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Will the 2021 Holidays Be Closer to Normal for Gen Z & Millennials?

The winter holidays are coming up—are young consumers’ plans going to be crushed by COVID again?


The pandemic altered many of young people’s holiday traditions last year—but as comfort with in-person experiences continues to increase, will 2021 look different? YPulse’s recent Winter Holiday Plans report digs into how young consumers are planning to celebrate the holidays, how those plans are shifting compared to last year, and how close to “normal” this season will be for Gen Z and Millennials.

To get a better sense of how, or if, the pandemic is affecting young people’s winter holiday plans this year, we looked at their feelings about COVID and compared it to 2020. Here’s what they say:

Overall, the number of young consumers who feel COVID will be impacting their holiday plans has dropped. There’s a 10% decrease from 2020 to 2021 in the number of young consumers who tell us that celebrating the holidays is going to be hard because of COVID-19, and less than half of 13-39-year-olds say their usual holiday gatherings are going to be cancelled because of COVID this year, compared to half in 2020. Gen Z and Millennials are starting to feel a little more comfortable celebrating the holidays this year even with the pandemic still going on. But it is notable that over half still feel the holidays will be hard, and over half will still likely have smaller gatherings. It’s important for brands to remember that while some return to normalcy is happening, the pandemic is still very much on the minds of young people, and impacting their realities.

When it comes to traveling for the holidays, consumers seem more inclined to do so, but not without still playing it somewhat safe. We told you about how cars and domestic travel became more popular in the last year—and how young consumers are traveling more for Thanksgiving. A Destination Analysts survey conducted at the end of September found that holiday travel plans haven’t entirely rebounded to pre-pandemic levels just yet, projecting that the number of U.S. passengers traveling via airplane is expected to be around 75% of 2019 levels for Thanksgiving and 80% for Christmas. Meanwhile, consumers who aren’t ready to travel via crowded terminals are booking short-term rentals, with reservations for short-term rentals during Thanksgiving up 302% compared to 2020 and up 93% from 2019. YPulse’s own behavioral research found that 43% of 13-39-year-olds will be traveling to visit family / friends for the holidays, while 20% will be traveling for vacation.

Most brands are, understandably, focusing on the positive—at least in marketing. While commercials centered on optimism have been a pattern throughout the pandemic, holiday marketing and advertising seems to be full of more “hopeful and joyful optimism” this year. Amazon and Gap’s latest holiday campaigns emphasize love, kindness, and the importance of coming together and celebrating with loved ones during this time. And retailers have been going all out to bring foot traffic into stores, with young shoppers starting to feel comfortable about shopping in-person compared to last year. Target is making a play for toy-hunting Millennial parents by launching special Disney sections, while Macy’s opened hundreds of Toys R Us locations inside its stores as well.

But there are some brands that are acknowledging that young people are still struggling. For example, Amazon’s campaign, which features Adele’s powerful new track “Hold On,” puts a focus on the increase of young adults’ anxiety during the pandemic, while pushing how important it is to check in on those struggling during this time. Having young people’s anxieties in mind during this time is certainly something brands can keep in mind ahead of the holidays: It’s important to strike a balance and understand that while less young consumers are cancelling their plans due to COVID and are starting to feel more comfortable about their celebrations, they aren’t ready to fully jump into their pre-COVID lives just yet.

YPulse Business users can access the full Winter Plans behavioral report and data here.

Don’t have a YPulse Business account? Find out more here.