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Travel Brands Must Think Beyond Price to Connect With Gen Zers and Millennials

Younger generations account for a majority of travel volume, so brands must understand how their preferences differ from older ones, writes travel & hospitality analyst Lindsey Roeschke
Getty Images / Morning Consult artwork by Ashley Berry
September 14, 2023 at 5:00 am UTC

Key Takeaways

  • Nearly half of millennials and 40% of Gen Zers have booked a trip in the last month, outpacing their older counterparts.

  • Price is a motivating factor for younger generations, but they also consider values-based priorities more important relative to older generations.

  • Travel brands can efficiently target both Gen Zers and millennials because of the many ways these generations overlap.

For more insights on travel behavior, download Morning Consult’s semiannual report The State of Travel & Hospitality, which tracks evolving consumer trends in the travel & hospitality sector and analyzes what they mean for the future of the industry.

From time to time, generational warfare breaks out on the internet, with baby boomers accusing millennials of “killing” everything, millennials blaming baby boomers for unaffordable housing, Gen Zers poking fun at side parts and skinny jeans, and Gen Xers largely staying out of the fray as they listen to their old Nirvana tapes. Clearly, generational differences run deep — and that is as true in travel as it is in culture at large.

Encouragingly, travel has grown among all generations since late 2021, propelling a post-pandemic recovery and helping the industry hit its stride. But that doesn’t mean, of course, that all generations travel equally. When it comes to booking trips, millennials and Gen Z adults outperform Gen Xers and baby boomers by a notable margin.

Younger Travelers Are Driving the Lion’s Share of Bookings

Shares who said they booked a trip in the past month
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Surveys conducted Oct. 22, 2021, to Aug. 7, 2023, among representative samples of roughly 2,200 U.S. adults each, with unweighted margins of error of +/-2 percentage points.

The industry has had its eye on travel-happy millennials for many years, and more brands are targeting Gen Zers as they become more financially stable and independent. Those hoping to drive preference and frequency among this crucial group must understand the unique behaviors and preferences of younger travelers, including where they overlap and where they diverge.

Younger generations are more driven by values-oriented booking preferences

For all travelers, price is — and has long been — the most important priority when booking transportation and accommodation. Through fluctuations in the economy and inflation that sharply rose and then fell again, no other travel booking priority has overtaken price since we began tracking in late 2021. But while younger travelers are price-aware, they are less likely to say cost is a top priority in booking, and by a wide margin. The same is true for other top considerations like safety and flexibility, though young travelers say the latter is a stronger driver in transportation than in accommodation, suggesting airlines must continue to offer rebooking options that travelers became accustomed to during the height of the pandemic.

Younger Travelers Are More Motivated by Values-Oriented Considerations

Shares of younger generations and older generations who said each of the following is a "top priority" when booking transportation or accommodation for a trip:
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Survey conducted Aug. 4-7, 2023, among 1,205 older adults (Gen Xers and baby boomers) and 948 younger adults (Gen Zers and millennials), with unweighted margins of error of +/-3 percentage points.

On the other hand, younger travelers are more likely than their older counterparts to say that values-oriented considerations are a top booking priority. While perhaps less pertinent factors than price, the way a brand treats its employees and its approach to sustainability are both considered top priorities by well over a quarter of younger travelers. Of course, this is true beyond travel: Other Morning Consult surveys have found that younger generations are more likely to say they research or look for companies’ ethical stances, and that doing so impacts their purchasing decisions.

Specific demographics at scale: Surveying thousands of consumers around the world every day powers our ability to examine and analyze perceptions and habits of more specific demographics at scale, like those featured here.

Why it matters: Leaders need a better understanding of their audiences when making key decisions. Our comprehensive approach to understanding audience profiles complements the “who” of demographics and the “what” of behavioral data with critical insights and analysis on the “why.”

All of this suggests that while travel brands may think that offering discounts is a way to attract price-sensitive young travelers, in reality they also need to satisfy a wider range of brand- and values-centric needs to drive preference and bookings.

Younger adults are more likely than older ones to travel for special events

Southwest Airlines’ classic tagline “Wanna get away?” certainly speaks to the key travel motivator for consumers: Across all generations, the most cited reason for planning a trip is simply to take a break and escape for a bit.

However, more specific motivators vary by age, with younger travelers citing a wide variety of reasons to take a trip. They’re more likely to travel for a specific event — perhaps a friend’s wedding or a Taylor Swift concert — but are also more likely to say they have vacation time, money or points banked that they want to use. This may feel counterintuitive, especially for the youngest members of the workforce, who have not yet reached their peak earning years or achieved much professional tenure to have banked a meaningful amount of paid time off. But as previous research has shown, these young generations who experienced upheaval and turmoil in their formative years aren’t willing to put off the things they want to do in a future that’s not promised. So they may simply have a lower standard for how much money or time off they need to save to take a trip.

A Wide Variety of Factors Trigger Younger Travelers to Book Trips

Shares who said the following factors influenced their upcoming leisure trips:
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Survey conducted Aug. 4-7, 2023, among 819 older adults (Gen Xers and baby boomers) and 605 younger adults (Gen Zers and millennials) with leisure travel plans in the next year, with unweighted margins of error of up to +/-4 percentage points.

While this means younger generations are traveling early and often, it also means that they are entering the path to purchase in many different mindsets, from the broadest to the most “Eras”-tour-specific. To reach younger adults and drive bookings, brands need to go broad, specifically in the inspiration phase of travel.

Gen Zers and millennials diverge on trip length

One area where older and younger generations appear at first glance to be in near-lockstep is when it comes to the length of the trips they’re taking. But in reality, there is a different type of generational divide here. Gen Z adults and baby boomers may be on opposite ends of the age spectrum, but they share a predilection for longer trips. The middle generations, on the other hand, are more inclined to take trips of three days or less. This is likely due to family responsibilities, as many millennials and Gen Xers have school-age children and are limited to weekend trips or school holidays.

Millennials and Gen Xers Are Planning Shorter Trips

Length of next planned leisure trip
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Survey conducted Aug. 4-7, 2023, among 819 older adults (Gen Xers and baby boomers) and 605 younger adults (Gen Zers and millennials) with leisure travel plans in the next year, with unweighted margins of error of up to +/-4 percentage points. Figures may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

That said, when millennials in particular take a big trip, they venture far from home: 44% said they expect to take an international trip in the next year, compared with 37% of Gen Z adults, 24% of Gen Xers and 17% of baby boomers. Which international destinations do they favor? While all generations are more likely to travel to Western hemisphere locations than more distant ones, millennials are far more likely than all other generations to say they plan on visiting Central America.

While segmenting travelers into older and younger generations may provide a strong jumping-off point for brands, this divide also suggests that there are some areas where it’s better to take a generation-specific approach.

A headshot photograph of Lindsey Roeschke
Lindsey Roeschke
Lead Travel & Hospitality Analyst

Lindsey Roeschke previously worked at Morning Consult as the lead travel & hospitality analyst.

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