The emergence of Generation Z in the global market, notably in the travel sector, signals a major shift. As digital natives, born in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Gen Z’s expectations differ markedly from previous generations given that they grew up with the internet, smart devices, and social media as part of daily life.
Gen Z, now about 20.88% of the U.S. population according to Statista, is rapidly gaining economic influence and is poised to soon overtake millennials as the most important age-based market segment.
Encora partnered with travel industry experts to conduct research into Gen Z’s travel behaviors and expectations, particularly in the U.S. and Europe. This article presents the results that stemmed from the research, offering insights for the travel industry to adapt and thrive.
Understanding Gen Z's Values, Digital Expectations, and Motivations
Encora’s research (discussed in depth under Regional Differences in Gen Z Travel Behavior), finds that tech-savvy Gen Zers expect seamless, personalized, mobile-first experiences and are less tolerant of friction in digital interactions.
Like every generation, Gen Z has been shaped by the times in which they have grown up, including rising inflation in an unstable financial landscape, climate anxiety, COVID-19 lockdowns, and the digital age.
Fabiana Moura, SVP and Subject Matter Expert in Travel & Hospitality at Encora’s Marketing and Sales Department highlights the pivotal role of technology in shaping the future workforce. She states, “Gen Z will also reshape the employee experience. To attract and retain this generation, employers must not only meet their demands for flexibility, purpose, and rapid career development but also transition from legacy systems to more advanced technological solutions. Companies that fail to adapt to the technological expectations of Gen Z talent will soon face significant staffing challenges. Understanding their motivations and values as both consumers and workers, particularly their inclination towards tech-driven environments, is crucial.”
In contrast to millennials who adopted technology later in life, Gen Zers heavily rely on mobile technology and social media. They date, shop, work, and make friends online. The internet is Gen Z’s source of information for everything from news to consumer reviews before making a purchase.
Gen Z Values
Gen Z’s distinct values around technology, diversity, and social issues set them apart from millennials. This generation expects brands to actively engage in social and environmental issues, demanding accountability and value alignment. They are a more politically and socially active generation, taking to social media to advocate for their beliefs.
Gen Z seeks out online communities that reflect their interests and values. Gen Z is individualistic with “a strong sense of personal expression.” Even though they heavily consume media online, they carefully curate their online image, often opting for anonymous profiles, personalized feeds, and a smaller public online presence.
Digital Experiences Expectations
The Los Angeles Times reports that Gen Z spends an average of 7.2 hours of screen time daily consuming video content alone. Constant connectivity has shaped their preferences and expectations for digital experiences.
Encora findings suggest Gen Z expects technology to be intuitive and constantly evolving. Sandra Vazquez, Head of UX and Design at Encora, Mexico, says, “The research shows us that Gen Z expects hyper-personalization, frictionless transactions, proactive support, and interactive interfaces. Instead of traditional top-down marketing, they desire participatory experiences where users and brands collectively create value.”
Motivations for Travel
Travel is about more than relaxation for Gen Z. It is a pathway for personal growth and cultural exploration, helping them expand their perspectives and worldviews.
Gen Z also values responsible and sustainable tourism as a force for good, pursuing eco-conscious travel experiences that align with their social conscience.
Additionally, Gen Z sees travel as a way to gain real-world experiences. Travel experiences shared with friends, family, and peer groups are an opportunity to strengthen social connections. Overall, Gen Z is looking for cognitive, emotional, and social benefits through their travels.
Regional Differences in Gen Z Travel Planning Behavior
While Gen Z has many characteristics in common across the globe, important regional distinctions exist that companies must understand. What resonates with Gen Z audiences in one market may not translate to another.
Encora found that in the travel industry, factors such as motivations for traveling, planning behaviors, and accommodation priorities diverge between regions. Moura explains, “This means that travel brands seeking global appeal need localized strategies shaped by research into market-specific nuances.”
Encora’s proprietary research made use of surveys and interviews to examine the differences in Gen Z’s travel planning behaviors and expectations in the United States and Europe.
Summary of Proprietary Research and Findings
For Encora’s research, 40 participants were evenly divided between the U.S. and Europe, and between genders. The participants ranged in age from 21-26 years old. The qualitative research conducted used open-ended questions about travel motivations, planning behaviors, pain points, and desired features. The quantitative research then validated patterns through multiple-choice questions.
- 90% of Gen Zers from the U.S. spend substantial time and effort planning trips compared to 60% of Europeans.
- 80% of Gen Zers in the U.S. use social media for travel inspiration versus 60% of Europeans.
- Europeans tend to view travel as educational to learn about the culture and history of a destination and its people while those from the U.S. prioritize gathering new experiences and perspectives.
- European Gen Z travelers are more concerned with the cleanliness of accommodations than US travelers who prefer to prioritize the location’s convenience.
- Most European Gen Z travelers are students compared to the US where Gen Z travelers are more frequently full-time employees.
Source: Midjourney AI Image
When selecting destinations, European Gen Zers valued opportunities to increase their cultural literacy. Gen Zers from the United States focused more on objectives such as meeting new people and having new experiences.
For travel research and planning, United States Gen Zers rely more on social media like Instagram and TikTok. Europeans are divided between using social media and relying on word-of-mouth advice from family and friends. Research also demonstrated that European Gen Z travelers are less likely to meticulously plan details compared to U.S. Gen Zers.
Source: Midjourney AI Image
The two regions also diverged in accommodation preferences. When selecting lodging, European Gen Z prioritized cleanliness and value, whereas U.S. Gen Z prioritized convenience and aesthetics.
Gen Z’s Travel Planning Pain Points
The qualitative research Encora conducted used open-ended questions. The research sought to reveal Gen Z’s pain points while travel planning in areas such as budgeting, group coordination challenges, and desired features.
- Gen Z travelers find it difficult to collaboratively choose destinations, itineraries, costs, and lodging that work for everyone in a group trip.
- Not having a centralized platform to plan and manage everything about a trip is a pain point.
- Gen Z reports that legacy systems are outdated and non-intuitive. They expect intuitive, mobile-friendly digital experiences versus rigid legacy systems.
- Gen Z wants multiple payment options that include modern methods and payment types such as mobile wallets (PayPal, Apple Pay, Amazon Pay, and Google Pay) and buy-now-pay-later solutions (PayPal Pay Later, Klarna, Affirm, Afterpay).
Kathia Alexander, an Encora Product Designer, explained Encora’s findings, “For those who wish to travel with friends, family, or other peer groups, group trip planning poses major logistical challenges. Coordinating travel details with multiple people who each have unique preferences and limitations is a significant point of frustration highlighted by the research.”
Another pain point is fragmented information across multiple online sources and platforms. Unlike millennials who are willing to deal with a little more friction, Gen Z travelers dislike having to visit various websites, apps, review sites, etc. to research and book different components of their trips.
Alexander adds, “Gen Z travelers also highlighted the annoyance of having to move from mobile devices to laptops when a planning/booking site or app was not mobile-friendly. Gen Z wants seamless, omnichannel experiences.”
Implications for Travel Companies Trying to Reach Global Audiences
Regional distinctions within Gen Z travel planning pose challenges for travel brands seeking to market across Europe and the United States. The distinctions indicate that strategies and messaging cannot be one-size-fits-all across global campaigns.
Appealing to European Gen Z, for example, requires highlighting educational experiences and cultural immersion while reaching Gen Zers from the U.S. requires more marketing of inspirational lifestyle content. Encora’s findings reveal that accommodation providers need to adjust offerings based on user priorities (convenience vs cleanliness) in each market.
Travel platforms should consider making appropriate adjustments by region. Features such as social sharing or reviews can be emphasized for U.S. audiences, while European users may prefer more advisory/educational content and mobile-friendly planning tools.
Innovating for Gen Z Travelers
While understanding Gen Z is crucial, insight must also drive action. What do Encora’s findings mean for companies in the travel industry? Travel companies must reimagine experiences, services, products, and workforce strategies to capture the Gen Z market and talent pool. This includes re-examining every consumer and employee touchpoint or facing the possibility of losing out to competitors.
Appeal to Gen Z Values Through Innovative Personalization
For Gen Z users, functional services are not enough. Companies must deliver innovative experiences tailored to Gen Z values.
Personalization is key:
- Platforms should leverage data and AI to provide inspirational, hyper-relevant recommendations and custom content for each user.
- Interfaces should respond dynamically based on behaviors and feedback.
- Support services should feel proactive rather than reactive.
Travel companies that innovate and deliver omnichannel travel planning experiences will have a tremendous advantage with Gen Z. Travel companies can also benefit from incorporating elements of gamification and rewards. Gen Zers enjoy leveling up, unlocking perks, and accumulating shareable achievements. Gaming dynamics motivate engagement across the full customer lifecycle.
The trip planning journey for Gen Z travelers should be captivating right from the start. Interactive forums offer a platform for travelers with similar interests to connect before and after their trips, fostering a sense of community. Additionally, immersive technologies like Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) enhance the planning experience by allowing users to virtually explore destinations, accommodations, and attractions. Cutting-edge advancements in computer vision and the metaverse are opening doors for travel brands to engage Gen Z with hyper-realistic digital experiences, offering virtual previews of trips that are both engaging and informative.
However, Vazquez adds, “Mobile will likely remain the primary anchor and should be seen by companies as a priority and the main medium to attract Gen Z.”
Leverage Technology to Create Seamless Experiences
Travel companies need to ensure their websites and apps operate seamlessly across all devices, with a particular emphasis on mobile optimization. It's essential to integrate various solutions through APIs and customer data platforms, streamlining the user experience across different channels and minimizing disruptions between systems. Additionally, leveraging AI and machine learning is crucial for enabling data-driven personalization and automating processes, enhancing the overall user journey.
Cater to Desires for Sustainable and Educational Travel
Travel companies should highlight their eco-conscious efforts and include educational themes. This will help attract Gen Z travelers seeking to travel purposefully.
Brands can provide resources for low-impact travel and demonstrate dedication to environmental and social principles. Itineraries can incorporate volunteer activities and exposure to local cultures. Transport and accommodation options can be filtered based on sustainability criteria.
The key, however, is authenticity. Gen Z is adept at seeing through greenwashing, empty rhetoric, or token gestures.
Meet the Expectations of the Gen Z Workforce and Attract New Talent
“As Gen Z joins the ranks of the workforce, the travel industry must take steps to attract, engage, and retain this new generation of employees,” Moura adds as a reminder that Gen Z’s impact goes beyond their role as consumers. “Companies need to align work environments and experiences with Gen Z perspectives and values, from transforming legacy systems to rethinking organizational culture.” Those who fail to adapt to Gen Z risk losing out on the critical talent necessary to drive innovation and growth.
Attracting and engaging Gen Z talent requires shifts in corporate policies, tools, and culture with an emphasis on diversity, inclusion, sustainability, and social responsibility.
Flexible remote work options are popular with Gen Z along with fluid career paths and rapid upskilling. Once again, providing state-of-the-art mobile technology is also important. Onboarding and training must become more short-form, interactive, and user-friendly. Processes should be as automated as possible. Prescriptive, top-down management feels outdated to Gen Z. This generation expects their leaders to empower them through transparency, mentoring, and participatory cultures.
Rethink Legacy Systems and Consider New Platforms/Tools
Many current travel systems do not meet Gen Z workplace preferences. The Gen Z workforce looks for systems where data is integrated seamlessly for unified workflows rather than siloed point solutions. Insights should be visualized using real-time analytics dashboards that cater to different roles.
Emerging technologies like AI, low-code platforms, and collaborative tools help streamline operations and better align with Gen Z habits. Vazquez reminds travel companies of the importance of keeping veteran employees in mind, “Change management is critical. Forcing overnight transformation risks alienating veteran employees anchored to legacy systems.”
Adopt Human-Centered, User-Focused Design Processes
Travel companies should embrace human-centered design (HCD) principles tailored to Gen Z perspectives for developing consumer and workforce solutions. HCD focuses on end-user needs rather than internal capabilities or constraints.
HCD best practices include research, ideation, prototyping, and iteration based on feedback. Voice-of-the-customer data should inform decisions at each stage. This helps avoid misalignments between Gen Z expectations and realities. Conducting usability testing early also prevents costly late-stage rework.
Centering design around user inclusivity and accessibility is crucial. Seeking input from both Gen Z and older employees during development, not just after, also smoothens adoption. While HCD requires some upfront investment, it drives innovation and unlocks value.
Embracing Change: The Future of Travel with Gen Z
As Generation Z reaches the age of independent work and travel, they are set to transform the travel industry in terms of consumer interaction and employment dynamics. Their distinct preferences, which diverge significantly from those of previous generations, require adaptive strategies. Companies slow to embrace these changes risk falling behind more proactive competitors.
Adapting the travel experience to meet Gen Z's needs involves leveraging cutting-edge technologies and fostering inclusive, dynamic corporate cultures. Although this shift presents challenges, it also opens up valuable opportunities. Gen Z's enthusiasm for discovery and novel experiences creates a burgeoning market. Additionally, their innovative spirit offers a chance to reinvigorate travel workplaces, paving the way for a more empowered and creative workforce.
Understand Gen Z Travelers and Unlock Competitive Advantages
Insights into the behaviors, motivations, and pain points of Gen Z travelers enable travel brands to craft uniquely tailored experiences that stand out.
Companies able to track Gen Z trends and rapidly prototype innovations as a priority will continuously increase loyalty. Those failing to connect with Gen Z values will steadily lose market share as demographic realities shift.
Alexander says, “Regional nuances are also important. Travel providers need localized strategies to win region by region. Some options like gamification or sustainability may only appeal more strongly to certain Gen Z segments.” Precision is required to optimize engagement and conversion.
Encora’s Specialized Expertise and Partnership
Encora’s expertise in design thinking and digital innovation helps travel companies remain competitive and align with the evolving needs of Gen Z. Partnering with Encora means accessing a human-centered approach that delivers personalization at scale, coupled with the advantage of a trusted ally to adeptly navigate the nuances of this generational transition.
Encora’s specialized and proprietary research aims to guide clients in reshaping experiences to captivate Gen Z. We also optimize legacy systems and workflows to balance new and existing employee requirements. Our approach, rooted in user insights, encompasses both consumer engagement and workforce development.
Let us help chart your Gen Z strategy. By working together, we can ensure travel’s next chapter is its most exciting one yet.