In an era where travel gets determined more often by Facebook than by Fodor’s, the definition of “what’s important” to do while vacationing gets blurrier with each passing year. And no single group is redefining what vacation time well-spent means more than Gen Z. With roughly $143 billion at Gen Z students' disposal, it’s high time travel marketers paid closer attention to what activities these new vacationers are looking for.
So... What do Gen Z travelers want most from their vacations? If you answered, “partying,” hey, you’d be forgiven. After all, back in your day, “partying” was probably top of the list. But that’s not Gen Z for you.
Sure, they’re down for partying — but what else you got? A recent joint travel survey by UNiDAYS and Ad Age (of nearly 12,000 college kids) found that “partying” ranked a distant fifth among favorite activities for Gen Z globetrotters.
So what in the world do Gen Z students like to do more than blacking out in exotic rum bars in Greece or Mexico? Well, a few things, actually.
According to UNiDAYS and Ad Age findings, Gen Zers prefer trips to museums and cultural institutions, adventures in the Great Outdoors, tours and excursions, or simply soaking up the local ambience — to partying on the nearest beach.
Most importantly, Gen Zers love experiencing exotic food when traveling.The joint travel survey from UNiDAYS and Ad Age revealed that students in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand all reported that “eating out” was their favorite thing to do when voyaging into the unknown.
It’s important for marketers to understand what “eating out” and “trips to cultural institutions” have in common — and what they don’t necessarily have in common with nightclub “partying”: They each offer a greater potential for Gen Zers to present themselves as being more singular, exotic and “visually unique” on social media sites like Instagram.
Think about it: There are only so many angles you can take of yourself at a party before your photos get boring. But not if you’re taking photos of yourself trekking the Great Wall of China, visiting the Louvre, luxuriating in an Icelandic hot spring, or enjoying a meal that looks so carefully arranged it feels almost Photoshopped. By and large, food and cultural attractions offer better “Instagrammable environments” to Gen Zers than mere “partying” can.
It’s no wonder food is prized by Gen Zers in the same way travel is. For them, food is another form of authentic self-representation; a currency that lets other Gen Zers access their most-private, authentic selves. It’s not hard to see why a well-curated Instagram post of a sushi bento box — or better yet, of an exotic restaurant menu in Mumbai — carries more visual cathet than, say, a drunken photo of yer boy doin’ a keg-stand. As fun as partying is, it doesn't hold a candle to the perfect plate of #foodporn.
Providing friends with stunning Instagram posts is, for Gen Zers, an act of social grace. What better way of showing digital good manners than regaling your friends with snapshots that showcase bold, colorful and singular travel destinations you go to — and the exotic foods you enjoy while you’re there? According to the joint study by UNiDAYS and Ad Age, Gen Zers like to indulge in the occasional “spending splurge.” While hoteliers and restaurants around the world are already capitalizing on the need for making their spaces more Instagram-friendly, there’s plenty more work to be done.
Whether they like it or not, Gen Zers are under constant online social scrutiny. As such, they’re going to want to put their best faces forward. They’re going to want to post interesting content on social media that boosts their online social reputation — and leaves their friends coming back for further “displays of authenticity.” When done right, posting the right foodie pic can have much the same effect as a picture of a trip to the Amazon or Antarctica: It can trigger a mild attack of the #FOMO — the “Fear Of Missing Out.”
Who doesn’t want to intrigue (or at least come across as interesting to) people on some level? Who doesn’t want to leave others feeling like they’re not getting as full an experience as you are?
Generation Z travelers, that’s who.
Top Three Takeaways for the Travel Industry
- If you’re a travel company, think outside the beach. Make sure you’re considering other things that Gen Z values like exotic dining (*cough* #foodporn *cough*) and cultural attractions.
- If you’re a restaurant or hotel, consider making your space more singular and even quirky — Instagram-worthy qualities that captivate Gen Z travelers and strike their souls with the fear of #FOMO.
- No matter what section of the travel industry you’re in, it’s time you recognized the spending power of Gen Z. $143 billion ain't just for casual dining.