Reaching Gen Z: Getting Inside the Heads of Today’s Young Adults

Gen Z — 18–25-year-olds — are the first digital native cohort to begin exploring the world. How do you reach them, what do they want, and who even are they? Stephen Joyce explains

Reading Time: 5 minutes 6 seconds

Times they are a-changing, and with it everything that we know about marketing. The generation in their late teens and early twenties — Gen Z, or zoomers — are the first to live their whole lives with the internet in their pocket rather than tied to a desk. That has changed how they consume content and how they travel.

While words work best when trying to sell to boomers, generation X and millennials online, it is pictures and video that inspire the youngest cohort. They are also to be found in different places online. Boomers and generation X are most likely to be found on Facebook, Instagram has a mix of mostly millennials and Gen X, and zoomers, with a handful of millennials, on TikTok and Snapchat. Everyone’s on YouTube.

The full talk is available on-demand for Arival Pro Access Members and Arival 360 Online attendees

Stephen Joyce, in-destination industry veteran and TikTok aficionado (94.9 thousand followers and counting) took to the stage at Arival 360 San Diego to educate the three older age groups on how to reach Gen Z.

“If you are using Facebook, you are not reaching the Gen Z audience”

Reaching Gen Z: Getting Inside the Heads of Today’s Young Adults Arival Ben Finch
Gen Z do not spend their time online using Facebook — Alexander Shatov / Unsplash

“It’s pretty clear that if you’re targeting millennials, Gen X and boomers on Facebook, you are not reaching the Gen Z audience,” Joyce said. “That is how different those two audiences are right now. Marketing and advertising campaigns that worked for those older generations simply won’t work for Gen Z. 

“The reason is because, according to Snap in a survey, pretty much all of Gen Z has smartphones, and that’s the way that they’re researching and booking their travel. They are not talking to travel agents in real life or on the phone. They simply aren’t. They are moving online, they are shopping online, and surprisingly, they are using OTAs.”

That means operators need to reach them before the OTAs do — or rely on the OTAs performance marketing departments — and allow them to pay online using the methods they prefer.

What are Gen Z looking for?

Reaching Gen Z: Getting Inside the Heads of Today’s Young Adults Arival Ben Finch
Unique experiences are what Gen Z travel for — Braden Collum / Unsplash

Research on Gen Z often shows that they are just not that interested in doing what everyone else has done before them. Like everyone before them, they want to be unique and authentic in their own way. 

That means they are rejecting the fakery of Instagram and the (sorry boomers) sheer boredom of Facebook, its Minions and the memes that have appeared on all the other networks six months beforehand (Instagram is only a month behind).

This search for uniqueness extends to travel — they do not want to do what everyone else is doing. Gen Z wants a fuller and richer experience of their location than millennials, whose pictures from the 10 Most Instagrammable Places in Cancún they’ve seen a thousand times. Zoomers want to go big.

“80% of Gen Z’s are looking for unique, interesting, once-in-a-lifetime, bucket-list experiences — that’s what they’re looking for,” Joyce said.

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“They’re not going to these sites to just book a flight somewhere and hang out in the hotel. They want to do cool stuff. And they want that cool stuff to be the inspiration for them to travel. 

“Who has that stuff? You have that stuff, right? So this is where you get to be part of that experience for them.”

Zoomers are also looking for a seamless online experience, which many operators do not provide. They are not used to websites that do not work, or that are heavy, clunky and don’t display properly on mobile.

“They’re digital natives,” Joyce said. “They did not grow up with a crappy user experience. We grew up with slow internet, terrible software, terrible hardware, and we had to deal with that. 

“Our generations are much more forgiving. Gen Z doesn’t even know about this.

“You, as owners, need to make sure that your mobile-first websites, your apps, and your booking engines are designed for the best possible user experience for this very, very discriminating generation.”

Who are Gen Z?

Gen Z are the most diverse and inclusive cohort, and they care a lot — Denys Nevozhai / Unsplash

Largely, Gen Z seem to be good kids. Many — but not all — have the advantages that the generations before them have fought for, and they are fighting their own battles for the future. Most seem to be able to be who they want and are accepted. 

They care about others and themselves. Much of the information on the generation suggests they are less likely to smoke, drink or do drugs than those who came before them, and they enjoy exercise and staying healthy, particularly in the mind.

“The other thing to keep in mind,” Joyce said. “Is that they care a lot. 60% of Gen Z care about DEI — they care about diversity, they care about equality and inclusion. 

“That needs to be part of the framework. So what do you do? Create once in a lifetime experiences, change up the offerings that you’ve got — if you want to target this generation — make sure that you build in sustainability. 

“54% of Gen Z say that they want to stay in green or environmentally-friendly hotels. 60% of them want to use environmentally-friendly methods of transport when they’re in destination and 54% of them will pay more to use those services.

“You need to walk the walk on your diversity, equity and inclusion policies. They are looking for companies that support this because they are diverse.

“They are hardworking, they are creative and they are flexible. And they value mental health over materialism.”

They would probably also hate to be defined, just as we do.

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