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Friends on adventureFrom the perspectives of a youth travel blogger, volunteer programme organiser, accommodation provider, youth tour operator and youth travel agent we offer a look into the age of youth travel and decipher if youth travel is getting younger, or is it just a state of mind?

We spoke to some of the winners of the 2015 Global Youth Travel Awards and while some felt that an increased number of younger people are travelling independently compared to prior years, others believe that more youth travel activities such as volunteering and cultural exchange programmes – as well as youthful ways of travelling such as backpacking and couch surfing – are also being adopted by older generations.

Tony Shina, Co-owner and Co-founder of The Backpack – winner of the Green Accommodation Initiative and Best Social Responsibility Initiative award – notes that youth travel is getting younger with a noticeable increase in school group booking requests, saying “there are more young people travelling than 20 years ago.”

Brielle Friedman, Brand manager at Rustic Pathways, Best Youth Tour Operator winner agrees; “Student travel is absolutely getting younger. More school-aged children are travelling internationally independently of their family.”

“Independent travel allows students to learn more about themselves and the world. Rustic Pathways programs provide students with the structure and support to learn and grow, while giving them the ability to explore, ask questions, and fully immerse themselves in a different culture. Our programs, and our local staff members, provide them with a rich, authentic travel experience, incomparable to most family vacation trips.

Aileen Adalid from I am Aileen, winner of the Best Youth Blogger award agrees but adds that while youth travel is on the increase, in her opinion there is also a steady rise of older people slowly adopting youth-like adventures such as backpacking, homestays, house sitting or home exchanges.

“During my travels, I have met a lot of people aged 40 to 60 who are breaking out of their office work environment, or taking advantage of their ‘freedom’ after retirement by doing the things that they have always wanted to do when they were young. There are also a lot of older people who are immersing themselves in volunteering opportunities such as house-sitting or menial work in exchange for accommodation — all with the goal of getting a better look into the lives of destinations locals.”

Keeping up with youth travel demandsgreen-accommodation-initiative small

Danielle Dougan, Public Relations manager at StudentUniverse, winner in this year’s Best Youth Travel Agent category, says that in order for youth travel agencies to stand out they should keep up with the mobile demand of this younger generation of customers and ensure that marketing and communication strategies are adapted to meet their needs.

“Many students and youth don’t even know that they are eligible to save on travel just by being between 18-25 years old. Youth travel agencies stand out by the quality of their product and the pricing and terms they offer to travellers; but, young travellers will only book with a company that is reliable and offers a tech and mobile savviness that this demographic expects. StudentUniverse has relationships with more than 70 airlines and thousands of hotels around the world and is committed to helping students travel cheaper.”

“We know that Gen Z-ers relate best to quick, “snackable content,” including interactive infographics, videos, photos and travel memes. Visual communication will work best when communicating with a generation that’s attention is hard to garner, and hold,” she says.

Industry challenges

A noticeable challenge not only affecting youth travel but the tourism industry in general is safety and security. Richard Nimmo, Managing Director at Blue Adventures, winner of the Outstanding Volunteer Project award says that Security risks and threats are likely to be an issue in 2016.

“The Blue Adventures team will support its travellers with accurate and appropriate information as well as maintain good procedure and policies to assess and respond to risks. I also hope that during the course of 2016 and beyond, tourism will focus more on benefits to receiving countries and host communities,” he says.

Over the coming weeks we will be featuring interviews with a selection of the 2015 winners for further insight and views on the industry and the outlook for the coming year.