Generation Z: agents of change

With the impending arrival of Generation Z into the nation’s workforce, how can buyers best prepare for another new set of behaviours, mindsets and attitudes?

You have a digital-first generation whose whole life has been online before they can even utter their first word,” contends Brian Solis, a digital analyst and futurist. “Generation Z has been taught how to relate to the world based on their parents thrusting an iPod or an iPhone into their hands at the age of 14 months and basically everything that they’ve seen online is what is possible to them…”

Silicon Valley-based Solis argues that with the rise of Generation Z (those born 1996-2010), there will be a “great disruption”, not only in the travel market but a great disruption in the world in general, because we’re going to have a generation that’s going to forge its own values and beliefs, its own purpose and aspirations, and which will threaten every single industry.

James Bellini, a British futurologist, concurs, emphasising how different Generation Z is. “Research shows that the members of Generation Z are driven – more than other earlier generations – by the search for truth in both personal and communal form. This translates into a desire for authenticity and a greater openness to understand different kinds of people.”

So it’s definitely time to take heed of Gen Z, but what will this generation, which has never been without the internet, actually expect from their business travel in, say, five, ten or even 15 years’ time?

Solis says that forward-thinking companies are looking to science fiction authors, game developers and films to play out “future scenarios”. In movies, such as 1982’s Blade Runner, which was set in 2019, we were treated to flying cars, called spinners, and intergalactic space travel. Sadly, travel technology isn’t quite at that stage yet and everyday space travel looks out of the question in the near future.

However, some companies are exploring flying vehicles. One of the kookiest attempts at a flying car is the Airbus Pop Up, which is a carbon fibre two-seater concept that attaches to a drone to carry the capsule into the skies. Uber is also considering a flying taxi scheme called Uber Elevate, whereby the company plans to fill the skies with thousands of short-range electric aircraft, and it has also announced a partnership with Nasa to model an urban air-traffic control system. However, Ross Spencer, head of marketing at Click Travel, argues there will actually be three main technological developments to appeal to Generation Z in the next 15 years: augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) – a study by Goldman Sachs puts the global market for these two technologies at US$95 billion by 2025: 5G and driverless cars. The latter two excite Spencer the most.

“5G is really going to massively change the ballgame for remote working and working while you’re travelling,” says Spencer. “Rather than having a big mast covering a large area, with 5G there’ll be lots of little masts, covering a big circular area, so you’ll be able to target a route or a main train line and you open up a whole world of opportunities for travelling on the go reliably and being able to take video calls on the train.

“And driverless cars are going to be really interesting in the next 15 years,” he adds. “I joined Click Travel from the automotive industry and there’s a very real risk to train companies for business travel because if driverless cars come along, the convenience of door-to-door travel with a car connected to the internet and you can work on the way is huge.”

Meanwhile, Bellini claims that AR and VR will become part of the travel experience in the future, enabling travellers “to access extremely rich visual and factual data of where they are or where they are going to”.

“At the moment the typical travel experience is rarely more than old-fashioned sightseeing,” he says. “We miss an awful lot of fascinating information about where we are on our travels; information that is multi-dimensional and ranging across many centuries and millennia.”

A typical Gen Z traveller is 23-year-old Nazneen Jassat, a customer success manager for UNiDAYS, which is the world’s leading Student Affinity Network. It connects brands to more than 10 million Gen Z students around the world. Jassat is a regular business traveller – mainly going to European cities, such as Amsterdam, on a weekly basis and her TMC is Blue Cube Travel. Does she feel that she, as Gen Z, needs to be treated in a particular way?

“I don’t feel that I need to be treated differently from other generations of business traveller,” says Jassat. “My generation in general is tolerant and accepting – I certainly am – and don’t expect any special treatment. I do, however, feel that value goes a long way, so if a brand recognises me as a repeat customer or offers me an incentive to travel with them, I’m more likely to be loyal to that brand.”

5G is really going to massively change the ballgame for remote working and working while you’re travelling

Connectivity is key
However, in the near future it’s better connectivity that Jassat craves and is looking forward to 5G.

“5G is potentially very exciting,” Jassat enthuses. “For example, when I am travelling on business, I often download podcasts and playlists before the trip to listen to while I’m on the train, as the wifi can be sporadic. In future, if I am running late for a trip, 5G will make it much quicker for me to download podcasts before I set off. Gen Z is known to be mobile-first, so 5G will be a game changer!”

Spencer points out that Gen Z are going to drive change as they embrace emerging technologies much more than previous generations. “Rather than coming at those technologies with apprehension or uncertainty, they’ll come at it from a point of view of this being cool and exciting,” he says. “There’s a social currency to using the tech first and getting their first.”

He emphasises that the travel companies – and hotels – that don’t integrate the best software and user experiences will “miss out on Generation Z”.

Mike Bourne, travel consultant at Corporate Traveller, adds that with Gen Z travellers there is a real emphasis on speed and turnaround time as they tend to work for fast-paced companies.

“One of our clients is a UK-based fitness apparel and accessories manufacturer and online retailer, and it has several Gen Z travellers,” he says. “They work in a very fast-paced environment; therefore need information on travel relayed back at the earliest possible convenience. They constantly need to maximise their time and productivity when travelling.”

Instant communication is a “basic essential” and Jassat says that she prefers communicating via chat messaging on platforms, such as WhatsApp.

“I feel it’s simpler on WhatsApp and when I’m travelling I’m not always easily contactable, but often find I can reply to somebody with a quick message,” admits Jassat. “At UNiDAYS we also use the internal messaging system Slack, and my generation is also so used to ‘talking’ via chat interfaces on our phones that many of us feel daunted by a basic phone conversation.”

Spencer backs this up, saying that Gen Z expects “to solve problems online without the nuisance of actually having to call anyone”.

Many of us feel daunted by a basic phone conversation

Focus in bursts
However, Solis approaches Gen Z from another slant – the desires and needs of this generation are only partly technology based, and all companies need to delve deeper in order to understand them.

“Generation Z’s attention spans are small, which is natural, and they’re more informed, research everything, expect everything to be personalised, they speak in bursts and their focus is in bursts,” Solis emphasises. “Everything is absolutely mobile first; they don’t speak in the language of websites, they don’t speak corporate, everything is visual, everything is aspirational and most organisations don’t talk or act like that.”

AR, VR, self-driving cars and that everything is sharable and memorable to enhance their persona online are the “basics” for Gen Z, Solis says. But travel companies also need to adapt and employ someone who is Gen Z as a business strategist or “change agent” who can try to shift companies from within. He argues that most companies iterate (doing the same thing that has been done before but better) when they should innovate (doing new things that make the old things obsolete and also create new value) and it’s why the likes of Uber are thriving.

“I’ve studied how long is too long before you order a competitor’s app,” he says. “Five years ago that would never have been a question, but you’re now conditioned to not wait because we’re in an on-demand economy.

“For instance, in Australia, the average Uber wait time is three minutes, 37 seconds, and that’s the mindset for designing future travel. That’s the conversation that rarely takes place in boardrooms and most executives don’t live that kind of life.”

Bellini concurs, adding that Gen Z becomes impatient in a consuming situation and will quickly switch to another provider if they’re not happy with the level of service. “Uber is very Generation Z because Gen Z is driven by access rather than ownership; a sharing economy, in other words. But, as consumers, they are pretty ruthless if service providers fall short. Soon there’ll be a proliferation of Uber-like services to choose from.”

So, in other words, it’s time we all make the effort to come up to speed with this hypercognitive, always connected, but rather less patient generation.

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