The resilient and dynamic power of youth travel
The last few years have been challenging for travel and tourism and youth travel was no exception. However, we can proudly once again say that the youth market is a dynamic and resilient space within international travel, tourism and education.
WYSE Travel Confederation has championed international youth travel for decades. Even when times are tough, the young keep travelling. However, the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated a simple caveat: the borders must be open. Globally, travellers aged 15 to 29 make a significant contribution to the travel industry, representing 23% of international arrivals and EUR 330+ billion in tourism receipts annually. Their absence was felt by destinations around the world during the pandemic. The limitations on exploration and self-development were also felt by young people themselves. With future growth in key youth cohorts in emerging economies, and a post-COVID rebound evident in advanced economies, the power of the youth travel market is poised to hold steady, if not increase, as a contributor to the global travel and tourism economy.
As the global association for international youth, student and educational travel specialists, WYSE monitors and analyses the youth travel market. WYSE research has identified the unique characteristics that make this market more valuable than one might assume. Not only does the international youth traveller on average stay longer and spend more than a typical tourist, there is also multiplying potential for social and economic impact. Longer stays attract visiting family and friends who also spend in the destination. The benefits of cultural immersion are multi-faceted, altering self-awareness and cultural understanding. Youth generate high-impact travel that combines formal and informal learning, cultural awareness, adventure and fun.
In 2023, the fifth edition of our once-every-five-years study of international youth travel, New Horizons, indicated many of the key aspects of youth travel remain intact post-COVID. There are also evident changes. Here are trends we’ve identified and how we interpret them as we move into 2024.
Characteristics of the international youth trip
Globally between 2002 and 2023 the average spend on an international youth trip has more than doubled, even though the average length of stay has decreased. During that time, use of travel agents decreased, though there was a small uptick in 2023. This uptick could hold awhile longer as youth find their way back to international exploration with the help of travel agents. Looking ahead, it could potentially rise modestly as emerging markets pursue educational travel with the assistance of specialist agents.
Spend on in-destination activities as a proportion of the total international youth trip spend increased from 9% in 2017 to 13% in 2023, in line with growth of the ‘experience economy’. Enjoying cafes/restaurants, day tours/excursions and shopping remain among the most popular activities for international youth trips. However, in 2023 visiting nightclubs returned to the top 10 activities for young international travellers. Events & festivals and food & drink experiences were the most popular splurge items for international youth travellers in 2023. The uptick in nightlife activities of an international trip is perhaps part of the post-pandemic travel experience rebound. There was also a noticeable increase in the percentage of travellers willing to splurge on guided tours in 2023. This could suggest demand for unique experiences will continue and that experience creators can use all hours of the day and corners of life to innovate their offering to tourists.
Youth travel motivations
Exploring other cultures, experiencing everyday life in other places and increasing one’s knowledge are among the top motivations for young people to travel abroad. In 2023 young travellers indicated that helping people and relaxing to avoid stress became more important to them as international travel motivations. In contrast, visiting relatives/friends became a much less important travel motivation for young people in 2023 – unsurprising given pandemic home isolation. In line with increased awareness of health and wellness, the desire to help others while travelling is admirable. This is perhaps an opportunity for operators to connect young travellers with local social impact projects.
More insights on international youth travel to come from New Horizons and WYSE Travel Confederation in 2024.
For the past nine years as Director General of WYSE Travel Confederation, David has led the Amsterdam-based team in representing and advocating the youth, student and educational travel industry. During his tenure as Director General, WYSE Travel Confederation has expanded upon its legacy of producing essential market research and industry events, and supporting top-notch youth travel organisations worldwide.
Prior to becoming Director General, David was an active board member of STAY WYSE and chairman of WYSE Travel Confederation. He brought a wealth of experience in both the youth travel and hospitality sectors, having served for six years as COO and Deputy Director of a London based non-profit social centre with student accommodation. He also worked at some of the best hotels in Europe including Grosvenor House, The Waldorf and the George V in Paris before becoming General Manager of several of the UK’s top country house hotels.
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