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  • Youth travel: key considerations for SA’s tourism growth plans

Youth travel: key considerations for SA’s tourism growth plans

22 August 2019

By Jabulani Debedu, Senior Consultant, Strategic Development and Advisory |

Youth travel has moved far beyond a specialised travel niche to become an important market within the travel mix for any tourism destination. One of the reasons for this is because travel underpins different aspects of the youth lifestyle. For young people (particularly in developed communities), travel is a form of learning, a way of meeting other people and gaining exposure to other cultures, a source of self-development and career development in an increasingly global marketplace.

In 2017, the youth accounted for 23% of the 1,3 billion international arrivals, according to the World Youth & Student Educational (WYSE) Travel Confederation New Horizons Survey1. The average youth trip spend has more than doubled since 2002, and youth travellers generated about $280bn in tourism receipts in 2016.

The South African Tourism 2018 Annual Report, highlights that youth (tourists younger than 34 years) accounted for 57% of international tourists (10.5 million tourists) that visited South Africa and 49% of total domestic trips (17,7 million). Excluding African tourist, youth travel accounts for 46% of total overseas tourists to South Africa.

Given that South Africa is currently attracting an insignificant 2% of the global youth arrivals, it is worth considering youth travel as a key driver towards achieving our president’s audacious foreign tourist arrivals target of 21 million by 2030.

The traditional view of youth travel is that of the budget or backpacker segment. The truth is that the youth market is far more nuanced. While it does tend to focus on affordable tourism products, it is in fact part of the travel mainstream and should not be consigned to the periphery.

In many ways, South Africa still offers a legacy travel product aimed at an overseas market that is fast disappearing. The pool of retired folk from Europe who want to visit Cape Town and the Kruger in a tour bus is no longer enough to build our destination. Given the aspirational nature of young people in general, it is important for tourism operators to provide a youthful offering with premium features or standards to appeal to this market.

The youth travel market needs specific marketing strategies that are different from the traditional marketing methods employed for Generation-X and Baby Boomers. It requires not only an increase in the information available across multiple online platforms but also marketing partnerships with brands that have online campaigns and the creation of online video content which appeals to the youth market. Tourism industry marketers also need to be cognizant of creating campaigns that would talk to both the domestic and foreign youth markets.

For cash-strapped young South Africans, campaigns to get them to travel locally at a reasonable cost such as youth travel stokvel packages are still largely unexplored, and would be a breath of fresh air for our local industry. There is no limit to the amount of new experiences on offer, but to appeal to the youth market, these tourism offerings must be innovative (i.e. AirBnB) and tailored to suit their budget.

The real value of youth travel lies in the ‘lifetime value’ that young people deliver to destinations through their travel career. WYSE Travel Confederation research shows that young travellers are likely to return and give more value to the destination over their lifetime. In 2018, for example, 18% of the international tourists that visited South Africa were first time visitors while the remaining 82% were repeat visitors. These repeat visitors are predominantly young travellers as the popularity of South Africa among Generation-X travellers and Baby Boomers has declined steadily over the years.

Today, millennials make up an increasingly larger share of the travel market. To remain relevant, South Africa needs to update its tourism product offering, and its marketing! We need fresh, different campaigns.

For these campaigns to have longevity, they must appeal to the all-important, and long-undervalued youth travel market. After all, the youth market of today will be the legacy markets of tomorrow.

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