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by Pádraic Gilligan, Founder, SoolNua & Chief Marketing Officer, SITE

This post explores the “Growing Up in Ireland” study, highlighting how travel is the top aspiration among 13-year-olds, especially girls and those from higher-income families. It underscores the importance of travel experiences and offers insights for incentive travel professionals on gender and socio-economic trends.

Growing Up in Ireland

I became a teenager in 1973 when the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE) was founded in New York City and the Bosphorus Bridge connecting Europe and Asia was opened in Istanbul. I cannot honestly recall what I was most looking forward to as a adult but I wish I did as then I could compare my 13 year old self to the 13 years olds in Ireland today whose answers to a survey were recently reported in the national media.

It may seem strange to reference a study of children and young people in a post on incentive travel but bear with me. Growing Up in Ireland is a joint project of the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY) and the Central Statistics Office (CSO) in Ireland. It’s a longitudinal study following the same cohort throughout the arc of their childhood and the current iteration surveys them at age 13, as they enter a decisive new phase on their lives.

One of the questions asks what they are most looking forward to about being an adult. The chart below displays the answers.

Top of the dream charts for 13 year old boys and girls in Ireland is “travelling to different countries”. It’s almost twice as popular as any other single aspiration including being independent, getting a job, having money etc.

Breaking down the data

For incentive travel professionals, this is a both fascinating and validating – fascinating to note that as they reach the threshold of adulthood, children are most excited by the prospect of travel to other countries and validating to confirm the primacy of a travel experience over practically every other potential aspiration that a young person might have.

But there’s more.

Another chart breaks the data down further and it gets even more fascinating. While 32% of all 13 year olds choose travel as their top aspiration, this figure is actually made up of 39% girls and 25% boys. Thus girls are 56% more focused on travel experiences as their ultimate adult aspiration.

There’s a significant difference also across the socio-economic divide, too, with 13 year olds from higher income families 44% more focused on travel experiences than those from lower income families.

The question obviously arises as to whether these results from 13 year old Irish teenagers apply in a global context. Irish teenagers live on an island in western Europe lacking the immediate road and rail connectivity to other countries that a 13 year old Swiss, German or Belgian young person might have. Will that fact impact their aspiration?

Perhaps. But not that much, I expect. Other studies of children across western democracies reveal very little differences between them in this globalised environment. Whether they’re Chinese, Canadian or even Congolese, they’re mostly all on TikTok, know who Taylor Swift is and aspire to have an iPhone … and to travel to foreign countries!

Lessons for incentive travel professionals

So what does all this mean for incentive travel professionals?

Firstly, I think, it spotlights the undeniable power and appeal of travel as the ultimate aspiration and thus the perfect reward.  13 year olds, free from the limitations, burdens and responsibilities of adulthood regard it as an intrinsic, stand alone and distinct aspiration, more than twice as popular as the option “having my own money to spend as I wish” which, when you think of it, would facilitate and permit “travel to other countries”!

Secondly, it highlights worthwhile data points around gender and socio-economic cohorts. Who knew girls aspired to, and valued, travel experiences so much more than boys? The history of travel is mostly silent when it comes to women. We all know Alexander the Great, Marco Polo, Cortés, Cook and Livingstone but can you name 5 great women travellers? Have we simply written women out of the script as we have done across so many other areas of human endeavour?

The socio-economic difference is also worth comment. Why might poor children value travel less than rich children? Is it connected with awareness which, in turn, is often linked with education? Other studies of children will indicate that in western democracies there’s negligible difference across the socio-economic divide when it comes to internet access and smart phone possession so it’s not necessarily down to social media. Maybe it’s back to Maslow where higher order aspirations – like travel – can only be considered when the lower order aspirations are fulfilled?

Thirdly, for incentive travel professionals this study provides foundational validation for what we do. I often think we’re in the same category as Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart whom, when asked in 1964, to describe his test for obscenity, he responded: “I know it when I see it.” As hands-on professionals, we “see” the success of incentive travel programs, in plain sight, before our eyes. We know it’s successful because we’ve seen it but we lack the objective metrics, the empirical evidence to prove it. Now here’s a study that highlights how, from an early age, humans – or, at least the one’s resident in Ireland(!) – are hard-wired to value travel over so many other aspirations in their lives, including a career, having money or being able to study. That’s something to take to the bank!

Pádraic Gilligan is co-founder with Patrick Delaney of SooNua and currently serves as Chief Marketing Officer at SITE.

Here are five key takeaways from this post:

  1. Top Aspiration: Travel is the number one aspiration among 13-year-olds in Ireland, significantly outranking other dreams such as financial independence and career success.
  2. Gender Differences: Girls are 56% more likely than boys to prioritize travel as their ultimate adult aspiration, highlighting a notable gender difference in travel aspirations.
  3. Socio-Economic Influence: Teenagers from higher-income families are 44% more focused on travel experiences compared to those from lower-income families, indicating socio-economic factors play a role in shaping these aspirations.
  4. Global Context: Despite geographic limitations, Irish teens’ travel aspirations are consistent with global trends, suggesting universal appeal and the influence of globalization and social media.
  5. Incentive Travel Validation: The study provides valuable validation for incentive travel professionals, confirming the intrinsic value and appeal of travel experiences as a powerful motivational reward.

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