4 Gen Z travel trends that are reshaping the tourism industry

A group of young travellers at the airport. Picture: Supplied.

A group of young travellers at the airport. Picture: Supplied.

Published Jun 26, 2024


For the travel and tourism industry, Gen Z travellers represent immense potential.

This emerging generation, who are roughly born between 1997 and 2012, are redefining how and why people travel.

They have their own unique perspectives, which are often shaped by technology, social consciousness and a desire for authentic experiences.

According to Chaiwat Tamthai, the director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand in Dubai for the Middle East and Africa, understanding how this group thinks about exploring new places is vital in crafting travel experiences that cater to their unique needs.

“The tourism industry is markedly different to what it was just a few years ago and each generation of travellers puts their distinct stamp on the industry,” he said.

“Generation Z is particularly distinctive in that they’ve grown up in a time of unparalleled change – they are digital natives who have lived through economic recessions, pivotal social movements, technological innovation and most recently, the Covid-19 pandemic.”

He added that these experiences shaped their world view and by extension, their take on many aspects of life, including social interactions, work and travel.

“As tourism industry leaders, getting to grips with some of these formative trends is the key to building a sector that is positioned to welcome these travellers to new and exciting experiences,” he said.

Here are four travel trends that are reshaping the tourism industry.

Sustainable and eco-friendly travel

According to Tamthai, an increasing number of young travellers are searching for tourism opportunities that have a relatively low carbon impact.

He also believes that many of are respectful of the environment and local communities.

This is also the case for South African travellers as a recent survey conducted by foreign exchange corporation Flywire, revealed that 87% of local travel providers witnessed a rise in the amount of clients seeking sustainable travel options.

The research also discovered that a further 49% of travellers have expressed interest in sustainable options when booking accommodation.

Tamthai noted that amongst these were Gen Z-ers, who are widely regarded as being more environmentally and socially conscious than their older counterparts.

“Their demand for more responsible travel experiences also extends to how they choose modes of transport, their leisure plans and their food choices.”

He also noted that this trend had become particularly prevalent in destinations known for their green status, including Thailand, which offered travellers a range of eco-friendly options.

The search for authenticity

The travel expert added that even in a hyper-connected, high-tech world, young travellers are looking for authentic experiences that allow them to immerse themselves in local cultures.

He said that Gen Z-ers were less likely to be drawn to popular tourist destinations and were more inclined to seek out opportunities that would take them off the beaten track.

This quest for authenticity often leads them to prefer home stays and boutique hotels as well as experiences such as cooking classes and cultural festivals.

Tamthai also noted that this trend has been picked up in locations like Thailand, which now offered a wide variety of authentic travel experiences.

“Some of these include joining local farmers in rice plantations, hand-weaving crafts like baskets and cotton goods, embarking on a cultural exchange with a local host family or getting involved with a community-based tourism project.”

“These kinds of opportunities can be richly rewarding and memorable, and allow visitors to take a piece of authentic Thai magic home with them,” said Tamthai.

Digital-driven travel choices

The travel expert believes that as digital natives, Gen Z-ers were also the first generation to grow up with smartphones and social media.

“Digital technology is an integral part of their travel experiences and choices. They rely heavily on apps and online platforms for everything from booking flights and accommodations to finding local attractions and restaurants,” he said.

Social media also played a prominent role in how young people choose the destinations they visit.

Tamthai added: “As much as 60% of South Africans find travel inspiration on social media channels such as Instagram and TikTok according to the Expedia Group.”

He also mentioned a study by travel marketplace Booking.com which found that almost 40% of young travellers rely heavily on peer reviews from social media influencers and celebrities when deciding where to go, what to do and what to eat.

“Going forward, social media will become an increasingly important touch point by which to engage these tech-savvy travellers.”

Holistic health takes priority

Tamthai noted that Gen Z-ers are known to be increasingly focused on holistic well-being and factors such as personal fitness, mental health and social awareness.

He said this trend went into overdrive after the pandemic, with many young people seeking travel experiences that would assist them in their journey towards general wellness.

Tamthai predicted that wellness tourism would continue to draw the interest of young people as this trend moved from being a niche to a more mainstream pursuit.

“Destinations such as wellness spas cater to these kinds of travellers. In Thailand, many spas go beyond traditional offerings such as massages, and offer programmes and retreats that are designed to restore and rejuvenate the body, mind and spirit,” he said.