Generation X, Y and Z to the rescue: A youthful embrace prods recovery

“Youth are desperate to get back out,” said Adam Armstrong, the new CEO of Contiki, which caters to young adults.
“Youth are desperate to get back out,” said Adam Armstrong, the new CEO of Contiki, which caters to young adults.

Although many travel companies have focused their pandemic marketing efforts on travelers who can afford private everything, it's young travelers who appear to hold the key to the industry's broader, early recovery.

It's a trend travel companies say they are seeing around the world as people begin venturing back out.

Recent surveys by Virtuoso back the observations. So does the demographic of customers flying American Airlines, which last week said it has seen a significant shift to travelers under 40.

At the recent online Virtuoso conference, David Kolner, senior vice president of strategy, told the conference's general session that the group in late June had asked Virtuoso travelers this "simple question": Are you ready to travel again?

"The answers shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, but we see much higher interest from younger travelers," he said.

"Travel readiness was lower for older travelers. About a quarter to a third of boomers were ready to go now, whereas a majority of Xers, millennials and Gen Z are ready now. And to track consumer sentiment, we actually reran the study just a few weeks ago in late July and had nearly identical results."

David Kolner, Virtuoso’s senior vice president of strategy, speaking during Virtuoso Travel Week.
David Kolner, Virtuoso’s senior vice president of strategy, speaking during Virtuoso Travel Week.

And the younger the traveler, the more willing they are to get back out there.

Among those ages 18 to 25, a full 84.2% said they were ready to travel again. That drops to around 62% for travelers ages 26 to 55, then down to 36.2% among travelers 55 to 76.

"Younger clients may be a key to your recovery," Kolner said.

Arne Sorenson, CEO of Marriott International and another Virtuoso speaker, agreed.

"This recovery will be led in most instances by our young people who are not only more adventurous, but they have a greater need to get back to their lives, whether that's to grow in their careers, to learn and explore or to just get out of their homes.

"I'm living with my four adult children, and I can tell you firsthand they are definitely ready. That desire to travel, to collect experiences and to get together in person has not diminished in this crisis. It's perhaps stronger than ever."
Professionals from across the travel spectrum confirmed they are also seeing the trend.

"We see two groups traveling robustly next year: people who are financially secure and millennials who have saved their money," said Carol Dimopoulos, CEO of Learning Journeys, formerly known as Perillo Learning Journeys. "I have three [millennial children]. I know for a fact that they are saving their money, and when they see something that piques their interest, they will travel."

Rodrigo Esponda, managing director for the Los Cabos Tourism Board, said questionnaires filled out by travelers departing Los Cabos indicate the first wave of tourists to return were both younger and more affluent than average.

"Almost 5% of those who came in July indicated that they earned more than half a million dollars as a household," he said. "That was not happening in July of 2019. And that does not include those travelers who come on private planes."

Many of those young travelers also noted they were professionally independent or business owners, meaning they have the flexibility to work remotely, Esponda said.

Executives from across the travel industry agree younger travelers will lead the industry's recovery.
Executives from across the travel industry agree younger travelers will lead the industry's recovery.

Last week, American Airlines chief revenue officer Vasu Raja said the carrier's customer base, which historically has been built around high-yield business travelers, has gotten much younger since the Covid-10 pandemic began. And customers are less likely to have AAdvantage loyalty status or even to be AAdvantage members at all.

"There's people out there right now, and we need to go and build a relationship with them," Raja said.

Adam Armstrong, the new CEO of Contiki, a Travel Corporation brand that caters to young adults, said conversations with a group of 600 respondents from around the world that they poll regularly revealed that "youth are desperate to get back out."

"They are not too concerned about waiting for a vaccine, either," he added. "They just want to travel again. They have been living in this virtual world for six months, and they just want to get out."

He said he fully expects the youth market to lead the recovery: "It's when, not if."

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Robert Silk contributed to this report.

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