After more than 60 years in business, Contiki is still going strong, however, it had to make some changes for the new generation.

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Thousands of young Australians will flee the bitter chill this winter and grit their teeth through a 14 plus hour cattle class journey to the European continent.

Hordes of them will lug their overstuffed backpacks onto a Contiki coach and offer up timid introductions to the strangers who will soon become supporting characters in their adventure of a lifetime.

Contiki managing director Toni Ambler said young people had always gravitated towards group travel, but Gen Z, many of whom are travelling alone for the first time, wanted more than just a good time.

Contiki travel has changed a lot over the past 60 years. Picture: Contiki

The Gen Z traveller is looking for an elevated form of travelling. Picture: Instagram

“There is a kind of loneliness epidemic, they were shut off from the world for some time and lots has changed now they are coming back into it,” she said.

“What hasn’t changed is young people from around the world want to come together and have this shared life-changing experience.”

One of the common critiques aimed at Contiki over its 60-year legacy is the whirlwind speed in which it tears through itineraries, a necessity for ensuring it hits the dozens of bucket-list items travellers want to tick off in one trip.

It’s also one of the reasons fans of the brand will return time and time again.

But the TikTok savvy tourist is more informed than ever before and they want the freedom to explore on their own.

“They know what they want to do and see and they are highly influenced by pop culture,” Ms Ambler said of the brand’s core audience.

The Contiki trip manager’s role has been transformed, with team members expected to know the cities like the back of their hand.

“The role of the trip manager has changed too, they can help you curate your day so you can get to that cafe or vintage shop that you’ve seen on social media,” Ms Ambler said.

Contiki in the ’90s. Picture: Contiki

Contiki in the ’70s. Picture: Contiki

Contiki in the ’00s. Picture: Contiki

Contiki group leaders must survive a rigorous selection process to ensure they have what it takes to make every trip stand up to the company’s gold standard.

“It’s a very sought-after job, they have to write a 30,000 word thesis. Then they go on a 60-day training trip. It’s like survivor, you either make it to the end of you don’t. It’s pretty cutthroat,” Ms Ambler said.

Gen Z travellers are ushering in a new age of travel, one that might seem alien to those who spent many a European summer partying till dawn and sweating through a heaving stomach the next day.

At the Colosseum in Rome during a Contiki trip in December, 2022. Picture: Supplied

Model Madeline Relph on tour with Contiki. Picture: Supplied

“The research suggests 77 per cent of Gen Z travellers aren’t as interested in drinking, they might want a glass of wine or two but they aren’t interested in having a big party,” Ms Ambler said.

“It’s about making sure we’ve got multiple options to cater for everybody.”

Sunrise yoga, morning run clubs and a night cruise through Amsterdam’s canals are all part of the offering.

Contiki also recognises that climate action is a big concern for their customers.

“We were the first ever company to go net carbon neutral in 2022. We arrived at that and thought this is just not good enough,” Ms Ambler said.

Contiki is confident it will reach net zero by 2030.

Sleeping on a Contiki coach in the ’70s. Picture: Contiki

The company is also proud of its ability to keep costs down despite the economic pressures that have blown out the cost of travel in a post-pandemic world.

They estimate a Contiki trip is 20 per cent cheaper than planning the trip yourself, with total cost estimated at $200 a day, including accommodation, transport as well as some meals and experiences.

“We have been around for 60 years so we have a strong supply chain and partners we’ve used for years that are part of our family,” Ms Ambler said.

“We also own a chateau in France that we spent $3m renovating and we own a really cool ski lodge in Switzerland.”

Where are Gen Z travelling in 2024

Europe is always going to be top of the list because there is so much ground to cover. That was the case 10 years ago and that trend has stuck around in 2024.

“What they do in Europe has changed though, last year it was all about Greece,” Ms Ambler said.

This year parts of Eastern Europe like Berlin and Poland are starting to become popular once more.

Seoul in South Korea is a hugely popular destination for 2024. Picture: iStock

South Korea is also garnering a lot of interest, with Contiki selling out trips immediately after launch.

Contiki will be launching trips to the Philippines in the near future.

As for what will become the next hotspot, Ms Ambler said: “I do think the Americas will start to come back.”

“Ten years ago, Australians loved travelling through the States and Canada.

“The Deep South, cruising Route 66, Nashville, Austin and New Orleans – those destinations are so cool but they’re so hard to do by yourself.”

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