What young travellers bring to the global community

What young travellers bring to the global community

This article was originally published in the UN World Tourism Organization’s report The Power of Youth Travel, released in September 2011. It was written to help explain to political decision makers why they should orientate their destinations more towards younger travellers. In the end it landed on the desks of tourism ministers around the world…

Over the past year, news headlines have been occupied with the efforts of young people around the world to bring about social, political and economic change in their respective countries. Social networks and smartphones have proven powerful tools in these efforts, as well as the desire to participate, the capacity to face challenges and put personal differences aside in pursuit of a greater cause. It is therefore unsurprising that young people worldwide have applied similar principles in organising and carrying out their travel plans.

At a first glance, demographics do not appear to favour the growth of youth tourism in the West because of an increasingly ageing population. While this may be so, the age range for youth travel has in fact expanded considerably. With the increasing affordability and accessibility of educational travel programmes, children as young as eight or nine years old are gaining close-up experience of other countries, languages and ways of living. At the other end of the scale, young adults in these countries are continuing to live a ‘younger’ lifestyle for longer, putting off the responsibilities of adulthood such as raising children or buying property until later and continuing to travel as a youth traveller for longer.

Besides, the recovery of world tourism from the recent years of economic crisis has mainly been driven by an increase in departures from the emerging economies such as Brazil, Russia and China. Statistics from these UNWTO Member States suggest that young people represent a considerable proportion of these new departures.

 ‘Tourism is not just another sector of the economy. It is a human phenomenon that has social implications.’

Those working in the field of youth tourism will be aware of the long-held view by destinations worldwide that young travellers are at best an added extra to more lucrative high-end visitors and at worst, an irritation. Given the encouraging trends described above then, surely now is the time to seriously consider not just the increasingly profound economic impact of young visitors but the importance of youth travel for the global community too, so that destinations can learn how to extend a warm welcome to those who could well make repeat visits in the future.

For many hundreds of years young people have been encouraged to explore other cultures and increase their knowledge of the world, whether through pilgrimages, visits to places of learning or pure colonialism. The foundations for the modern concept of youth travel however can be traced very firmly to the postwar initiative of many European nations to send their young abroad in the hope that this would build peace through tolerance, trust and understanding. Many of the government agencies and ministries set up to fund this endeavour survive to this day and can be counted among the Members of UNWTO and WYSE Travel Confederation. Look at the mission statements of these institutions and the objectives of ‘promoting mutual understanding’ and ‘knowledge of other cultures’ figure strongly.

So, whether through official encouragement or through personal initiative, it is the way in which young people travel that can best help to illustrate the benefits youth travel brings to the global community.

Firstly, having to gain the means to travel for themselves means that young people will aim to experience and appreciate their journey as much as possible. Seeking new, unique experiences means trying new ways of living, eating and sleeping, discovering unfamiliar cultures or joining other young people en-masse at large-scale events. This desire to gather, share intense experiences and learn creates the conditions for young people to develop tolerance, cultural awareness and a better understanding of international relations. Many businesses are starting to realise the value of study and work-abroad programmes, recognising that if these are structured properly, they can produce capable, resourceful and globally-aware future employees, ready to work in an ever-more globalised and interconnected world.

This, for example, is one of the objectives of the ERASMUS programme which for the past 20 years has enabled university exchanges within the European Economic Area for nearly 3 million students.

So while the benefits for travellers themselves are increasingly being recognised by educational institutions, parents and future employers, what positive impact can young travellers make on host communities?

There is still much research to be conducted in this area, however a number of direct and indirect impacts can be observed. Firstly, there are now more opportunities than ever before for young people to engage directly in development assistance, some examples of which have been presented in the various case studies in this report. When this is well structured and young people go properly trained and with realistic expectations of what they can do, the benefits for the host community and individual can be numerous.

Secondly, the intrepid nature of experienced young travellers leads them to visit parts of the world that are ‘off the beaten track’ or even unstable and dangerous. As we have seen, they are the most likely group to buy goods and services from local, independent vendors. In this way, young travellers help maintain a vital contact with the outside world, and more importantly, a source of income for local communities.

Thirdly, facing their expeditions with an open mind, and without prejudice is what leads young people to continue travelling at a time of crisis (whether man-made or natural). Consider, for example, the well documented case of young travellers who continued to travel in the aftermath of 9/11, including young travellers from the US who in most cases changed their travel plans, rather than cancelled them all together. While not all-together crisis-proof, the determination shown by young people to depart once the basic costs of travelling are covered should be a source of hope and encouragement for many destinations.

 The effect of the Internet

The power of the internet to facilitate all of the above must not be underestimated. Budget airlines, long tried and trusted by young travellers, were among the first major players to exploit the innovative methods of planning and booking travel that the internet presented. Hotels, budget accommodation, travel agents and other providers have seen their sales models revolutionised in a similar way. Aside from the providers, the internet has also multiplied the opportunities for social interaction through travel. Consulting friends’ photos of past trips on Facebook, seeking ‘hidden gems’ on TripAdvisor, arranging to stay with locals through Couchsurfing or getting insider tips on countless local blogs helps young travellers to connect before, during and after their trip to local people and their knowledge to make informed decisions that enhance their travel experience.

As we have seen, the reasons for promoting youth travel in terms of the benefits it can bring to the individual and to the host community are quite clear. However, it is too simplistic to assume that young peoples’ experience of travel is always positive and that the process of self-enhancement is automatic.

Unfortunately, all too often young travellers are subject to stereotyping, suspicion and poor service. With their power to mobilise contacts, expose scams and poor service and ultimately vote with their wallets, young travellers can no longer be considered as passive consumers. Providers in the tourism and travel industry should recognise that investing in quality services and well-trained staff is not just essential because it is profitable. It is also essential because of the social importance of providing young visitors with positive travel experiences. The travel industry as a whole has the responsibility to provide the right conditions for this transformation to take place. This means the public and private sectors working together to provide quality services that are well adapted to the needs, means and expectations of young travellers. Joining promotion efforts, sharing information about visitor profiles and training staff to a high level are among some of the efforts that will help destinations to ensure that their development will be truly sustainable and the young travellers of today will continue to visit long into the future.

How to Attract the Millennial Hotel Guest

How to Attract the Millennial Hotel Guest

“Millennials,” the group covering those with birth years ranging from 1977 to 1995 and presents a dynamic opportunity for hotels to attract and retain a booming market that already represents one third of all hotel guests.

The two biggest questions for hotels are: How do you market to Gen Y? And, once you get them through the lobby doors, how do you meet or exceed their expectations?

When it comes to marketing strategies, Millenials are far more likely to take hotel advice from their peers than from traditional marketing channels. Social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are essential to capturing this demographic.

Does your hotel have a Facebook page and a Twitter handle? If not, you’re missing an opportunity to market to Gen Y. More likely than any other demographic to Tweet from check-in to check-out, encourage Gen Y guests to connect with you during their stay and share their travel experience with their circle of friends. When guests log-on to the hotel Wi-Fi, your splash screen should prominently feature your social media channels.

So what does Gen Y really want in a hotel? According to consultants “Y Partnership” this new generation of travelers expects:

  • Free Internet
  • Casual food available 24 hours
  • Self-service check-in/out
  • Hotels with individual personality and a distinctive ‘sense of place’
  • Multi-use lobbies that encourage guests to socialise

Read the full article from Skift.com here

My take:

So many accommodation providers still see Wifi as a lucrative revenue stream as opposed to a necessary free service. As the Skift article explains, tech-dependent young travellers won’t just expect Wifi for free, they’ll expect it to work seamlessly throughout the hotel on multiple devices at the same time. It’s surprising how many hotel and hostel chains still haven’t cottonned onto this fact yet. Avoid leaving your guests sitting in the street outside local coffee shops after dark, surfing off free wifi by offering it in-house and make up the revenue elsewhere in the bar or café.

You can also avoid competing with local eateries offering free wifi at all hours by offering your own ‘casual food’ 24 hours. This doesn’t mean employing a Michelin-starred chef throughout the night, it just means having casual snacks available when travellers who have the late-night munchies actually want them.

This ties in neatly with the use of social spaces. Chains like Generator Hostels and Meininger Hotels have understood this trend well and are applying it with imaginative effect, providing large open spaces for guests to play pool, computer games, strum a guitar or chat. Gen C might be connected 24/7 but that doesn’t mean they want to hide out in their hotel room!

Of all the recommendations, I think it’s the need to offer a ‘sense of place’ that is driving the most fascinating changes in hotel management and marketing in recent years. For decades, driven by the demands of the US hotel guest seeking familiarity in foreign climes, hotel chains went on a relentless march of installing the same plastic interiors and identikit menus. Today, hostels best placed to attract the young authentic experience-seeking traveller will offer local food, local music, art, drama, crafts and a whole host of other means of connecting the traveller to the destination before he/she’s even stepped out of the front door.

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A smart and symbolic move: easyJet launches a dedicated homepage in Chinese

A smart and symbolic move: easyJet launches a dedicated homepage in Chinese

Yesterday easyJet caused quite a stir among the global travel easyJet Chinese homepageindustry by launching a dedicated homepage in Chinese. Even the Prime Minister had something to say about it during his visit to the country.

easyJet already has dedicated home pages for customers booking their European travel from Brazil, Russia and the US and according to the airline the move to provide a booking engine in Chinese was prompted by a 25% rise in bookings from China during 2012.

For me, this move is a smart one. Destinations and providers of tourism products and services from the tiniest mountain village to the great capital city across Europe have been scrambling to attract the fêted ‘high-spending Chinese traveller’. However there are so many basic ways in which destinations are falling short and providing signage and service in Chinese has so far been one of them. By providing a booking engine in their native language the airline is making a clear statement that it is open for business for the Chinese traveller in Europe (and now beyond). The move has also brought the company into line with VisitBritain’s China Welcome programme.

The move is also symbolic. The easyJet brand has long been identified with the savvy independent traveller. While easyJet flights are also bookable by travel agents through Amadeus’s distribution system (a move made largely to capture the business market), the budget carrier has traditionally been associated with independent travellers looking to compose their holiday their way, as opposed to being subject to tour operator charter flights or the legacy carriers (those currently bringing Chinese visitors long-haul to Europe and, until now, presumably providing the bulk of European internal flights). If increasing numbers of Chinese travellers have been booking with easyJet it’s because they too are increasingly prepared to compose their trip their way, travelling independently or in small groups.

easyJet A319For Gen C Travellers and upscale independent travellers of all ages, easyJet is a fascinating brand to watch, given its role in stirring up the airline industry since its launch over 15 years ago and given the way it currently projects itself to the independent traveller. Just take a look at the hotels, cities, experiences and products reviewed in the company’s in-flight magazine.

As Chinese visitors make repeat visits to Europe, looking to broaden their horizons from the obligatory dash around eight countries in one week, they are showing an increasing propensity to branch out and use previously unfamiliar services, brands and routes. This interesting report ‘Chinese Tourists in Europe from 2017′ by the mega travel company Tui helps to explain this concept.

In future posts I’ll be discussing some of the commentary about young Chinese travellers and sorting the fluff from the substance as the travel industry races to attract the Chinese yuan!

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Review: ‘The Rise of Generation C: Implications for the World of 2020′

This report, published in 2010 by Booz&Co the ‘oldest continually existing management consultancy in the world’ sets out what the world could look like by the end of this decade, thanks to the rise of this permanently-connected generation.The Rise of Generation C

The Rise of Generation C defines Gen C as that which was born after 1990 and lived its adolescent years after 2000 (I just about scrape in there!) and discusses exensively the implications of this new generation’s behaviour on the ICT industry. Whether you’re in ICT or not, the report makes a powerful case for sitting up and taking notice of this important demographic that according to the report by 2020 will make up to 40% of the polulation in the US, Europe and BRIC countries and 10% in the rest of the world.

I’ve picked out some highlights:

  • The pace of innovation will create an ever more digital world as digital devices confirm their emerging role as the dominant tool for trade, entrepreneurship and internet access for the masses.
  • Being connected will be the norm in 2020 – indeed a prerequisite for participation in society.
  • The average person in 2020 will live in a web of 200-300 contacts maintained through a variety of channels.
  • Healthcare, retail and travel are likely to be the most affected by the revolution in ICT.

What does the report say about travel?

  • A decline in business travel is expected as costs rise, digital communication is more widespread. Face-time will become a valued luxury.
  • The role of the travel agent as an intermediary will be cut out.
  • Peer reviews will become the dominant factor in deciding on the next vacation.
  • Online advice and information will dictate peoples’ travel plans in real time.
  • The distinction between travel and home will become a blur.
  • Off-the-grid time will become a luxury.

My take:

Though only three years have passed since the report was released, it’s worth considering how far down the road we’ve already travelled. Arguably, peer reviews of everything from airline seats to hotel beds to the little bar on the corner have already become the dominant factor as social networks chart travellers’ dreaming, deciding and booking process in ever greater numbers.

Real-time dictation and management of holiday plans is making its breakthrough as the mainstream tour operators like Tui have launched their own app to stay in close contact with the customer during their journey and sell ancillary services such as last minute tours and activities. With travellers often sharing every waking hour of their trip live on Facebook, instant feedback from peers is already commonplace. Expect it to grow.

For me, the most interesting of the observations about travel is the final point; that ‘off-the-grid time will become a luxury’. Traditionalists would argue that young people already spend too much time glued to their phones and tablets, so how will this look in 2020? Having grown up with digital devices representing ‘an essential tool for participation in society’ how will young travellers feel about disconnection? To what point will holiday packages promising disconnection actually allow travellers to remain disconnected? What do you think?

 

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