What can the recent social movements tell us about Generation Z and the future of place making and management?

The COVID-19 outbreak and other world events during the last few months have impacted society profoundly and have led to the emergence of major discussions on sustainability, equality and human rights. Following our recently published study on Generation Z with the European Travel Commission, here we ask what these new dynamics could mean for our places and why Gen Zers take a particularly strong stance on them.

During the spring of 1968 in London, the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, the two arguably most-acclaimed rock groups of their time, were simultaneously embarking on producing their most political works. While Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were capturing the zeitgeist of student riots in Paris and the anti-war rallies in the U.S. in the song “Street Fighting Man”, similarly the Beatles were recording their most political album, “The White Album”, for six months. Six months during which the world saw the student protests in Paris, the Prague Spring, a widespread opposition against the Vietnam War, Martin Luther King’s murder and the subsequent riots, the student protests in Mexico City, among others.

Five decades later, the world is experiencing similar turbulent times and analysts are comparing 1968 with 2020, and Baby Boomers with Gen Zers.


As the protests in the 60s were focused on police brutality, racial injustice and social inequality, 52 years later the above-mentioned challenges are still present and equally divisive in society. Moreover, as the 60s saw the emergence of the anti-war movement, feminism, environmentalism and the beginning of the gay rights movement, during the last 10 years the world saw the rise of similar youth-led movements related to climate change, gun control, immigration, gender inequality and race. In both cases, young people have been at the forefront of all these changes, however, the context that they were coming from is totally different. So different that it may result in two totally distinctive outcomes.

If young, predominantly white people were enjoying a postwar economic boom in the 60s, where university graduates had easier access to quality jobs and economic prosperity, young people today, across all spectrums and races are facing enormous challenges. In the case of Generation Z (defined in our study as aged between 8-24 years), this generation has grown up during the times of the global economic crisis in 2008, movements such as Occupy Wall Street, income inequality, climate change, rising property prices caused by urban gentrification and now a new uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

This time, these issues are becoming intertwined, they are universally applicable to everyone, and protests are breaking out in cities across the Western world, arguably with the most racially diverse crowd. These sentiments shouldn’t come by surprise, bearing in mind that Gen Zers are the most multicultural generation especially in countries like the US and UK, where in the case of the USA, for example, 25% of Zers are Hispanic, 14% African-American and 6% Asian.

Yet what could these dynamics mean for the future of our cities and destinations, and what do they tell us about Gen Zers?


Looking at the cultural context in which Gen Zers have grown up and how much travel has been embedded in their lifestyle, we can be sure that they will be the first ones to be back on the road, once the worst effects of COVID-19 have passed. The current extraordinary situation and the health risks that travel poses for older generations make Gen Zers a segment of fundamental importance for DMOs.

Meeting different cultures, living abroad experiences and travelling, in general, has become a permanent feature in the life of young generations. In our study for the ETC, Gen Zers from four major outbound markets said that their favourite in-destination activities are discovering new cuisines, immersing in the local urban culture and exploring new cultural activities. These are likely to be deeply missed. Gen Zers will be impatient to visit their friends, family, relatives or loved ones. Moreover, living in a world where the alarming effects of climate change are already noticeable, together with experiencing already a second major crisis in their adolescence, suggests that Gen Zers are a generation under significant pressure. It is not by chance that mental health was identified in our study for the ETC as the second most important contemporary topic for them and travelling could be one of their remedies.

European Travel Commission (2020) Study on Generation Z Travellers, p.66-68

For a generation that has grown up with open borders and affordable travel, the life of the digital nomad could become more widespread (for those who are fortunate enough to have the skills, confidence and connections to be able to do so). In this case, what lessons could places learn about Gen Zers in order to increase their own appeal to Gen Zers in the future?


During an interview with Denny Xia, the executive vice president of East West Marketing China and one of the experts we interviewed for our study, noted that few European destinations appear to show their youth culture as an attraction, preferring instead to pump out content relating mainly to heritage and traditions, long assumed to be a point of attraction for the Chinese market. Although national identity and traditional symbols have always played an essential part in destination branding, it is an approach which seems to be more appropriate for previous generations. Globalization and the homogenisation of culture has made Gen Zers relate more to fast-moving popular culture. As a result, destinations would need to uncover more contemporary narratives in order to make a stronger appeal to Gen Zers.


If previous generations, while growing up, had the perception of progressive economic and environmental development, Generation Z is the first generation that has come of age with serious misgivings about the future. Together with that other aspects like income inequality and human rights, have also received significant attention from Zers. Therefore, the holistic approach to sustainability, focused mainly on the environment but also components like working conditions, ethical practices and equality should indicate how destinations need to approach this generation. Concentrating on improving a destination’s environmental impact is essential, however, while also considering aspects like local communities, ethical products, working conditions, or the circular economy, among others.


Our research found that Generation Z is the most open-minded generation concerning race, sexual orientation and identity, suggesting that Gen Zers may well prefer to visit places whose political systems resonate with their liberal values. Destinations that are embracing a progressive political agenda and communicate it in an effective way would stand out for Gen Zers. Such places would not only attract temporary visitors but also emerge as locations where young talented people would like to relocate or visit repeatedly.


Ten years from now Generation Z would be the most important market for the travel industry, in terms of volume,  and together with Millennials they will become the new decision makers. In 2030 Generation Z would represent  26% of the total population and Millenials 40% of the workforce. Going back to the outcomes of 1968 and 2020, where the success of the protests in the 60s was mainly cultural, taking into consideration that the values of Gen Zers and Millennials are already dominating popular culture, significant and more profound changes could be coming soon. Changes which our destinations, attractions and institutions may need to address sooner rather than later, if they want to win the hearts of Gen Zers.


We have been global thought leaders in destination development, management and marketing for the last 10 years. We transform places and destinations through the skills and international experience of 12 members of staff and a global network of 20+ experts. In total, we have undertaken projects and offered integrated solutions to trusted clients in 20+ countries across 4 continents. We’re ready to support you too.

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