Once a year, professionals in the youth, student and educational travel industry gather at the World Youth and Student Travel Conference (WYSTC) to formulate partnerships, strengthen business relationships and discover the latest youth trends both globally and regionally. This autumn’s event in Beijing revealed the behavior of youth and student travelers today, where they’re coming from, where they’re headed and what industry professionals can do to connect with them and gain their business.
YOUTH AND STUDENTS TODAY
There are 1.7 billion people on Earth today who are 15-30 years old. In an insightful seminar entitled Global Youth Trends, WYSTC speaker John Solomon discussed this important consumer group in both the context of a radically changing global youth population and an emerging China. Solomon predicts that in a not-too-distant future, Chinese youth will be trendsetters and influence brand decisions globally.
Millennials are “the largest, most diverse, educated and influential shoppers on the planet,” according to Gen Buy. The more a brand fits into their lifestyle, the more inclined they are to gain personal identification with that brand. Their identity is so strongly linked to brands that they are willing to share information about themselves with a trusted brand in exchange for greater access (such as sneak peeks at new products) or more relevant content. Even in an economic downturn, for today’s youth, it’s not always about the lowest price.
This identity connection in turn means that youth today are extremely brand loyal. Once they find a product or service they like, they continue to come back to it. And for a generation born into the social media era, they are naturally inclined to share their opinions with their friends and family – nearly every minute of every day. But how long can they keep that up?
Solomon predicts that we could see this trend reversing. Young people today are in a state of “hyper self-awareness” of their own emotions, thoughts, actions and desires, but in time that can become so exhausting that they will begin to limit the extent of their openness and restrict their social profiles to only their closest contacts. Quality will win out over quantity.
What does this mean for those of us whose customers are youth and students? Currently they can be your biggest mouthpiece, easing the strain on your marketing budget. But if their social circles shrink, so does your brand exposure; therefore, companies might also need to focus more on the quality of their offer and rely less on simply reaching the masses.
It’s also critical to engage the 10 percent of your customers who already love your brand. Turn them into brand ambassadors and give them the tools to spread the word over and over again. Open up the channels within your organization to obtain feedback and ideas from them.
Luckily, the youth market has a higher lifetime value than other travel sectors – today’s backpackers and students are tomorrow’s honeymoon, family, business and leisure travellers, as well as foreign employees in local industries. Plus, not only do they return to destinations they like, they also continue to travel to more destinations, further enriching and unifying the industry.
At a value of approximately US $136 billion per year, the youth travel industry commands great power, and is set for growth. Mr. Solomon highlighted another trend he nicknamed the Peter Pan Syndrome, meaning that today’s youth want to stay younger, longer. Students are now prone to defer life’s big decisions and are increasingly turning to gap years, especially with strong unemployment figures intimidating them. For the global youth travel industry, this means even more revenue potential.
STUDENT ORIGIN MARKETS: WHERE DOES IT ALL BEGIN?
China and India are the main source cuntries for the US $17 billion overseas student industry, which employs 125,000 people and funds 25 percent of university teaching. Research shows that 645,000 Chinese students will be studying abroad by 2025, a staggering 84 percent increase from 2007.
China’s growing importance as both a sending and receiving destination is precisely why the WYSE Travel Confederation decided to hold its annual event WYSTC in Beijing this past October. Nick Barton, Vice President Sales & Marketing for InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), revealed in his seminar China’s Online Travel Revolution that “by 2020, China is expected to produce 100 million outbound trips going to every corner of the globe, making it the largest producer of tourists in the world by far.” (Source: WTO Official Forecasts 2009).
Young Chinese today take an active interest in other cultures and yearn to travel and study abroad. They place a premium on Western education, and with a market the size of China, the potential is lucrative. By 2015 there will be 500 million people under the age of 30 in China, roughly the population of the European Union. And with current figures showing 256 million youth online in China, it’s no secret how to reach them.
In the next five to ten years, the powerhouses of China and India will be joined by a number of emerging source markets such as Brazil, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, the Czech Republic, Vietnam, Pakistan, Russia, Georgia and Central Asian states such as Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
WHERE ARE YOUTH GOING?
Once again, China takes the crown and is pegged to be the world’s No. 1 tourist destination by 2015. By next year alone, the total China travel market (inbound and outbound) is forecasted at $65 billion, and by then over 20 percent of it will be online. (Source: PhoCus Wright – Emerging Online Travel Marketplace).
The study abroad industry is a key component: China plans to attract 500,000 international students in 2020, including 150,000 in universities. Qiu Xiaoping from the Beijing Municipal Commission of Education also delivered a speech during WYSTC’s opening session, encouraging further cooperation in education and culture communication. “The Chinese government is more open to international academic communication programs as increasing numbers of overseas students are coming to study in China,” Qiu said.
Meanwhile, “countries like Chile, Colombia, the Czech Republic, Romania and Saudi Arabia are becoming more integrated in global trade and could begin to attract students,” stated Angel Calderon of Australia’s RMIT University in his recent paper “Emerging Countries for Student Recruitment in Tertiary Education.”
Damian Cook, founder and CEO of E-Tourism Frontiers, suggested in his WYSTC seminar that the future lies in Africa and the Middle East. Where once a trip to these parts of the world would be seen as both off the beaten track and somewhat risky in terms of safety, now travelers are scouring the Internet for new experiences, which has led to a changing marketing dynamic for this new wave of tourism.
Youth travelers are continually hailed as pioneers and trend-setters, forging new tourism frontiers and opening up new markets through their adventurous spirit and desire for new experiences. By appealing to this market, places like Beirut, Nairobi and Cape Town are becoming the new destinations of choice.
Perhaps then it was no coincidence that a new hop-on, hop-off travel company, Falafel Travel Corp., was launched at WYSTC by Australian Frank Scerri. The company will begin operation of its backpacker bus across Jordan, Israel and Egypt in March 2011. “People are genuinely excited about this product, but the biggest question I have had is about security in the region,” he said. “These countries are very safe places to travel, and the people are extremely friendly.”
WHAT REALLY MATTERS?
Solomon told the WYSTC audience that this generation is not one of creators but one of sharers. Youth today are often considered to be lazy or spoiled since technology has created things for them; they are used to getting whatever they want or need at any time or place. He cited a trend coined “now-stalgia,” clarifying that rather than looking ahead towards a brighter future, they are looking backwards and revitalizing old fashions, movies, songs and video games. Therefore, companies must provide the tools for them to have new experiences.
Furthermore, with youth’s addiction to social media and sharing quick updates or moments, businesses not only need to create new moments for them but also facilitate the subsequent sharing of those experiences.
“But don’t just sell experiences, sell meaningful experiences,” WYSTC keynote speaker Daniel Levine of The Avant-Guide Institute urged. Levine highlighted the global financial meltdown as the key reason for a sudden cultural change: “a social earthquake.” He showed that travel opportunities that reflect the desire for education, learning and personal experience are becoming increasingly popular.
Solomon echoed this in stressing that youth are leading the trends towards self-improvement, eco-awareness, social responsibility, community involvement and volunteering. Millennials are particularly attracted to travel offerings that move beyond the mainstream and provide value-driven, conscientious experiences.
The message from this year’s WYSTC was loud and clear:
- Travel products and services need to be unique and of high-quality
- Your company must create new, enriching experiences for youth and students
- Give your customers the tools and opportunities to engage with you and with your potential customers
- If China isn’t already part of your business plan, then find the right partners and get into this market now
The next WYSTC will take place in September in Europe – don’t miss the opportunity to experience it first-hand.