Crossing the Generation Gap in Travel Payments

Today marks the opening of the world’s largest travel tradeshow! ECOMMPAY at joining the 10,000 exhibitors expecting to welcome over 160,000 visitors at ITBBerlin. Stop by to talk payments at Stand 137 in Hall 6.1!

In 2019, travel’s more diverse than ever before. Long gone are the days of identikit package holidays, disappointing for each family member in equal measure, replaced instead by hitchhiking, couchsurfing, voluntourism, and other unique and exciting compound words.

Travel operators must now cater to the precise whims of every age group, be they adventurous Gen-Zers, socially-conscious millennials, or retirees taking a well-deserved break. Every age bracket tends to want something different.

Keeping up with the Gen-Zers

People born from the mid-90 to the early-aughts want ‘experiences’, i.e. they want to fling themselves to a distant corner of the planet and they want to crash out on a stranger’s sofa (or in a draughty tent) when they get there. They’re free-wheeling and flexible, liable to change their plans when the mood strikes them, and therefore not particularly interested in all-inclusive resort trips where everything is decided in advance.

Their finances, meanwhile, are decidedly less adaptable. Gen-Zers, being the youngest generation currently traversing the globe, have the most restricted cash flow of the lot. If they spend any significant amount on their holidays, it’s in dribs and drabs: a little on accommodation, a little on food, and a little on activities, rather than any big splurges on lavish hotel rooms or luxury flights.

When they do spend, increasing numbers of them like to do it via mobile payments. People born from the mid-90z to the early-aughts want ‘experiences’, i.e. they want to fling themselves to a distant corner of the planet and they want to crash out on a stranger’s sofa (or in a draughty tent) when they get there. They’re free-wheeling and flexible, liable to change their plans when the mood strikes them, and therefore not particularly interested in all-inclusive resort trips where everything is decided in advance.


Gen Z have already overtaken millennials in their use of mobile payments, becoming the standard-bearer for the cashless revolution.

That’s not to say that the latest generation has completely done away with traditional payment methods; a third of them still prefer in-person transactions through more standard means, from cash to debit cards, but that leaves two thirds who are a bit more cutting-edge. Travel operators servicing Gen-Zers abroad need to be able to accept payments in the swish of an iPhone if they want to avoid embarrassment, or worse – feeling old.

Meeting Millennial Demand

Meanwhile, travel continues to survive the millennial onslaught against every other industry on the planet. In fact, the prevalence of social media means millennials are feeling more inspired to travel than ever. An overwhelming 87% of holidaying millennials turned to the Facebooks and Instagrams of the world for travel ideas last year, and they’re often deciding to spend their vacation time ‘making a difference’. So-called ‘voluntourism’ has been a big trend among millennials looking for culturally-immersive and life-changing experiences these past few years, with 84% of the age bracket saying they’d travel overseas to help out with volunteer activities. More than anything, millennials are looking for exciting, memorable experiences, and they’re increasingly willing to pay to get them as they grow older.

Millennials are just as tech-literate as Gen-Zers, and their payment habits aren’t too different. A hallmark of millennial payment preferences is the usage of peer-to-peer (P2P) payment systems, like PayPal or Venmo, to pool resources and divvy up responsibility for things like restaurant cheques, hotel bills or plane tickets.


Three quarters of millennials currently use P2P payments over cash or cheques at least semi-regularly, a number only likely to grow as the technology matures and becomes more widely accepted.

Debit cards, more so than credit cards, are still popular among millennials as a demographic, but bank fees abroad tend to put the kibosh on their widespread use on holiday. When millennials opt to use more traditional payment methods abroad, they’re a lot more likely to use cash than anything else.

To Each Their Own Payment Requirements

Partnering with a good payment service provider is vital to any travel operator hoping to market itself to younger generations. A decent payments company will be able to furnish travel companies with the expertise, tech, security, and infrastructure necessary to accept and process payments from the latest and greatest travel payments technologies, integrating themselves into your online and physical presences with ease and adaptability. Both millennials and Gen-Zers are famously fickle, and highly likely to pass on operators that can’t accept their preferred form of payment. Enlisting the right services to aid your payment process can be instrumental in driving loyalty and revenue from the latest generations.

That’s not to say that a payment service provider can’t help if your company targets the more venerable sections of society. Gen-Xers, that contingent born between the mid-60s and early 80s, are more likely than any other age group to engage in family travel. They’ve got the budget of a generation that’s been part of the workforce for a while, and their kids generally aren’t old enough to have families of their own just yet. As such, gen X travel tends to be based around the school calendar, child-friendly, and highly focused on relaxation.

As for payments, technology isn’t as second-nature to older travellers as it is to younger generations. Older folks prefer the simplicity of a cash or credit card transaction, with Gen Xers in particular being much more credit card-focused in general than any other generational demographic.


That means a travel operator focusing on middle-aged and older travellers needs to be able to process payments from a large array of card schemes.

As tourism from Asia increases, travel operators will need to be familiar with the workings of China’s UnionPay card scheme, and able to handle payments from UnionPay cards with the same efficacy as one from Visa. A good payments partner can connect travel businesses with card schemes from across the globe, allowing companies to handle payments whatever their customers’ preferences.