How Gen Z travels differently

A fascinating new report shows how young jetsetters are trending towards a more conscious approach to travel, Janie Medbury writes.

MORE than half of Gen Z travellers around the world, including Australia, are placing their trust in AI when it comes to planning their vacations, however travel agents will continue to play an integral role – if the new research from StudentUniverse is anything to go by.

The student and youth travel marketplace analysed the latest travel sentiments among those aged 18-25 in Australia, the UK, the US, and Canada, and found that while 21% have already used AI-powered chatbots to plan personalised travel itineraries, 92% would prefer to speak to a person to resolve travel issues, and 87% would be frustrated if they were unable to reach a real person.

StudentUniverse VP Customer Service, Antonio Quiogue, said “all our experience tells us that while AI can be utilised in remarkable ways when it comes to travel planning, when our customers need practical, in-the-moment help, they want to speak to a real person almost every time”.

The State of Student & Youth Travel in 2024 report does predict, however, that AI trip planning will continue to gain momentum among Gen Z, becoming more mainstream over the next 12 months.

Other forecasted trends include a rising interest in solo travel among Gen Z females, with well over half (58%) expressing interest, and an increasing number of young holidaymakers seeking to offset their carbon footprint by choosing companies with strong green credentials (50%) and prioritising eco-friendly travel styles (53%).

In fact, 13% of Gen Z said they refuse to travel by plane because of emissions, and 23% are willing to pay an optional carbon offset fee when booking travel. Of those who haven’t ditched air travel, 94% are more likely to book a flight if there was a discount offered, with a similar amount saying they would remain loyal for years to come to airlines that offer deals now.

When it comes to the most popular destination picks for Australian youth travellers, Japan tops the list (31%), followed closely by Italy (29%), France and New Zealand (26%), and the United Kingdom (24%).

Unsurprisingly, most of Gen Z get their travel inspo from TikTok, with 89% having found new destinations through the social media platform, 40% having booked a vacation as a direct result of TikTok content, and 88% following at least one travel influencer on the app, while 51% follow more than three.

What’s more surprising is this generation’s decision to stay off the booze while on holiday, with 83% even saying they would consider an alcohol-free vacation. Sightseeing, experiencing different cultures, and hitting the reset button were all identified as more important priorities for young travellers than partying, with the possibility of getting into unsafe situations inspiring 66% to avoid drinking.

This trend makes sense when you consider that many young people are now seeing travel as an opportunity to improve their mental health, with more than 90% believing a holiday abroad has a beneficial impact on their state of mind, and 89% feeling less anxious and more positive upon returning from vacation.

Will Jones, Brand Manager at StudentUniverse said, “this is the second year we’ve prepared this report and it’s interesting to see how Gen Z continues to lean into the trends that show them to be quite unlike young generations past in terms of travel behaviours”.

“We know young travellers represent a quarter of international travel arrivals and provide great value to the travel industry, so it is our goal with these reports to help provide valuable insights on the trends and sentiments that drive Gen Z travellers, especially in our Australian market.”

From an inbound tourism perspective, the economic impact of attracting young travellers to Australia shouldn’t be underestimated, given they tend to spend more time in-destination (52 days on average), which equates to a total trip spend of US$3,000 – roughly three-times higher than other visitors, according to StudentUniverse’s research.

There’s also the added bonus that Gen Z travellers usually share their exciting experiences on social media, generating free and authentic marketing for destinations, and are also likely to return to those destinations later in life, possibly with families.

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