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Generation Z is growing up and making its mark. For the travel and tourism industry, this generation represents immense potential. Their unique perspectives, shaped by technology, social consciousness, and a desire for authentic experiences, are redefining how and why people travel. Understanding their mindset is crucial for crafting travel experiences that cater to their unique needs.

Chaiwat Tamthai, Director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand in Dubai for the Middle East and Africa, explains: “The tourism industry has changed significantly in recent years. Each generation of travelers leaves its own mark. Generation Z is particularly distinctive because they’ve grown up in a time of unparalleled change – they are digital natives who have experienced economic recessions, pivotal social movements, technological innovation, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

These experiences have shaped their worldview, influencing their approach to social interactions, work, and travel. For tourism industry leaders, understanding these trends is key to building a sector that welcomes these travelers to new and exciting experiences.”

Green Travel

More young travelers are seeking tourism opportunities that have a low carbon impact and respect the environment and local communities. This is particularly true for South Africans. According to a Flywire survey, 87% of local travel providers have seen a rise in clients seeking sustainable travel options. Additionally, 49% of travelers have expressed interest in sustainable options when booking accommodation.

Gen Z is especially environmentally and socially conscious. Their demand for responsible travel experiences extends to their choices of transport, leisure activities, and food.

This trend is prevalent in eco-friendly destinations like Thailand, which offers a range of sustainable options. Tamthai explains that Thailand’s STAR program categorizes tourism operators based on 12 sustainable travel criteria, including economic, social, environmental, and good governance factors. “This system is incredibly useful for responsible travelers who can review each operator’s sustainability status and make informed decisions,” he says.

Authentic Experiences

Even in a high-tech world, young travelers seek authentic experiences that immerse them in local culture and lifestyle. Gen Z is less likely to be drawn to popular tourist destinations, preferring off-the-beaten-path opportunities such as homestays, boutique hotels, and experiences like cooking classes and cultural festivals.

In places like Thailand, this trend has been noted and catered to with a variety of authentic travel experiences. These include joining local farmers in rice plantations, hand-weaving crafts, cultural exchanges with local host families, and community-based tourism projects. “These opportunities can be richly rewarding and memorable, allowing visitors to take a piece of authentic Thai magic home with them,” says Tamthai.

Digital-Driven Travel

As digital natives, Gen Z relies heavily on digital technology for travel. They use apps and online platforms for booking flights and accommodations and finding local attractions and restaurants. Social media significantly influences their travel choices, with 60% of South Africans finding travel inspiration on platforms like Instagram and TikTok, according to the Expedia Group. Another study by Booking.com found that almost 40% rely heavily on peer reviews from social media influencers and celebrities.

Going forward, social media will become an increasingly important touchpoint for engaging these tech-savvy travelers.

Holistic Health

Gen Z focuses on holistic well-being, including personal fitness, mental health, and social awareness. This trend has intensified since the pandemic, with many young people seeking travel experiences that support their overall wellness.

Destinations like wellness spas cater to these travelers. In Thailand, many spas offer programs and retreats designed to restore and rejuvenate the body, mind, and spirit. As Tamthai predicts, wellness tourism will continue to attract young people, moving from a niche to a mainstream pursuit.