Generational trends only matter so much
Generational trends only matter so much
11 JANUARY 2019 8:02 AM

Experts like to talk about behaviors of generational cohorts like millennials or Gen Z, but those behaviors will surely change over time.

As a journalist who covers the hotel industry, I hear a lot about generational trends. Hoteliers and industry watchers like to talk about the macrobehaviors of millennials quite a bit, and those conversations have expanded lately to include the needs and wants of Gen Z or post-millennials.

But a recent trip home reminded me how drastically travel behaviors can change for an individual over time and how that might render a lot of those insights on generational travelers moot.

Personally, my travel behaviors vary greatly depending on the circumstances of my travel.

I get to travel a bit for my job, and when I do, often I try to adventure around different cities to find interesting restaurants or whatever when I have some spare time between commitments. But I’m an entirely different person when I’m traveling with my family.

Around Christmas, my wife, our two-year-old son and I all traveled to my hometown of Erie, Pennsylvania, and spent a few days in town staying at the Residence Inn. I can tell you lots of the things that normally matter to me while I’m staying at a hotel—like having a nice shower or convenient walkable location in a downtown where I can easily access things to do away from my room—were so far from top of mind. I was much more concerned about having an in-room experience that as closely mirrored a home as possible to help deal with the reality of living with a toddler.

And I’m absolutely sure I’m not unique in this, or immune to further changes in how I prioritize travel needs over time. So when we talk about how millennials—or any other generational cohort—want to spend their travel budget on x, y or z, it’s important that we note that comes with the caveat that it’s how they want to do things “for now.”

I’m not trying to say there’s not value in pinning down some of the larger generational differences when planning long-term, but some things seem so plainly to be temporary that I wonder why they’re viewed as huge, unchangeable shifts in travelers’ mindsets.

For example, most of the talk I’ve heard related to Gen Z travelers is that they’re particularly budget-conscious in comparison to other generations, but how is that not a direct response to the fact that they clearly have less money to spend than those other generations?

Can we really extrapolate their current spending behaviors to how they’ll act in 10 or 20 years where they are at least one of the dominant generational cohorts in the workforce and have better spending power?

We also spend a lot of time looking at generational behaviors through the lens or marketing and booking. Millennials and Gen Zers love Instagram and inspiration via photos and videos, experts say.

But if we based today’s marketing to baby boomers on how they behaved in their teens, 20s or even early 30s, how successful would that really be?

Maybe the problem isn’t necessarily how the hotel industry talks about generations but an overall societal issue with how we like to oversimplify things to look at them as generational trends. Even if it’s not just a hotel industry issue, the hotel industry would be well-served to treat all of this analysis with a healthy dose of skepticism.

What do you think? Let me know via email or on Twitter.

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