Our industry more than most others has seen an incredible expansion in youth and student travel over the last decade. The United Nations World Tourism Organization reports that almost 200 million trips this year will be undertaken by youth travelers, with that number expected to climb to 300 million by 2020.

But who are these travelers? What do they want to do? Why do they travel? And how can your company engage them successfully?

In order to tap into the youth marketplace you have to better understand the Generation Y (15-30) demographic, the most technologically and marketing savvy generation in history. They have taken the next step and melded technology and their social life into a new mobile socio-electric culture. Having instant access to information wherever they are and being able to share their lives minute-by-minute via social media is as natural and expected from them as having a television was for their parents. Media sources have even reported that many in this generation would prefer to forgo sexual intercourse for a month rather than not have access to Facebook. This is the domain into which you step.

As a company trying to gain a foothold in the youth marketplace, there are a few things you need to keep in mind. Gen Y believes in the global, social community and wants to be involved in the creation and customization of the products and services they use. They see social media as their most important news source because of its instantaneous and personalized nature. Peer review is far and above the most trusted source of information about products and services. They are an emotionally charged, experience-driven generation that views leisure activities as part of their lifestyle and not merely a luxury. The minute-by-minute sharing of their lives has created an intense form of competition within their social circle, each one desiring bragging rights over the others. The continuing trend of “gamification,” whereby companies offer challenges or competitions that can be shared via social media, is an obvious exploitation of this characteristic.

A company that wishes to dominate within this group should therefore strive to empower their customers by allowing them to be a part of the creative and marketing process, listen intently and respond to feedback, be willing to reinvent themselves constantly and maintain a strong social and mobile presence. If a company can do this, they will gain the affection, trust and patronage of one of the largest and most rapidly expanding consumer bases in the world.