Quarterly Publications

Generationally Speaking

How Cultural Shifts Impact Your Destination

Rewrite the Myths

We’ve all heard generational stereotypes; and if you’re a member of any of the three generations above, your blood is probably boiling a bit, internally growling, “that’s not true!” Generational stereotypes didn’t appear out of thin air: at some point, they were either partially true or some prominent member of the generation did something publicly to reinforce it. But we are a dynamic, adaptable species. We pivot, we evolve, and we change to suit our environments as new knowledge comes to light: we meet new people, our culture shifts, and our economy transforms. Generations are not static. That’s why PGAV Destinations recently partnered with H2R Market Research to explore how America’s ‘Generational Cohorts’ have changed in recent years, and how they’re perceiving – and exploring – destinations across the nation. Surveying 602 respondents ages 13-69, our researchers talked with members of Generation Z, Trailing Millennials, Leading Millennials, Generation X, and Baby Boomers to understand their new travel attitudes, preferences, motivators, and behaviors.

Segmenting ourselves into generations is natural and useful: human beings are a pattern-seeking, categorizing species. We prefer order over chaos; squares over blobs; calm seas over storms. As we live longer, our culture turns on a dime, and information travels around the world in nanoseconds. What defines our generations becomes less absolute.

The following insights are not presented to give you inspiration to pick up your phone, call your front line, and make a change right now (but gathering the crew for a brainstorming session isn’t a bad idea). We’re sharing this with you so that you can be better prepared to react intelligently and nimbly when a change occurs and an opportunity presents itself. We can’t predict the future, but we can monitor and learn from the trends that influence the future, saving us time, money, and stress as we adapt our businesses to change and calmly tell our peers, “I saw that coming.”


My Community and Me

Before we explore how these generations perceive and experience destinations, we need to explore their values and priorities to better understand where they’re coming from – their frame of reference.

When we asked respondents to note how important current social issues are, we found that the Youth Cohort was generally more passionate – marking most issues as important or very important. (Throughout Generationally Speaking, members of Generation Z and Trailing Millennials may be grouped together in the “Youth Cohort.”) The greatest statistical difference was on the issue of wildlife conservation, where 48% of the Youth Cohort found it important, less than a third (31%) of Baby Boomers found it important. Conversely, nearly all generations find “equal pay for men and women” equally important, with an overall range between generations of just 7% points. Although their passions are strong, the Youth Cohort is less likely to support charities than Baby Boomers. 67% of Gen. Z and Trailing Millennials, and 78% of Leading Millennials and Gen. X, have donated time or money to a charitable cause, as opposed to Baby Boomers’ 82%. H2R’s researchers hypothesize that these generations have greater debt and lower incomes than their older counterparts did at their age, supported by a recent Federal Reserve report, which may contribute to inhibiting their ability to donate funds.

Inside the Economy Museum at the Federal Reserve, featuring PGAV's graphic designer Jess Burgess

In our study, the Youth Cohort most commonly used the words “liberal, impatient, responsible, and connected” to describe themselves; while Baby Boomers most commonly described this cohort as “self-absorbed, impatient, short attention-span, and distracted.” Although both generations certainly agree on “impatient” (is that intern back with my Americano yet?), the Youth Cohort strongly disagreed with the “self-absorbed” categorization. The attention span isn’t a myth, either. A recent study by ComScore revealed that Millennials’ average attention span for advertising is just five seconds. (As a point of reference, reading that last sentence takes six seconds – we timed it.) While Boomers would view this as having a short attention span, Millennials would note that they’re just being efficient – or as Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink, may call it, “thin-slicing.” Conversely, Boomers view themselves as “hardworking, responsible, self-reliant, and charitable.” Interestingly enough, the Youth Cohort agrees with “hardworking and responsible,” but follows those with “conservative and liberal.” There may be a drop of self-identifying wisdom that comes with age, but it’s certainly interesting that the third identifier for the youth of Boomers is their political alignment.

As Gen. Z/Trailing Millennials continue to visit attractions, food and beverage will likely become more important to the experience. This group is 10% more likely to see food and beverage as a differentiator; and if you really want to differentiate, find an opportunity to provide some calm and quiet.

What’s Mine is Yours

We know that younger generations are “technology native:” they were born into an environment where laptops, smartphones, and the internet were part of daily life. In addition, when Gen. Z and Trailing Millennials were dropped off at day care, their parents’ urgings of “play nice and share” may have really hit home. When those two principles combine, the Youth Cohort is far less likely to have their own music collection, movie libraries, or even cars. It’s all about the Sharing Economy.

The Youth Cohort is far more likely than Boomers to leverage streaming media services like Netflix, Pandora, and HULU, while Boomers are more likely to be using cable television. But it’s not just about saving shelf space. Younger generations are significantly more likely to consider using home-sharing services like AirBnB and VRBO as well as ride-sharing services like Lyft and Uber. Millennials are a generation that wishes to pay only for what they use. Why buy satellite television with a thousand channels when there’s only four shows I watch? Why buy a $500 matching luggage set that takes up a lot of room and is only used once a year when I can set up a sharing system with my neighbors? A gas and insurance-guzzling car spends most of its life parked on the street; ride-sharing and public transit are obvious substitutions. Millennials are willing to pay more for higher quality of the things which they’ll use, not for uninteresting ad-ons. Bundled packages and low-frequency/high-cost purchases are in a state of transition. Managers should continue to monitor what their patrons really want and charge appropriately for it. We’re not forecasting a future of an a-la-carte destination visit, where guests only pay for the attractions they intend to ride or the galleries they came to peruse, but we are keeping our eye on the think-outside-general-admission horizon.

Attraction managers looking to leverage the sharing economy to attract younger generations may consider promoting nearby, high-rated AirBnB or VRBO properties on their “Where to Stay” webpages, or offering discounts and promotions for guests who use services like Lyft to arrive at or depart their attraction.

Trip Planning

Unsurprisingly, the Youth Cohort is more likely to use digital sources for travel inspiration, while more than a third (37%) use social media and more than three-fourths (76%) consult travel review sites for travel planning. Asking friends, family, and Google for travel recommendations remains strong and relatively aligned for all generations; however, Baby Boomers are significantly more likely to rely on the formal websites of attractions, and significantly less likely to consult social media.

Trend-setting Gen. Z and Trailing Millennials are significantly more likely to leverage younger, more niche social media platforms than their older counterparts. Interestingly enough, they’re actually 13% less likely to use Twitter than older generations, and 10% less likely to use Facebook. If your attraction doesn’t yet have a Snapchat or Instagram strategy, it may be time to hire a Gen. Z social media manager and get on board. Today’s marketing leaders are spending one third of their entire budgets on channels they didn’t know existed five years ago, and they expect that to grow to 40% within two years (Salesforce 2017 State of Marketing report). Two thirds of these same marketers intend to increase their social media marketing and ad spend over the next year.

When you take a look at Facebook’s Insights report, you’ll notice that there’s a lot of output data on “Fans.” It’s an interesting word choice, because the younger generations typically aren’t fans of anything – that was their parents’ style. Coming of age in a time of financial market collapse and white collar crime, and hitting the stride of their careers and beginning their own families in the time of “fake news” claims and Politico Truth-o-Meters, younger generations are having a harder and harder time trusting companies, organizations, and brands (yes, even yours). Research shows that they tend to put their faith in their friends and authentic online reviews. They don’t necessarily view themselves as fans, they view themselves as INFLUENCERS – not just voting with their money, but wielding power with the feedback they leave on TripAdvisor and Yelp (which South Park perfectly parodied in Fall of 2015 in “You’re Not Yelping”). They don’t just want to know about your attraction, but your corporate values and practices, how staff are treated, and the character of your leaders as well. It’s nearly impossible to sell directly to these generations; brands must earn their respect and trust by demonstrating their value and responsibility, and then ease into the sales pitch to create lifelong loyalty.

The Ideal Attraction

Just like a scoop of ice cream in July, “the ideal attraction” comes in many different flavors for many different people. For Baby Boomers, affordability is the primary concern, distantly followed by near-equal concern with clean restrooms, safety, friendly employees, and being of “high quality.”

Affordability is also the top priority for the other generations, albeit to a far lesser degree. However, the Youth Cohort most drastically differs from its older counterparts as they’re looking for something active and physical to do, something that’s got some thrill and excitement, and may be far more inclined to write a negative review on TripAdvisor if you don’t offer free WiFi.

It’s a trend we’ve been watching for quite some time: attractions need to be unique and top-quality to motivate guests these days. As the younger generations curate a passport full of stamps, tending to value experience over possessions as a defining class characteristic, they become greater connoisseurs of travel and destinations. A recent study noted that 78% of Millennials would be happy to make a significant investment in an experience, rather than a material object (Eventbrite and Harris, 2017). In addition, with their constant monitoring of their friends’ social media feeds and review websites, they’re more educated about the menu of opportunities, and their quality, than any previous generation. Mediocre, ‘tradition,’ and ‘because we’ve always done it this way,’ simply won’t work anymore. Attraction managers must reinvest their profits in growing high fidelity, unique, great experiences. As you very well know, your competition is not just the other like-attractions in the area. The Youth Cohort is binge-watching Orange is the New Black at home, going for 100% completion in Fallout 4 on Xbox One, live Tweeting on the couch about the Oscars, or curating that home renovation board on Pinterest.

Give them an inarguable reason to come to you.

Patrons’ Patterns

The blossoming family lifestyle of the Youth Cohort may be influencing their visitation patterns more than just the types of attractions they visit. According to last fall’s Destinology: The Value of Membership, 37% of all attraction visitors used a membership or season pass at their last attraction. Our most recent data shows that these visitors are far more likely to be members of the Youth Cohort than Baby Boomers, most likely interested in a season pass so that they can bring their family back multiple times.

This is reinforced by the fact that the Youth Cohort has a significantly higher intent to return to the same attraction sometime within the next two years, if it’s exciting. Baby Boomers seem to have a much stronger “been there, done that” mentality regarding attractions (“hedonic adaptation,” for you academic types). But the Youth Cohort also consistently seeks out new, fresh, exciting thrills, which may drive their interest in attraction season passes for efficient, quick access to their favorite adrenaline faucets. By keeping your target membership and season pass market in mind, make acquiring and using these passes as easy and efficient as possible, and make the value match the price.

Generation Z and Trailing Millennials were also the most satisfied with their most recent attraction visit, with 76% noting they were “very satisfied” (as opposed to Leading Millennials/Gen. Xers and Baby Boomers’ 68%). This may add one final layer to the repeat visitation finding: Gen. Z and Trailing Millennials know what kinds of destinations they want, they generally appreciate those experiences once completed, and were satisfied enough to purchase season passes or memberships.

These three generations have very significant, and very diversified, impacts on our culture, economy, and attraction industry. However, they continually evolve, adapt, and learn from one another as our world’s change continues to accelerate. Continuing to examine these developments will empower us as destination practitioners to remain nimble and provide tailored experiences and services to every guest who walks through the front gate.

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