Generation Z, also going by the placeholder of Post Millennials, is now topping 2 billion young people aged between 5 and 25 worldwide. The Italian National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT) tallies roughly 9 million of this cohort in Italy, and over 1 million of them have entered or are entering the job market, yet none of them has ever lived in a world without the Internet or smartphones. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to corral them into rigid labels or definitions, because they are complex, elusive and still developing. Of course, there is no shortage of narratives about them, as they have been widely portrayed in recent years through the media and elsewhere, yet mostly tainted by prejudice and clichés: from screen addiction, glued to their devices for six or more hours every day, to poor attention spans, pressured with only eight seconds to decide whether a content or product is interesting or not. Generalisations which, while inevitable, are blind to the social, cultural and economic context in which Gen-Z was born and now lives.
Understanding Gen Z
So how can we portray this generation without falling into stereotypes? Is there a way to catch a picture of this cohort thinking, acting, consuming, travelling? There is only one way to really get to know them, without mediation or filters, in other words, to watch them as they move about in search of their place in the world. This is what Gabriele Sada, Managing Director & Equity Partner at ScuolaZoo, has been doing in Italy since 2009. ScuolaZoo, Italy’s largest online community of Italian students and media brand with over 6 million users, also organises trips for students aged 16 to +18. It’s therefore hardly surprising that Sada would pen the words “A present shaped by Gen Z” on his LinkedIn profile. For this reason, PHYD chose him to host the talk “Gen Z: un nuovo modo di viaggiare” (Gen Z: a new way of travelling), a spotlight on the younger generation’s travel choices before and after the pandemic, to find out if and what has changed in the last year and a half.
Before travelling, it is essential to get to know the travellers, so Sada, through some sector studies and going beyond mere demographics, introduces us to the world of digital natives. A world in which the pervasive presence of technologies and social networks in their daily lives, is less a sign of addiction (as is the case for the older generations) than a new way of communicating, getting information, consuming, building relationships and identity. The time spent online is a chance for Zoomers (another name for them) to express themselves, navigate across different communities, and also embrace their causes and principles. Their world moves fast, and they continuously evince an aptitude for acceleration, which has nothing to do with carelessness or superficiality; on the contrary, Zers are more attentive, aware and demanding citizens and consumers than their parents. Forced to move between myriad identical goods in perpetual information overflow, they choose only what they believe in, which reflects their values and makes them better people. The hunger for experience, a possibility for enrichment and the corresponding self-affirmation, is what really counts. And this is especially true when they travel.
The time spent online is a chance for Zoomers (another name for them) to express themselves, navigate across different communities, and also embrace their causes and principles.
Self-discovery through travel
When faced with what to do with their money, Gen Z places a higher priority on travel (65%) than on saving up for a first home (60%). We could also borrow words from the English author Robert Louis Stevenson to describe how the boys and girls in this demographic cohort travel, “I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake, [to] find the globe granite underfoot” Behind the widespread stereotype of travel as a pure moment of transgression, one immersed in partying hard with alcohol, dawns and discos, there is much more; there is the will to experience travel as a unique experience capable of shaping the affirmation of oneself as a person. They can travel alone, especially women, preferring adventure, the unexpected; “backpacking and self-made“. They can leave with the family and choose the where and how; they can choose travel companions from among members of their own community, choosing on the basis of common interests. In one way or another, the only thing that really matters is the spirit that breathes life into their journeys. Regardless of how it is interpreted, it is the desire to live each moment to the max, without putting anything off. In other words, YOLO (You Only Live Once) an acronym which, at least for many teenagers, translates into a fear of not being somewhere, of missing an opportunity forever. An extreme form of such anxiety also has a popular acronym, namely FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), which reveals a great deal about this generation’s need to feel connected and involved.
Gabriele Sada then looks at all the different types of travel favoured by Zers, including green holidays, focused on sustainability and respect for the environment; educational trips, discovering places and cities with the eyes of an explorer, not a tourist; affordable luxury getaways, where luxury is defined as a hostel room with a bathroom and Wi-Fi; and even spring break (there is more than just summer!). And never mind the distance, says Sada: “Do we really need to talk about where? They could care less about whether they’re in their backyard or on the other side of the world, what matters is the goal, the objective. Gen Z has no boundaries”.
Do we really need to talk about where? They could care less about whether they’re in their backyard or on the other side of the world, what matters is the goal, the objective. Gen Z has no boundaries.
Gabriele Sada, Managing Director of the ScuolaZoo community
Gen Z and the impact of the pandemic
And with the pandemic? There is little doubt about COVID-19’s dramatic psychological toll both on the younger Zers, snagged between distance learning and a hiccuping social life, and older Zers, who were just then entering the job market. This sparked an emotional overload that governments and institutions hardly bothered to address, which is why we’re talking about a forgotten generation or even a suspended generation. Nevertheless, Sada believes that this very crisis creates an important opportunity for concrete change. This generation, more than others, can truly make the world a better place, not least through a new way of travelling that is more conscious and responsible, free from destinations and cost, a journey with no beginning and no end, one that has a positive impact on themselves and others. A journey, in fact, more like life than a holiday.
To learn more about the topic and listen to the talk, simply sign up on the PHYD website.