Forty. That’s the percentage of millennials and Gen Z that would be willing to give up their phone and technology for a week so that they can safely travel during COVID-19.
While that number might seem high for generations that are perceived as super connected and use their phone as an appendage, that data isn’t surprising.
“There has been a steady shift of travelers who are interested in unplugging as a means of reconnecting with friends and the places they visit, and truly feeling refreshed and renewed after their vacation,” said Melissa DaSilva, the president of Contiki USA, a company that organizes group tours for the 18-35 crowd.
As part of the company's Voice of a Generation survey, which polled 1,200 young people on their thoughts on travel, Contiki found that 71 percent see taking the COVID-19 vaccine as a "no brainer," as long as it means they can catch a flight or use their passport ASAP. And more than half would travel right away, even if it meant they had to foot the bill to quarantine from family or roommates when they return safely.
The need to travel shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone of any age. Still, specifically for Gen Z and millennials who have lost out on celebrating milestones, birthdays, or taking a gap year, the effect is felt. Many believe this will change the future of travel and revitalize the travel industry, which has lost billions of dollars.
Of course, those returning to travel might have higher standards than before. The usual budget-conscious traveler no longer just wants a deal but the flexibility to cancel travel plans without their wallet taking a hit. Free cancellations and flexible booking topped the lists of travel incentives, at 86 and 74 percent, respectively. Both Hyatt and Marriott have enhanced COVID-19 cancellation policies that allow select dates to be canceled at no charge up to 24 hours before arrival.
“Travelers booking with Contiki are looking for flexible booking options above all other drivers, even more important than discounts,” said DaSilva.
Brian Oliver, 35, who ventured to places like Ghana and Puerto Rico during the pandemic, is one of those travelers who expect continued flexibility. "I'm definitely more likely to only book properties that allow easy cancellation."
“While a credit is great to have, most people would love to receive their cashback or have the amount refunded to their credit cards. I've always read the fine print when booking properties, but now I definitely pay closer attention,” said Oliver, who runs the website Beyond Bmore.
Tara Cappel, the founder of FTLO Travel and Sojrn, a study abroad for working professionals, has noticed more hotels offering last-minute cancellations, but also an increased focus on attracting young remote workers.
“They’re offering steep discounts for longer stays and turning lobbies and conference areas into co-working spaces,” said Cappel.
One of the leaders of this has been Hyatt. In addition to its Great Relocate package, which allows stays of a minimum of 29 nights, the company expanded the Work from Hyatt program with an Office for the Day package. Bookings can be made through May 31 at 400 Hyatt locations and include access to a guest room with a workspace from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The rate, which starts at just $65, also includes “well-being offerings” like Headspace meditation and mindfulness activities from the room's comfort and safety.
“By continuously listening to our members and guests, we understand what’s most important [to] them; they are prioritizing wellbeing now more than ever and want more flexibility and creative new ways to avoid burnout,” Asad Ahmed, Hyatt's senior vice president, said in a statement.
That wellbeing aspect is another blossoming trend Cappel sees the younger generation leading, particularly when it comes to no-phone zone retreats.
"Young people are craving respite from constantly being plugged in because we realize it robs us of our attention and ability to be present," said Cappel. "I wouldn’t be surprised if we start seeing people become more intentional about tech-free days or weeks as a form of self-care."
Amangiri in Utah recently hosted a restorative sleep retreat and the properties, which have locations that span the globe, from Bali to the Dominican Republic, also offer wellness concierges. And Azure Palm Hot Springs, slated to open this spring, plans to offer more than two dozen spa therapies as well as week-long cleansing and juicing retreats.
Cappel has “no doubt millennials will be the cohort to bring back travel in a major way,” and Oliver, who says traveling weighed heavily on his decision to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, believes “there will not be a future of travel without seeing millennials and Gen Z at the front.”
However, some see travel's future as more diverse. Nicole Sunderland of Bucket List Lists sees all ages contributing to the post-pandemic travel boom—or at least being able to benefit from consumer-friendly policies and lower rates. Sunderland, who has enjoyed local staycations and trips to Barbados and Mexico during the pandemic, has seen one observable trend: older travelers.
“They are traveling and living their best retirement lives right now, taking advantage of nearly empty resorts,” she said. “One thing I am consistently seeing is that people of all ages, sexes, and races are traveling. I don’t personally think anyone set of people is leading the way in travel or will change it.”
Whether it’s the millennials, Gen Z, or the X crew leading the way for the much needed travel resurgence, it’s clear the post-pandemic world will look different and most likely offer up some much needed adventure and flexibility.