Oh, the places you’ll post! Marketing to the next generation of travellers

Noa Greenfield, VP Brand and Communications at Bookaway Group, looks at the influence of social media on consumers travel decisions.

Social media is overflowing with inspiring travel destination posts that feel more authentic and accessible than ever before. It is unsurprising that travellers – especially younger ones – increasingly choose their destinations via this realm. In fact, according to a study from Expedia Group, 84 per cent of Gen Z travellers are likely to plan a trip based on someone else’s vacation photos and social media updates.

While friends and family (52 per cent) and travel providers (44 per cent) remain the most popular sources of guidance for travellers, according, again, to Expedia Group, social media, on 35 per cent, is quickly closing the gap, outpacing traditional outlets like travel agents (29 per cent) and travel media publications (26 per cent).

As younger generations become a more significant purchasing demographic, driving change throughout the sector, the travel industry will need to evolve accordingly. Here are some ways the industry can best market to this growing body of travellers.

Making the Most of Ad Spend
As the first true digital natives, Gen Zers have grown up researching independently for their travel needs, according to a European Travel Commission study. A study by Arrivia found that approximately 60 per cent of Gen Z and 40 per cent of millennials use social media for travel purposes, while another Expedia Group study found that nearly six in 10 Gen Z travellers rely on their smartphones for making travel plans, researching flights and accommodations, and booking or canceling trips.

Accordingly, travel businesses and tourist-reliant destinations looking to widen their customer base would do well to invest in a savvy social media presence. Should more emphasis be placed on Instagram and TikTok, or Facebook and Twitter? Do consumers prefer orchestrated promotional campaigns or an influencer-driven insider’s look into a destination? These are questions anyone aiming to reach out to this sector should consider.

For example, according to an IRI study, Gen Z’ers are 16 per cent more likely to have their interest piqued by video advertisements for products and travel alike. Videos capture multiple perspectives of any given experience, and the “Tik-Tokification” of the internet has given video content newfound significance as a form of communication and self-expression.

Trust is a must
When it comes to building trust, marketers must utilize different tactics to appeal to different demographics. While older travellers may still trust the star rating in a guidebook more than recommendations by strangers on the internet, next gen travellers have realized that no advertisement can provide the same insights as a friend – or a friendly internet celeb. Simply put, today’s consumers, young and old, don’t trust ads anymore: They understand how advertising can be engineered to falsely earn brand loyalty. Rather, today’s consumers trust what they can relate to – real people.

Enter User Generated Content (UGC)
Consumers today, particularly younger generations, believe in UCG – content shared organically by individual users rather than by brands or through paid placement – to most effectively showcase experiences. A 2019 study carried out by Stackla found that 86 per cent of all respondents (and 92 per cent of Gen Z) said that they became interested in a specific destination after seeing user-generated content (UGC) on social media. A smaller but still significant 48 per cent of the audience said that online content from a celebrity or influencer sparked their interest in a certain destination.

It’s important to consider the burgeoning role of the micro influencer, an individual with a social media presence of anywhere from 10,000-50,000 followers. Members of the group with this modest but visible standing are often considered more authentic, trustworthy influencers, as they aren’t typically backed by big brands and are thus more relatable and reliable to the average consumer.  

The power of experiences
With their hyperawareness of culture and media, young travellers don’t want to miss out on any trend. Tapping into this FOMO is a surefire way to resonate with the next generation – they invest a lot in “getting ahead of the curve,” and discovering something before their peers do.

In the case of travel, that means off-the-beaten-path experiences have even more appeal than classic tourist destinations – more than eight in 10 American Gen Z and Millennial travellers are seeking a unique experience for their next trip, according to Expedia Group. Rather than settle for pina coladas at the beach, the next generation of travellers will opt instead for “experiential tourism” – travel that emphasizes meaningful engagement with a location’s history, culture, people, food, and environment. These travellers want to explore small towns, hike, engage with locals, and understand the culture of an area in a more intimate and authentic way. Social media makes such out-of-the-box experiences more accessible.

Oh, the places you’ll post!
The rise of social media may mark the biggest industry shift since the advent of commercial aviation. As digitization continues to shape travellers’ preferences, it is imperative for marketers to reflect those changes in how they target these consumers.

In a world where travel is increasingly as much about the journey as it is about the destination, it is crucial that businesses leverage such means as user generated content and other forms of marketing that facilitate organic, authentic insights over vague, broadly targeted messaging. These young travellers already know that the world is their oyster – what matters is how you show them the pearl.