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Hospitality Insights

The Trends in Youth Travel – Style Over Substance?

09 October 2015


Two weeks ago, the VP of Ford Motors was interviewed on BBC News and asked why the company was pursuing a role-out of SUV models in Europe. His response was very interesting indeed. “ We are looking at the SUV market as we believe it is a way of us getting more exposure with millennials”. He went on to say

“We believe that SUVs allow millennials to look good and that is very important to the demographic”.

This was met with a little surprise but the BBC journalist but perhaps he has a point. If you look at Apple products, there are others out there on the market that are arguably better devices, but Apple have held that allure of exclusivity and “sexiness” of design that millennials crave.


Courtesy of Flash Pack

According to the definition of millennials, being born in 1980 means that I classify as one (yeah I know, I had a tough paper round) and as it happens, I own an Apple phone, a Mac and so forth. I am not sure it is down to what other people think but I do love the way they are designed and how they work. I don’t drive an SUV but my VW Up is certainly not in my garage for the looks.. but it’s compact form and efficient millage means it’s cheap and easy to run in a city like London.

When it comes to travel, the youth travel industry has undergone an amazing transformation since I travelled the world with a backpack and a Lonely Planet guide in 2003/2004. The travelling millennial is more demanding, more savvy and more connected than I was. When I left the UK to travel, the most popular search engine in the UK was Yahoo , the most popular phones were Nokia’s and you learnt about your trip from mates, going into a travel agent or buying a guidebook like Lonely Planet. The landscape of travel has been transformed by the internet, but technology has also meant that there is less surprise to travelling and therefore higher expectations of standards when the younger generation travel.

The “backpacker” of today travels with a laptop and smart phone; their travel guides are digital and they find out information from social media. They can have a 360 degree tour of their destination before they have even thought of where to go and of course their travel searches are via Google! Many don’t even travel with a backpack anymore and use suitcases with wheels on.

These changes, combined with the increased standards of living of many younger people across the globe, the increase in low cost great looking furniture from places like IKEA, mean that young people expect more. These trends have been grabbed by some of the bigger hostel chains like the Generator brand where they use internationally famous interior designers to make sure their hostels are up to the standards of the discerning young person. The trend for investing in hostels interiors was around when I travelled, especially in Australia, where brands like Wake Up! set the bar for high quality hostels, with an amazing atmosphere, service and facilities.


Generator Hostels Venice

So does this mean the end for traditional hostels offering arguably a more “authentic” experience? It is a question that hostels and the travel companies that feed them really must consider when it comes to their product offering and the marketing of it. I think the importance of authenticity in youth travel still exists, but for the reasons stated above, the average young traveller wants authentic experiences with touches of luxury. I do believe there is a place for the smaller more authentic hostels, as I believe that there are young people needing an escape. I actually think there will be a shift back towards more traditional places, as other offerings become too standardised and lacking personality. Looking at the hotel space, there was a massive push in the budget sector driving towards “bums in beds”, which about 5 years ago, consumers got a little fed up with. There is a resurgence of popularity of B&B’s and the rise of AirBnB shows the demand for the “quirky & different” that goes beyond pure style!

In summary, I can see what the Ford VP was saying. Millennials crave things more fiercely, like to look good and are hyper-connected with tech (fuelling the previous two points). However, I do believe there is still a huge need for authentic hostel and other youth travel products that inspire and offer unique experiences.

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