How did travel become so central to youth culture?

Hamsini Shivakumar and Prabhjot Singh Gambhir of Leapfrog Strategy Consulting, write that travel brands must know their role in the travel ecosystem, bring meaningful concepts of travelling, show a deeper understanding of the youth cohort and use engaging marketing tactics

Hamsini Shivakumar
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Travel today is a big part of living the good life in urban India. It is an integral part of the aspirational lifestyle of consumer and youth culture. How did this come to be so?  What role does the travel ecosystem play in bringing this about and sustaining consumers' interest in and passion for travel?

It was not always so. For many decades post-independence, going well into the 90s, pilgrimages were the primary type of travel that Indian families engaged in. The Tirth Yatra was a well-known and established circuit and pious Hindus were expected to visit various temples across India, throughout their lifetime. Various Hindu sects had their own versions of the Tirth Yatra too. Millions of Indians, travelled mostly by train and bus/coach to sacred sites like Varanasi, Amarnath and Tirupati every year.

In this era of travel, family travel meant visiting extended family during the summer holidays and taking train journeys across the length and breadth of the country. Cousins met at Grandparents' home and summer holidays were idyllic periods of play, relaxation and generally being naughty. The Indian Railways lay at the heart of this summer holiday travel, ferrying middle-class families across the country, from north to south, east to west and within zones too, from cities to smaller towns and villages.

Many factors and forces have contributed to shifts in the concept of travel. Rising incomes, the growth of media, the introduction of budget airlines and upgraded rail connectivity have all contributed to bringing about shifts in the concept of travel.

In the past decade, the explosive growth of social media, digitalisation, the Internet and access to smartphones with affordable data have acted as a further catalyst for change. It helped create a new ecosystem around travel - of online travel agencies for flight, train and coach ticket booking (e.g. Makemytrip, Cleartrip), online hotel booking companies (,, travel bloggers/vloggers and influencers as well as destination tourism promoters. 

Each of these parts of the ecosystem has its own significant role to play in promoting travel as a cultural practice and way of life. Destination Tourism promoters, mostly government tourism departments promote the attractions of their State. This was always so, with Tourism Departments running ads in magazines, but also commissioning travel writers and editors to write feature articles in travel magazines - think airline magazines, for example.  Or shows about the history and heritage of their state, working in conjunction with TV channels. 

The growth of OTT has led to the creation of travel content and programs that speak specifically to youth audiences and highlight the experiences, questions, life challenges and excitement of the life stage as it manifests in travel. Programs such as Backpackers, The Caravan Chronicles, The Trip, Triplings and Rise put forward the philosophy and ethos of travel. They also highlight offbeat and interesting destinations to visit.

With the advent of social media - Instagram and YouTube, travel bloggers/vloggers have truly come into their own. Mostly young people in their 20s and 30s, they really hype up both destinations and activities. They are responsible for spreading the belief that it's not OK for the young to stay at home on weekends. Youth is THE life stage to travel, see new places, explore new experiences and generally make use of their freedom to explore and discover. 

Every young person has a set of travel bloggers and vloggers to follow. Indulging in vicarious travel, by following the vlogger on his/her exploration of interesting and cool destinations, leads to actual travel visiting the recommended spots. The Vloggers also educate youth on the 'right' way to travel - what to do in the place, how to be a traveller, not just a tourist and how to engage in authentic experiences. Instagrammers identify the most photogenic spots and showcase the most beautiful pictures of the place, teaching and inspiring travellers to make their own version of the ideal photographs and videos.

Destination marketing via tourism departments and vloggers/influencers shape travel culture by activating and sustaining demand. Shimla, Manali, Kerala, Goa, and Leh-Ladakh have stayed at the top of travellers' bucket lists for decades. It is hard for new destinations to dethrone these perennials or greats and replace them. Many try and the North East is the new kid on the block because it is less touristy and just waiting to be discovered by youth from all parts of the country.

What is the role of travel agencies then? Is it just to sell tickets and create travel packages, offering package tours? Something that they have been doing since the first travel agency came into existence?

Travel agencies have also adapted to the new ecosystem of travel and play much more than a facilitating role providing cheap tickets and cheap hotel bookings. Their communications valorise and glorify other values, besides adventure and discovery. Their communication converts budget travel from being a necessity for the young, whose aspirations run far ahead of their purse to a value in and of itself.  Thrift and bargain hunting have their own cool quotient, resulting in the Smart Traveller Semiotype. The Smart Traveller knows how to search online and hunt out the best deals on airfares, hotels and local transport. Not knowing how to do this marks out the youngster as an 'uncool' person, out of step with his peers. 

In addition, travel agencies position themselves like a member of the youth group, the one in the team, who is focused on obtaining smart solutions to the budget issue.  They also achieve this positioning by highlighting the qualities of the youth cohort, their love of fashion, their impulsive nature and so on which point to their deep empathy and understanding of the youth cohort.

Let's take a look at the notable signs and symbols of budget travel in travel agencies' communication on Instagram, the favourite haunt of youth.


Bimla & her boyfriend, from a small town in North India, who met online, are planning to honeymoon in Shimla, now that they have a great deal on hotels, also available online -youth everywhere now live online, on their smartphones.

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A post shared by MakeMyTrip (@makemytrip)


Three friends clinch their holiday plans due to their smart hotel shopping on GoIbibo

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A post shared by Prajakta Koli (@mostlysane)


Everyone starts giving very imaginative excuses to ask their boss for leave, due to irresistible deals and offers on the Cleartrip app

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A post shared by Cleartrip (@cleartrip)


The company’s incredibly low hotel prices will satisfy every traveller’s need to stretch their rupee and get full paisa vasool from their spends.

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A post shared by (@easemytrip)

Everyone in the travel ecosystem is a stakeholder in getting young people out of their homes and exploring India. Yet, travel agencies have a special role to play in making youth’s travel dreams come true by helping them stretch their budget and become Smart Travellers.

Key Takeaways for Travel Brands:

  1. Know your role and place in the ecosystem.

  2. Bring more meaningful concepts to the overall umbrella concept of travel.

  3. Demonstrate deeper empathy and understanding of the youth cohort.

  4. Use engaging signs, symbols and humorous storylines to connect with youth audiences.

MakeMyTrip marketing youth Travel youth culture travel brands EaseMyTrip GoIbibo Cleartrip. Consumers