Generation Z and More than just a Room

Over the last 5 years our industry has seen more change than it has in the previous 40

This is due to the coming of age a brand new customer; Generation Z, born between 1996 and 2015. To survive and compete we must engage with this new customer and produce and deliver the packages and experiences which they desire.

What I’ve seen and experienced in dealing with this new customer is that they value and expect a holistic experience where every part of the package meets their high expectations and that includes their accommodation.

Of course, what sets apart Gen Z is the networked technology that they have access to and are immersed in. Words such as online and the internet are all but meaningless when describing this generation; they are never off line and there is no boundary between the digital world and the real world for them, as there is for older prior generations. Their experience is a seamless one.

In my opinion, for our business the two most immediate and crucial truths about this technology and the way this generation use it are:

  • We are now competing in a huge marketplace, not just with other language schools, other cities, other countries but all the myriad different travel experiences at their literal fingertips.
  • Feedback is immediate. Ratings and reviews are a currency to Gen Z as is the fact that diarise their lives in real time with posts, photos and videos. Deliver something great and your customers become your best marketeers. Deliver something bad and there is nowhere to hide and no time to paper the cracks.

Clearly to reach this new customer we need to understand them. So what do we know about Gen Z?

  • First born in 1996, the oldest of them are 22 now.
  • They are the most populous generation ever accounting for 25% of the global population.

But what about their attitudes?

For some of us in the older generations learning more about Gen Z will likely mean tearing up some preconceptions. We have perhaps seen Gen Z as a lazy, self-obsessed bunch, hooked on social media feeds; that can see little further than the glow of their smartphones, relying on their parents to foot the bill for a largely sedentary lifestyle.

Yet a recent Ipsos Mori*** poll undertook for the BBC highlights a huge disjoint between these views and the way Gen Z see themselves, showing that they perceive themselves as a hardworking and optimistic generation that prioritises family and education over going out and the internet.

Other independent research seems to backup the Gen Zer’s claims on hard work and family values. A study by generational think tank The Centre for generational Kinetics (CGK) called ‘The State of Gen Z’* found that 77% of 14 -21 years olds are already earning their own money! And they do seem to put family before the internet in some things, with 48% ‘often or always’ getting input from family and friends before spending. This study shows them as cautious, self-aware and thrifty- 21% are already saving for retirement! – referring to them as ‘The Throwback Generation’, explaining:

‘They are exhibiting attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that combine their tech saturated world with elements of generations past’

What about their attitudes to travel?

The guys at CGK have recently got together with Expedia to produce a report **which has some striking insights to the way Gen Z is driving a change in core consumer values.

One of those changing values is a move away from products and materialism, i.e. ‘things’, to ‘experiences’; with this study finding that 74% of Americans now prioritise ‘experiences’ over ‘things’.

This is great news for all of us in the travel market and I believe it is being driven in part by the fact that their experiences can be immediately posted, broadcast and shared in all their glory and excitement. Backing up another important point that we touched on earlier that Gen Z are not stuck in their bedrooms only engaging with the world through a screen. They crave and have real world experiences but choose to relate those experiences – to tell their stories – in the digital world.

Of course, their immersion in the digital world also has a direct impact on the way Gen Z actually choose and buy, with the main driver for them being convenience.  For these guys have phone – will buy. And that doesn’t mean browsing websites of individual airlines or hotel chains, it means dedicated one stop shops, everything in one place.

87% of Gen Z say they prefer to book everything in one place. This is a generation that expects nothing less than full service as customers, and they will go straight to the companies providing it, leaving behind those who don’t. It’s as simple as that.

At the heart of all this change, in our business as in the wider world, is Social Media; placing any potential buying decision at the centre of a nexus of opinion and experience, collated and curated across the multitude of networks and platforms that this generation uses as part of its daily human experience.

72 % of Gen Zers will routinely use ratings and reviews when shopping online.  As I said earlier it is a currency of trade for them. More than this they will pre-emptively post up a potential or planned trip to canvas opinion on their social feeds. This then has a halo effect and interests others in that particular trip. In fact, 36% of Gen Zers have chosen a destination because they saw other posting about it on Social Media.

So, we see a new, complex and nuanced customer using technology in specific way that can create a virtuous circle directly in our very own marketplace. If we can get inside this circle then it will secure our businesses for the future.

To do so I am convinced that we need to make sure that we in the industry collaborate to create and offer holistic packages where all the elements – course, travel, accommodation – are of the highest quality and are stitched together to deliver ‘time of their life’ experiences for this demanding new customer.

If we get our offering right and engage properly with this morally switched on, experience hungry, networked young generation then we can only prosper as an industry. For a more in depth view on how to do just that please take a look at James’ report.

James Herbertson is Director of Bayswater a social education enterprise, he also co-founded accommodation agency London Nest  is a current serving board member of BETA. His first experience of the education travel business was as a customer. At 18 years old he travelled to Malaga to learn Spanish and it was a life defining moment. It was mind expanding, eye opening and still remains one of the best experiences of his life. Over 20 years on he still passionately believes in the incredible benefits that this industry delivers to young people and is committed to playing his part in delivering a time of their life experience. 

Find out more about Bayswater College here

*** Ipsos MORI 25th September 2017

*‘The State of Gen Z’  Centre for Generational Kinetics (CGK) 2017

**‘Generations on the Move’ CGK & EXPEDIA January 2018