body experiences.

When it comes to travel preferences, every generation is unique. And now that Gen Z is growing up and traveling more than any other segment, it’s incumbent upon destinations to start to understand and cater to their needs. But like any group, Gen Z is constantly evolving, so what they want today will look different as their needs and life stages evolve.

About the Author

Angie has more than 20 years of advertising and brand-building experience, servicing travel and tourism accounts for many years. She’s managed accounts for destination marketing organizations that include Montana Office of Tourism, Outer Banks Visitors Bureau, Wisconsin Dells Visitor and Convention Bureau, and Elkhart Lake Tourism Commission, and worked with travel companies such as Funjet Vacations and DELSEY Luggage.

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