We’re keeping an eye on Generation Z. Not because we’re on Neighborhood Watch duty this month and listening for loud music or hooligan shenanigans. We can’t pull our eyes away from them because they’re estimated to be America’s largest and most diverse generation in history.
Mike Konzen is principal and chair of PGAV Destinations, a global leader in the planning and design of destinations around the world, including theme parks, zoos, museums, aquariums, and cultural attractions.
They’re poised to become the most entrepreneurial, conservation, diverse, and educated generation on the planet. We know Millenials. We love Millenials. (Many of our designers are Millenials). But Generation Z is the new up-and-comer, and will absolutely change the way the attractions industry does business, markets destinations, and how we as designers create attractions for them.
Depending on which researcher your ask, you’ll get a different definition of Gen. Z depending on the time of day, Earth’s polarity, and Miley’s latest single. But average it all together, and generally it’s agreed that Gen. Zers have been born since 1995; toddlers through teens. They haven’t turned 21 yet; but they’re about to, and they have yet to really agree with or approve the label “Generation Z.” They’re aspirational, conservative, social beyond anything you can conceive, and they are more digitally connected than you could probably ever have the time for.
In our most recent study, “Digitizing Destinations 3.0, ” PGAV Destinations studied guests’ perceptions of technology at zoos, museums, aquariums, and theme parks across the country. We deep-dove into mobile-ready guests about their technological preferences, fears, skills, and knowledge, and evaluated destinations’ ability to deliver on those preferences in both the online realm and the physical technology they provide. Generation Z is all about technology.
Three-quarters (76%) agree that their experience with technology will help them reach their goals (as we said, they’re an aspirational lot). Two-thirds (66%) agree that technology makes them feel like anything is possible. And less than half (43%) agree that they value the time when they’re unplugged. Did you catch that? Less than half of them like to be disconnected from technology. That’s because they’re experiencing something called FOMO: “Fear of Missing Out.” They don’t want to miss a single thing; an event in a friend’s life, pop culture developments, or the latest and greatest “Do You Even Lift?” meme. That doesn’t surprise us.
Understanding 'The Phone Stare"
In “Digitizing Destinations 3.0, ” we studied the phenomenon known as “The Phone Stare.” The perplexing, and oftentimes frustrating, phenomenon where your attraction guests are looking down into their phones, instead of (as we oft-perceive) actively engaging in your attraction. The study unveiled that nearly two-thirds of your guests are using their smart phones at your attraction, and we even convinced them to tell us what they were using them for:
- 48%: Texting a friend about their visit
- 42%: Looking up information related to your attraction
- 40%: Leaving a post or photo on social media about their visit
- 40%: Checking email
- 29%: Sending email
So as attraction designers, this helps us cope a bit when we see mobs of people looking down into their phones beneath some beautiful, intricate, sophisticated technological marvel we spent years crafting and refining; they’re not disinterested, they’re more than likely telling someone about it or trying to learn more about it. This is a generation that has never known a world without the internet. Where their predecessors grew up with laptops, Gen. Z. grew up with touchscreens. They’re multi-tasking frequently on multiple screens at any given time, and 10% of them have more than 40 apps on their phones. But this isn’t your grandma’s Facebook.
25% of 13 to 17-year-olds left Facebook in 2013 for a variety of other platforms to fuel their emoji-packed conversations. They prefer to communicate through images, icons, and symbols, rendering apps like Snapchat, Whisper, and Secret ideal for their average eight-second attention span. Nine out of ten of Gen Zers use YouTube once a week; 54% of them use it multiple times a day; and 52% of them use it for a typical school research project. But don’t use YouTube, Hulu, or Netflix as the guide for your next website or interactive exhibit if you’re trying to appeal to them. Gen. Z is far more about collaboration through live stream: they want to help make up the activity on the spot, as creative collaborators while they enjoy it. This means scripted experiences might not fly so well with this generation (if you think your guest complaints about boring queue lines are bad now…..)
We see this as something that’s going to immensely change attraction design going forward: how will we create environments in which guests collaboratively create the experience for themselves? And, here’s one of the most fascinating conundrums about this generation and their digital preferences at your attraction. Self-promotion is a way of life for Gen. Z: whatever flavor of app they’re using, they’re constantly creating original content and curating content that promotes their humor, uniqueness, creativity, personality, and everything else to define their own unique “brand” to the world.
Where their previous generation might’ve done it through blog posts, and the generation before them through their display of consumerism (what they wore, what car they drove, displaying what they were reading….or what they wanted people to think they were reading…around their home), this generation communicates it through social media countless times a day to their friends and followers. Almost two-thirds of them say they like sharing their knowledge with others online, a sign of status and collaboration. 64% say they contribute to websites because they like learning about new things, and 76% feel that their online experiences will help them reach their goals.
Attuned to Authenticity
But, despite this overt self-promotion, they are extremely protective of who’s watching and who’s reaching out to them. They go to great lengths to conceal what they’re doing online, most often through using anonymous handles, and are hyper-aware of physically protecting their device through locking functions and passwords. Only 22% of our surveyed Gen Zers said they somewhat or completely trust posts by companies or brands on social networking sites. They’re highly attuned to authenticity: they really know when a non-Gen Zer is trying to talk to them.
Even in our own study, “Digitizing Destinations 3.0, ” the youngest surveyed generation was evenly spread and conservative regarding how much technology they wanted to experience while at attractions. Only 16% of them agreed with the statement “I’d prefer attractions use modern technology wherever they can. Technology makes attractions more appealing and efficient. If technology can be used to enhance the experience, I think it should be used.” It’s surprising, and interesting, how public Gen. Z is in the digital world, and yet how protective they are about that identity.
Technology is an essential ingredient to any kind of attraction, whether it’s digital, mechanical, functional, or for safety. Understanding the future’s largest, most diverse, and most digitally-connected generation will prove tremendously important for destination managers as they renovate and create new attractions to appeal to Generation Z. #DealWithIt
About PGAV Destinations: Recent projects and clients include Chimelong Ocean Kingdom, Space Shuttle Atlantis at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Angkor: Lost Kingdom at Port Aventura, and Heart of Africa at the Columbus Zoo.