Change and innovation have always been championed by youth, and this is true of our industry as well. Therefore, trends in the student and youth travel market are often good indicators of things to come in other sectors of the travel industry.
So just what is going on in the student and youth travel market?
According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, youth travel now accounts for more than 190 million international trips a year. This figure is estimated to grow, in response to higher living standards and an increase in youth travelers from developing countries, to 300 million by 2020.
Young people travel for a variety of reasons including education, expanding their social circle, experiencing new cultures, career development and straight up bragging rights. They tend to be pioneers in discovering new destinations and are early adopters and heavy users of new technology.
All of these areas offer opportunities for future growth in the youth travel marketplace and one of the most important factors in tapping into this market is the final item mentioned − technology.
Young people are always on the move, and there is one thing that is usually on the move with them − their smart phone. Youth are now more likely to own a mobile phone than a book. By 2014 it is estimated that more users will connect to the Internet via a mobile device than by a computer. In 2011, there was a 400% increase in mobile searches over the previous year and 42% of 18-34-year-olds research and share purchases via social media.
What does this all mean for you? If you want to successfully tap into the youth travel market, you have to be on the cutting edge of technology. Student and youth travelers are all about the SoLoMo revolution. SoLoMo stands for Social, Local, Mobile and essentially means that users want instant access to locally relevant information from wherever they are and they want to be able to share that information with their social circle.
Consider the following scenario, taken from a real example, that I believe is a good indicator of things to come: A student arrives in a new city and wants to find a place to stay. She pulls out her iPhone and performs a local search for hostels in the area. The search reveals several, their locations clearly marked on Google Maps. She sees that one of the hostels has a mobile friendly website and thus views it for more information.
On the website, there is a link to a free mobile application for the hostel that allows her to book and pay for a room directly from her phone, as well as providing independent reviews and comments from previous patrons. She also sees that there is a live video feed from the hostel’s common area and clicks to see how lively the scene is.
While viewing the live feed, she can read through the schedule of events taking place at the hostel and surrounding area, and sees that a nearby restaurant offers a discount to people staying at the hostel. After deciding to book a room and have dinner at the restaurant, the GPS system in the phone detects her current location, accesses Google Maps and provides her with detailed directions to the hostel as well the best mode of transit to take. Upon arriving, using the social networking functionality of the mobile app, she directly updates her Facebook, Twitter and FourSquare status to let her friends know where she is.
This may sound a little fantastical, but this is all technology in use today.
Youth travel is a recession-resistant, expanding market in the global travel industry, offering many opportunities for development. However, whether you are an operator, destination or agent, you will need to understand and develop your SoLoMo profile to compete successfully. As famously stated by H.G. Wells, “Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative.”