The global tourism industry found a stable footing in 2023 with business travel and domestic tourism filling many itineraries, as people regained confidence to take flight once more. This highly anticipated rebound after several austere years came with an increasing emphasis on
sustainable travel options to protect the planet and support communities in Southeast Asia, driven by a budding generation of explorers.
Welcome to the new era of travel, one filled with youthful vigor. By 2025, Gen Z – those born roughly between 1996 and 2010 – will make up a quarter of the APAC population. The next generation, the Alphas – born after 2010 – is set to become the world’s largest generation in history by 2025.
We are already seeing the impact of the two generations’ influence on household spending today. The oldest Alphas are hitting their mid-teens next year and are already having a say on where families travel. Meanwhile, Gen Zs have refused to let an economic recession stand in their way of vacation, with 83 percent cutting back on non-essential items to fund their travels.
The world is now an oyster for billions of young travelers eager to find their pearls. With exciting destinations to discover, these tech-enabled youths are both seeking connectivity on their travels, and ensuring that their journeys remain sustainable so that others can enjoy the same experiences.
Seamless connections from home to holiday
Technology is second nature to Gen Zs and Alphas as neither group has experienced a world without connectivity. More than 60 percent of Gen Zs use their mobile for more than six hours a day in Southeast Asia.
Some may believe that our youths are overly dependent on technology, but they are, in fact, tech-empowered. Their on-demand digital access to the world has raised expectations of having seamless end-to-end connections from the moment they jet off.
Southeast Asia is rising to meet the needs of these new age travelers. For instance, digital nomads have become ubiquitous since remote working gained popularity, and countries like Vietnam have already responded to the opportunity. In 2023 alone, the coastal city of Da Nang experienced a 107 percent growth in digital nomads. Success comes down to the ease of visa applications for remote workers, coupled with free WiFi in downtown Da Nang – connectivity is a key consideration for tech-savvy visitors.
Here’s where travel platforms can play a crucial role. Convenience and connectivity are two factors that, more often than not, propel destinations into the limelight. As such, highlighting off-
the-beaten-track locations with smooth connectivity that can serve as both hotel and office will allow the next generation to seamlessly shift between explorer and worker.
The normalisation of work-travel arrangements will continue in 2024, especially as new forms of travel such as sports tourism emerge. Travel platforms that capitalise on this trend stand to win big – by expanding their slate of unique destinations and promise of connectivity, more will be inspired to travel whilst still meeting deadlines on the go.
Sustainable travel will evolve
Another pillar of travel among Gen Zs and Alphas is sustainability. The transformative shift to becoming an eco-conscious traveler is driven by environmental concerns and a greater awareness. In 2023, we saw a focus on long-term, sustainable tourism for destinations and regenerative tourism to help restore the natural state of popular spots such as Thailand’s Maya Bay. Heading into 2024, these efforts are likely to evolve to provide a more tangible impact on the industry.
Driven by their values, ethics, and morals, younger travelers will expect the travel and tourism industry to rapidly and effectively roll out green initiatives and sustainability measures. Data has shown that six in 10 Gen Zs feel anxious about the state of the environment, and we are seeing the younger generations increasingly putting their money where their mouth is and expecting the businesses they support to do the same.
To cater to this demand, the industry is projected to see a rise in sustainability certifications and transparency in their operations, which, in turn, will bring increased scrutiny from consumers who are also wary of greenwashing. This will be the litmus test that separates the truly sustainable companies that industry players should aspire to become.
Becoming a renewable powerhouse
One challenge Southeast Asia will face is the transition to enable sustainably powered tourism, with the region historically reliant on fossil-fuels both for energy and economy. Malaysia has already set ambitious targets to become the region's renewable powerhouse by 2050 and Indonesia is planning a US$20 billion investment to transition away from coal.
While investment and intent have been made clear, the industry must also redefine the sustainable travel narrative. Southeast Asia will need to entice travelers through other green initiatives, such as sustainable options for travel, accommodation, and experiences alongside a clear demonstration of their impact. For instance, Singapore’s Charge+ is planning a 5,000km charging highway across five countries in Southeast Asia, which will take green road trips to another level.
This way, the industry can keep pace with the increasing trend towards more meaningful travel. Travelers are now choosing community-based activities, or homestays, and selecting more eco-
friendly forms of transportation. With the tourism industry revived from its forced slumber, tourists will once again wield the power of preference and set a course for new destinations.
The next generation of travelers will bring fresh inspiration and opportunity for tourism businesses, especially when it comes to sustainability and technology. While they will keep the industry on its toes, they will also usher in an exciting new era of travel.