How to market your hotel to Gen Z

By Jessica L on 20 August 2021

A new generation is stepping out and beginning to shape the future of travel. Gen Z – that is, anyone born after 1996 – has a spending power of over $140 billion and accounts for around 40% of global consumers. The first digital natives, they are hyper-connected, globally minded and, some say, not the easiest to please. Getting to know them is the next challenge for hotel brands as their enormous influence grows.

Who is Gen Z?

Exact parameters seem to vary, but Gen Z roughly includes anyone aged 11 to 26. It’s a group that’s still coming of age, and thus difficult to generalise, but among those who are beginning to travel independently there are defining traits that set them apart from their Millennial and Gen-X predecessors. The most obvious is the intense use of technology and social media. And then playing into that, there is increased worldliness, activism, climate anxiety, mental health fluency and a sense of validation from experiences over material things.

The digital generation

Having never known life without the internet, Gen Z is the first generation of true tech natives. In 2020, the European Travel Commission reported that 64% of young people are ‘constantly online’, while 57% say they feel more insecure without their mobile phone than their wallet. It could be said that life is virtual-first for this group; at the least, the lines between online and offline are blurred. 

While Gen Zers are moving towards a less filtered and augmented version of reality online, curation is still important. Jonah Stillman of consultancy GenZGuru, via Condé Nast Traveler, said that for this cohort, “social media plays into, not only travel, but every aspect of life”. Per ETC, 42% of those surveyed said that social media had influenced their travel choices. The power of FOMO has expanded Gen Z’s aspirations beyond the old rite of passage holidays (Spanish beach, cheap hotel). Despite being budget-conscious and preferring uniqueness to classic luxury, every decision is informed by peer validation and assessed for Instagrammability.

Though the way Gen Z consumes content means that attention spans are dwindling, McKinsey study found that today’s youth is a “hypercognitive generation” who can multi-task and gather information from multiple sources with ease. They’re at the cutting edge of technology and expect a seamless online experience from brands – one that is mobile-optimised and serves them at every stage of the journey and offers them uncompromised convenience and flexibility. Personalisation combined with efficiency has emerged as a key way to connect with a generation that values a human voice over impersonal, catch-all marketing. 

The worldliest and best-travelled 

Many Gen Zers have grown up travelling. That, combined with their globalised online and offline environments has created an open-minded and curious generation that values travel as “an essential element of life and not just a brief escape from reality” (UNWTO). This is reflected in trends for localism and authenticity over travel as a form of indulgence. It can also be said that one-upmanship on social media has left some twenty-somethings feeling as though they’ve already seen it all. To pique their interest, marketers will need to use compelling storytelling to evoke the senses and convey why an experience differs from what they may have already encountered several times on their Instagram feed. Every travel moment is future social media content, so how it plays into a Gen Zer's self-image online is important. 

Adventurous as they may be, Gen Z travellers are unnerved by the idea of serendipity. They’re a generation of foodies, but more than 90% research where to eat before they travel. With such instinctive reliance on online reviews, inspiration and peer recommendations – and every choice either an Instagram triumph or missed opportunity – they don’t tend to leave much to chance, even when booking a spontaneous stay.

The conscious consumers

Where Gen Z really embodies the zeitgeist is in attitudes towards sustainability and ethical business practices. This is a group with a strong, and optimistic, sense of social responsibility and climate-related urgency. Last year, trip-provider Contiki reported a 20% uplift in email open rates when targeting younger segments with sustainability-themed subject lines. But research shows that it’s more than a value-add; this is a generation that is seemingly willing to spend more to support sustainable brands and boycott those who fall short. With consumer confidence not yet back to where it was pre-pandemic, younger travellers may choose to put their trust in brands that demonstrably reflect their own values and beliefs when planning their next trip.

In many ways, Gen Z looks set to change the way we travel for the better and helpfully for brands, they’re the most vocal generation when it comes to stating what they want. Factor them into your hotel marketing now and you'll stay ahead as their preferences evolve.

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