The youth travel segment is growing and has the potential to support tourism’s positive impact on cultural longevity, sustainability and local businesses – yet it is often overlooked, said tourism players.
Many assume that youths lack disposable income, explained Wendy Morrill, head of research & education, WYSE Travel Confederation.
In 2019, youths – loosely defined as a segment aged 18 to 29 – made up about 23 per cent of international arrivals, translating to 336 million travellers. This is equivalent to US$333 billion in tourism receipts, where 60 per cent of their travel budget is spent in the destination.
Travel with meaning and purpose
According to Morrill, this segment does not travel for weekends and short holidays. Instead, they seek “educational” experiences and “some form of cultural exchange”. Trips are “purposeful and meaningful, both economically and socially”, and can be formal, such as a study programme at a university, or informal like a working holiday.
Pedro Lucena, partnerships manager with accommodation specialist Selina, told TTG Asia that young travellers at its properties have opportunities to make “meaningful connections”.
“For example, in our Lisbon hotel, we have a meetup every Thursday, where locals come to the hotel to network with guests from all over the world,” he said.
Lucena added that such connections can lead to enriching local experiences. For instance, the same property offers a workshop with a local craftswoman, where participants can paint a tile using a traditional Portuguese method dating back to the 17th century. They get to fire their tile and take it home as a souvenir.
Agreeing that youths drive demand for purposeful travel, Chanjira Khadseesai, spokesperson for The Green Lion, said: “(On our programmes), these youths learn about themselves, learn how to support each other, learn how to share, and learn to respect other cultures. This is very important now.”
The B2B company works with travel agents to promote meaningful programmes filled with local culture and volunteerism. These programmes run from a week up to six months for travellers aged 18 to 25 in 32 destinations.
“Most of our travellers are from Europe on their gap year break, and their top three destinations are Indonesia, Thailand, and Costa Rica. Their average programme length is around four weeks,” shared Chanjira.
Youths obtain their travelling stipend from their parents, who are more open-minded these days about letting their children experience meaningful travel, she added.
While gap year breaks funded by parents are common in Australia, the UK, and parts of Western Europe, Michael Ebert, director of Tourism Adventure Group (TAG), said the rest of the world is slowly catching on.
TAG supports youth travellers visiting Australia and New Zealand with trip planning. The group also supplies accommodation and offers services to help working holidaymakers settle in.
Ebert elaborated: “We notice that these working holidaymakers would stick with one employer for six months, save up all their money, and (spend the remaining duration of their travel visa) travelling around the country. When they find a place they really like, they stay there for four or five months to experience what it’s like being a local.”
When asked whether Asian youths are doing the same, Ebert said the trend had weakened in recent years. He hopes that Asian demand will return soon.
For destinations and travel businesses keen to attract the youths, Carylann Assante, CEO of SYTA The Voice of Student & Youth Travel, said an even younger group – those aged 12 to 18 – is the one to watch now.
Assante said many of them travel to assess potential colleges and universities overseas, and will continue to explore destinations once they begin to study abroad.
This segment has strong spending potential too.
“We have a study that showed that while adults might spend US$500 in a week in New York City, students will spend US$1,000 because they will shop and buy gifts for friends and family,” she said.
Morrill concluded: “Youth travel is a stable segment that will only continue to grow. This group will also make more responsible (and sustainable) choices, which can become life-long habits.”