Published on Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Youth matters: The most neglected travel market

You can measure the importance of the youth travel market in numbers or in its changing makeup but it’s perhaps best viewed in its immense potential to a wide spectrum across the travel market.

“The importance of youth and student travel to the global economy should not be underestimated was the message from the Official Tourism Organizations meeting recently held at the World Youth and Student Travel Conference (WYSTC) in Beijing,” wrote PRLOG earlier this month.

One of the goals at that meeting was to give tourism organizations the power to lobby governments about the importance of the market.

The youth market is a US$136 billion enterprise. Studies show that young travelers:

---Spend more than those in other travel sectors.

---Spend four times longer traveling to a destination than the average visitor. The average young traveler spends US$2600 per trip

---Have a higher lifetime value than other travel sectors because the backpackers and students of today are tomorrow’s honeymooners, family, business and leisure travelers.

---Are more resilient to economic downturns and are less risk averse than mainstream travelers.

---Are trend-setters and pioneers in exploring tourism frontiers and opening up new markets.

---Communicate their experiences to a wide audience through their use of social media. Vietnam and other Asian markets are examples of areas that developed from the backpacker’s market.

---Are leaders in environmental and socially-conscious causes.

Young travelers are usually defined as aged 16 to 29. In some surveys, that market has grown faster than most other travel segments.

So where are opportunities for travel providers? Many.

---One of the most obvious: travel agents. Why? Because young people tend not to use them. In fact, one survey of those aged 18 to 35 found that more than 80 percent said they did not use travel agents for any plans.

---Youth travel is stimulating the development of new market niches in areas such as specialized youth accommodation, work experience, volunteer travel, ‘au pairing’, language learning andeducational travel.

---Mid-priced and luxury hotels take note: The youth market does not attract just low-cost hostel dwellers.

---Youth hostels worldwide are upgrading their bunk-bed dormitories and developing innovative concepts to attract the market a cut above the “bare necessity” traveler.

---Destination and adventure travel sites should also know that surveys show more than two thirds of young people travel with a purpose: to learn a language, volunteer, work or study aboard.

---A growing number of countries are therefore seeking to attract niche markets (e.g. sports and adventure) with specific youth travel marketing campaigns and policies. Travel providers can look to “hitch a ride” or take advantage of that wave of development.

---Demand from student travellers for a broader range of language travel products – combined with a series of industry mergers and acquisitions – have opened up new locations for the language travel market.

---Key aspects of destination development are: youth budget accommodation, cultural routes, information services, web portals, tour packages and discount programs.

By David Wilkening

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