There are three areas Gen Z travelers expect carriers to deliver on, says American Airlines’ Mariel Ferrara.

Even as airlines continue to grapple with how to appeal to Millennials, that demographic’s younger siblings in Generation Z are throwing even more curves at travel and hospitality brands.

Born between 1995 and today, Gen Z travelers comprise 25.9 percent of the population, which is already larger than Millennials (24.5 percent), according to a report by global distribution system Travelport. And that group’s spending power worldwide is estimated to represent $44 billion annually.

“Generation Z is already influencing the travel choices being made by their parents and before long they will become the decision makers of the future,” Travelport’s study notes.

“It is important for travel companies to start engaging this audience now in order to leverage significant revenue opportunities with this expanding segment. Investments in multi-device, mobile technology and personalization will be key to enabling travel companies to connect with the ultra-connected Generation Z traveler and to build strong relationships with their brands as they come of age.”

The question of Gen Z’s influence in airline bookings – and how airlines can manage that demographic’s interests and attention — was the focus of a panel at last week’s ATPCO Elevate conference.

A number of ways to drive airline affinity with Gen Z were mentioned on the panel, which featured Journera’s Carla Medina, Amtrav’s Jeff Klee, OpenJaw’s Paul Byrne, American Airline’s Mariel Ferrara, and moderator Sean O'Neill from Skift.

“What’s really important is staying connected,” said OpenJaw’s Byrne. “For an airline, having a strong inflight wifi network will engender loyalty as opposed to more trad offerings like frequent flier points.”

But when it comes to how airlines can appeal to Gen Z at the beginning of the booking process, we caught up with Ferrara, who serves as manager of the delivery strategy team in revenue management at American Airlines.

Kambr Media: Airline customers, particularly Gen Z travelers, can sometimes be overwhelmed by the various offers they see in online ads. How can a carrier stand out from the clutter and noise? 

Mariel Ferrara: Airlines have lots of different products that we can offer to our customers—and even more ways we can lump those products together to create an offer. Some customers really value wi-fi, others value priority boarding, and some care primarily about getting a good deal.

Although technically, we could offer all products to all customers for them to pick and choose what mix works best for them. But it is much more important to give them fewer catered options in order to prevent them from experiencing decision-paralysis and abandoning their shopping path altogether.

Specifically for users with a shorter attention span (on average 8 seconds for Gen Z compared to 12 seconds for Millennials), having easily digestible, relevant content is crucial.

ATPCO Elevate's "Gen Z panel," featuring Skift's Sean O'Neill, Amtrav’s Jeff Klee, American Airline’s Mariel Ferrara, OpenJaw’s Paul Byrne, and Journera’s Carla Medina.

You also mentioned your own experience scrolling through social media and being annoyed by the constant barrage of ads. But then you might stop when you see a discount for a product you’re interested in. How do you ensure a message resonates as opposed to annoys? 

Social media platforms offer the opportunity to tailor offers and ads to individuals rather than large masses of consumers. This has led younger generations to not only prefer tailored content, but expect it. By customizing offers based on search/purchase history and individual preferences, we can make sure that we don’t “annoy” customers and by presenting them with offers that bring value to them. 

How much of an impact are Gen Z is having on flight shopping strategies? Is there a clear difference in how Gen Z decides on purchasing a flight versus Millennials or other demographics like Gen X and Baby Boomers? Is there anything special in the way American is trying to reach Gen Z?

There are a few things that differentiate Gen Z-ers from previous generations, including Millennials. They expect a seamless digital shopping experience (on all platforms), personalized offers, and for airlines to invest in the sustainability of their products to name a few. 

American has a focus on all three, and while these are all things that Gen Z-ers have come to expect, it’s important to note that these are all items that bring value to customers of all ages.