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As Gen Z students hit the roads, rails and skies for Spring Break, we’re taking a closer look at this generation’s unique travel habits and what their changing preferences mean for the hospitality industry.
This year, Gen Z travelers will outnumber Millennial travelers for the first time ever. This stat might surprise you—since Gen Zers are known for being frugal—but when it comes to travel, they’re willing to save and spend. In fact, a recent UNiDAYS study found that 99% of Gen Zers like to travel, and 51% travel 50 or more miles every one to three months. This means it’s more important than ever for brands and agencies to understand the travel habits of a generation that, on average, takes 2.8 leisure trips per year, according to Expedia.
So, what does this mean for Spring Break? For starters, 61% of students surveyed by UNiDAYS said they planned to travel during their time off. While the popularity of Spring Break hasn’t changed much, what has changed is where and how this generation chooses to spend their hard-earned time and money.
Whereas older generations opted for the weeklong, all-inclusive beach resort type of vacations, Gen Z wants something a bit more immersive. Don’t get us wrong—Gen Zers do go to the beach, but it might not be their top destination—even on Spring Break.
UNiDAYS recently asked Gen Z travelers what their top priority travel spots were. Some of these destinations won’t come as any surprise to you, but some probably will. First, it was clear that escaping to the beach was very much on their minds, with 36 percent responding that “beach getaways” were still their trip of choice. US News’ annual list of cheap Spring Break vacations in the United States reflects this: Puerto Vallarta, Cabo San Lucas, South Padre Island and Key West are all anticipating Gen Z college students this year.
Let's dig deeper into the other places Gen Zers want to travel. As it turns out, Mexico, the Caribbean and the Southeastern United States will get stiff competition from other global destinations this year, as Italy ranked top on the list of Gen Zers’ vacation bucket-list. Japan was right up there also, as were Canada, Germany, Spain, Poland and Romania. Surprisingly, Mexico ranks at a distant ninth place this year.
Gen Zers like to have fun, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in more enriching activities also. In fact, activities like eating out, sightseeing and cultural experiences are higher priorities for this generation than partying, which is distant sixth place in Gen Z’s minds. That might have something to do with the Instagram phenomenon and with Gen Zers’ well-publicized “fear of missing out” on unique travel experiences. Make no mistake: The beach still holds water with Gen Z, but so does a bustling megapolis like Bangkok.
The same UNiDAYS study found that Gen Zers have an average budget of between $250 and $750 for each of their holiday expenses, which means (in general) that they’re looking for destinations offering affordability and extra value.
It’s important to note, though, that there are different ways of measuring “value”. While the sand and surf of “beach vacationing” ranks inexpensively, the same could also be said for cities like Rome, whose ancient monuments and millennia-old buildings galore aren’t costly to access and offer Instagram-worthy optics. Road trips to Panama City, Florida might seem cheap when compared to Italian holidays, but given the added cultural value of a place like Rome, the meaning of value is debatable.
Moreover, only 18 percent stated they would relying on anyone else to pay for their vacations. Gen Z's financial self-reliance gives them all the more incentive to spend their money wisely on holiday, albeit with the occasional splurge.
Gen Z’s travel habits are different than any generation before them, which means their Spring Break trips will be, too. Spring Break on the beach might be a favorite pastime of American college students, but this year, the travel industry should shift its thinking. It’s not all banana boats and beach parties anymore.
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