The 15th Shell Youth Study, which was published a few weeks ago, analyses the values and future plans of the young generation, aged between 12 and 25, in Germany.
It is based on a representative survey of 2500 young people in this age group, and 20 in-depth interviews were also conducted with selected young people.
Structural change among young people
Shell Youth Studies have been carried out regularly since 1953, and have enabled long term observations to be made of the development of the youth phase of human life. Since the 1950s the definition of youth have come to cover an increasingly extended period of life. Youth is beginning at an increasingly early age, due to the fact that the onset of puberty is taking place earlier too. As a result the period of life known as childhood is becoming shorter and never before in human history has the onset of all the transitional phases of youth occurred at such a young age as it does today. On average today’s twelve year olds are becoming young women and young men, with all that this implies with regard to their manners, orientation and behaviour.
Moreover the youth phase is becoming more extended as a result of long periods of vocational training and an inadequate availability of training and job opportunities. The start of a career and the establishment of a family together with marriage, traditionally regarded as marking the onset of adulthood, are consequently taking place later in life. The transition between youth and adulthood is becoming more fluid.
This structural change during the period of youth is influencing leisure and travel behaviour too. Unrestricted access to virtually all the media is something that young people now take for granted. As a result they can sometimes be better informed about leisure and travel activities than their own parents or other, older members of the population. Therefore the biological age does not necessarily give an accurate indication of the leisure and travel profile. In individual cases a 14 year old could have the same profile as that of someone who is 24 and it might conceivably not differ greatly from a 34 year old’s, a so-called “adult”. Some people of 14 do not like the term youth, preferring to see themselves as young men or women. On the other hand some people of 34 enjoy being thought of as youthful and tend to act that way too.
For the providers of travel services the implications are that great care should be exercised when defining programmes for specific age groups. It is more important to identify the particular interests in each case, and the leisure and travel requirements that this implies, which may not correlate very closely with the biological age.
Values and leisure orientation of young people
The 15th Shell Youth Study characterises the majority of young people in Germany as being sensitive but very pragmatic in their search for opportunities for personal development. One consequence of a longer period of youth is the predominance of a more probing and sometimes also an opportunistic basic attitude. The best options are sought for the continued development of a particular life situation. There is a desire to retain maximum flexibility because of uncertainties about whether or when career opportunities will present themselves, and whether or when one will start a family. As a result a tentative and sometimes tactical approach can be observed. An egocentric attitude can also be apparent, a kind of social and mental cost analysis, enquiring as to the personal consequences of a particular decision.
This open-minded and probing attitude is also reflected in leisure and travel behaviour. To put it more concisely one could say that the present young generation does not want to commit itself, seeks to remain flexible and keep its options open. It does not want to tie itself down too soon to one particular choice but instead to keep as many doors and avenues open for its own decisions. One positive consequence of this mentality is a characteristic curiosity and receptiveness. Deep down young men and women realise that the passage to full adulthood is a long one and therefore they want to enjoy every aspect of this transitional phase. The one problem associated with this way of thinking is that many young people find it hard to come to a decision and they shy away from taking on any obligations.
In recognition of this situation tour operators should offer a very flexible, wide range of options, that also give the client an opportunity for spontaneous reorientation. The youth of today are accustomed to being able to choose from a wide range of options, sometimes only making their decision at the last minute. Consequently a wide and varied range of choices is ideal in seeking to accommodate this mindset.
Values and preferences of young people
Embracing a certain set of values is of major importance for leisure and travel behaviour. In the Shell Youth Study we differentiate between four types of young person, according to their values and their lifestyle.
? The first group consists of confident people who like to make things happen, who want success in their education and their careers, who are curious, keen to make new discoveries and who also want have fun. One feature of this group is their evident egocentrism. Both sexes are equally strongly represented in this group. It is noticeable that girls and young women have adopted this set of values to the same extent as their male counterparts over the last ten years.
? The second group comprises the pragmatic idealists. Here young women predominate. A characteristic feature of people who espouse these values is their pursuit of a career and achievement, a sense of social responsibility and the ability to engage with their neighbours and their surrounding rather than to pursue their own egocentric interests. As a result they are constantly looking for something new and take pleasure in making discoveries, as well as being prepared to commit themselves to international issues, as well as in an environmental, cultural and social context. Most of the young people who are interested in acquainting themselves with other cultures and lifestyles are found in this group. Just like the group comprising the people who like to make things happen, most idealists have a comfortable family background, are affluent and capable of managing their own affairs to a high degree. This makes them very interesting clientele for travel suppliers. Together these two types referred to above make up approximately 60 per cent of all young people.
? In terms of the values they hold, the third group are described in the Shell Youth Study as unassuming sceptics. There are more young women than young men in this group. In the absence of educational success, members of this group have justifiable doubts about the subsequent adoption of a career. Accordingly they are withdrawn and dissatisfied with their own development and with many of the social tendencies that they see around them.
? The fourth group is made up of frustrated materialists, mainly young men. They feel that they have missed out in their social development and do not see any prospects for success either in their careers or their lives. As a result many of them resort to aggression and violence and seek refuge in xenophobia and right wing extremism. They form a difficult clientele not only for pedagogues and youth workers but also for providers of leisure activities and travel.
An awareness of these values could be useful to the travel and tourism industry when creating specific programmes. Without doubt the people offering the most interesting possibilities and the easiest to reach are those whose values are defined by the first two groups. They consist of young men and women who want to learn more about life, explore different places and experience adventure. They are willing to use all their senses in order to acquaint and familiarize themselves with different cultures in foreign lands. They are also very creative in the way that they explore the information resources that they need in preparing for their own travel. Unlike older travellers they tend not to see themselves as tourists seeking escape from the pressures of everyday life but as people in search of something new, who want to enjoy themselves and satisfy their curiosity and interests.
It is very difficult to create offers tailored to the needs of the other two groups. In as much as they can be reached at all, it is possible that they would respond to a programme focusing on specific aspects, with a slightly all-inclusive character and offering them many exciting experiences.