Gen Z and millennial travel trends: Do they really care about sustainability?


The short answer: Yes.

But with some constraints. It’s a grey area, so let’s try to color it a little more black and white. To understand millennial and Generation Z attitudes towards sustainability, especially when it comes to booking a hotel, it’s key to understand the reasoning. Why do they care? Why should they?

Two small words that represent something very big and very scary: climate change. Members of these younger generations care about sustainability because they just can’t risk ignoring it anymore. With straws becoming the enemy overnight, NASA making efforts to inform and educate, and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports regularly being updated, climate change has become a huge topic of conversation in mass media. Many feel a wave of guilt every time they forget their reusable grocery bags, spit their gum out onto the sidewalk or — wait for it — use an illegal plastic straw. We’re honestly shuddering thinking about it. 

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Why do they care?

Why does climate change loom so heavy on millennial and Gen Z consumers? Well if we’re being blunt, it’s because they’re the ones who will actually be alive to deal with the consequences. (Sorry, Grandma.)

So: we know they care, we know they feel guilty doing unsustainable things and we know why. But there’s still a disconnect in what young travelers are saying and what they’re doing.

In citing a November 2023 study from Phocuswright (which suggested that travelers' stated concern for the environment is often not reflected in their spending choices), the travel blog Live and Let's Fly certainly didn't sugarcoat things in its headline: "Study: Travelers don't actually care about sustainability."

The Live and Let's Fly post did speculate that "surely that’s weighed down by older travelers who may care less about the environment," but we can't pin this all on baby boomers.

Why aren't younger travelers putting their money where their mouth is?

The reasons are not all that hypocritical. We swear.

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Let’s start with what they’re saying

  • We know, for example, that climate change is among millennials’ top five biggest concerns, that travel is very important to them and that authentic experiences with the local culture are key, with 60% of millennials ranking that as the most vital part of travel.

  • Gen Z is even more environmentally and socially conscious than previous generations, and sustainability considerations greatly impact how they view different brands.

  • According to research from Skift, 54% of Gen Z travelers report that they're willing to pay higher rates to use a travel service provider that demonstrates environmental responsibility, compared to 48% of millennials. 

Great. That’s all fine and dandy.

Here’s the thing: millennials love sustainability, they love supporting responsible companies, and we love them for it. But they won’t go out of their way to do it. At the end of the day, they won’t sacrifice convenience or value for sustainability — and that logic applies to booking a hotel. 

A study from LIM College compared five purchasing influences. Here are the top three factors that effected whether or not millennials will bite:

  • Ease of purchase: it has to be convenient (95%)

  • Price and value: there has to be a bang for their buck (95%)

  • Uniqueness: it has to be different (92%)

When you throw that all together, add a pinch of salt, and let it simmer for an hour, you'll get the magic potion that makes millennials (and, by extension, their Gen Z counterparts) buy into sustainability when booking a hotel: make it easy to book, offer solid services and amenities at a reasonable price, and make it unique. The first two are pretty straightforward, so let’s carve out that last one.

Uniqueness can sound vague, all-encompassing, and subjective. It sounds like it could mean anything.

But it doesn’t.

What does "unique" mean to young travelers?


"Unique" means that they are looking to buy into experiences when booking a hotel.

According to one study, 78% of millennials say they would choose to spend money on an experience over buying something.

Both millennials and Gen Z members, who together represent almost half of the world's population, are also the most likely to cite factors such as "transparency" and "authenticity" when asked what influences their decisions whether or not to support certain brands.

These travelers expect something authentic. Something cultured. Something supporting local communities. Something that’ll make them reconsider the way they thought the world worked. That means integrating sustainability into the hotel's whole guest experience so that it feels second-nature.

Taking a holistic approach is key.

  • Think combining luxury with sustainability through on-site organic farm-to-table restaurants.

  • Think integrating it into the hotel's architecture with natural elements like curvature, wood, greenery and natural lighting pouring through large windows.

  • Think energy-saving lights, appliances and insulation to reduce your hotel’s carbon footprint.

  • Think replacing traditionally unsustainable amenities with their green counterparts. Many hotels are switching from printed newspapers and magazines to digital platforms like PressReader that deliver a seamless reading experience to guests — right on their own devices. Not only are hotels saving operating costs, but they're making the planet a better place. How's that for social responsibility? 

Tell them about it

Don't forget to tell millennials and Gen Z travelers you’re doing all of this at your hotel.

Explain the what: sustainability.

And explain the why: caring for our planet matters.

Let's face it: most potential guests won’t take the time to do their homework and dig through your brand’s corporate values. Remember that convenience is key. Younger travelers expect businesses in the tourism and travel industry to make it loud and clear that they align themselves with social and economic sustainability. Hotels can advertise their brand values in places millennials hang out — mainly online. This is even more true of the tech-savvy Generation Z, which is mostly made up of digital natives who spend much of their time on social media platforms.

Does your hotel have an Instagram? Put it in your bio. A website? Make sure corporate values are front and center. Clearly communicate your sustainable practices, goals and achievements through all of these channels — or via PressReader's Self-Pub feature.

And of course, make it clear at the property so it's one of the first things they see when they arrive. 

Scream it proudly from the rooftops.


Get your property eco-certified 

As we noted in a previous blog post on how to get your hotel eco-certified (and showing up in Google Search), certification is a great way to showcase that you take your hotel's sustainability efforts seriously and are abiding by best practices.

After all, if you are operating an eco-friendly hotel, you want eco-conscious consumers to know about it. And with Google Search now making it easier than ever for travelers to find eco-certified accommodations, getting that certification is more important than ever.

Get ready for Generation Alpha 

Elder millennial travelers are now approaching middle age while the first wave of Gen Z adults are becoming an important target market for the tourism industry.

But there's another young demographic on the horizon. The oldest members of Generation Alpha may only be 10 or 11 in 2024, but hoteliers and travel brands would do well to keep them in mind, because they will soon make their own mark on the ever-evolving landscape of the hospitality industry.

According to a recent report from Intrepid and the Future Laboratory, by 2040, members of Gen Alpha will be logging every Uber ride, plane journey and trip to the supermarket on their smartphones to track their carbon footprint in real time.

This conscientious cohort will be keeping tabs on the travel industry, including on tour operators and hotels. They will want to know how companies are supporting social and environmental initiatives before spending their money with them.

Don't say we didn't warn you.

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Hotels Hotel trends Sustainability Hospitality tourism Gen Z

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