Like most young people, when I started travelling I thought no more deeply about my own footprint than how great it was to have sand between my toes, and whether those footprints were heading into the sea, down to a bar, or up a mountainside.

In more recent years, and in common with most parents, I have become used to being always wrong – in my kids’ eyes, at least – when it comes to .. just about everything. I was probably the same with my own parents when growing up. Their music was awful, their opinions almost always got a snort, and don’t get me started on their clothes..!

It’s part of finding your own personality and being impressed by your peer group, I guess.

But then I started to realise; it’s not just my kids pushing back automatically against their Dad. It’s everybody else’s kids too, finding their own feet, and approval from their own generation, and making their presence felt in the world. And just as well, when you think about it! Because we haven’t exactly covered ourselves in glory.

I’ve recently been intrigued by the study of generational difference; things like why so-called Millennials are seen to be different from their Baby Boomer predecessors. Why Gen Z is apparently changing the workforce – and why the under-tens, the Generation Alpha kids (heard of them?), are affecting buying patterns and influencing the development of new technology and entertainment.

And the more you look into it, the more you see that there are very credible cut-off points. Key moments that define these different groups, and give rise to contrasting outlooks, life chances, choices.

For instance, most Millennials – those aged roughly between 23 and 36 – have only known life as adults post-financial crash. That put paid to them finding easy credit, 110% mortgages at its worst, and as a result, many will never own their own property. Meanwhile Generation Z, only the oldest of whom were born before 9/11, have never known life without a smartphone – ostensibly a computer – in their hand. So they don’t see the relevance of learning by rote the kings and queens of England, or what cosines and tangents are, or the point of the periodic table.

And why is this important? 

The way different generations see history, and their own life options, has a huge impact on how we design and live – and travel – in the future. 

I touched last week on the rise of co-living and co-working, and how developers across the globe are starting to design mixed-use units. It means the collaborative and community-minded Millennials and Gen Z can live, work, exercise, eat, socialise and even park their kids in the one place, even under the one roof. And it makes perfect sense. It’s not so long ago they were sharing student accommodation, or renting privately with friends as they started their careers.

With the global move towards flexible contracts, mobile employment, digital nomads, and the inevitable rise of the flexible sharing economy (perhaps itself becoming an outdated term), why shouldn’t the upcoming workforce be looking for bricks and mortar as flexible as they are? As flexible as every other aspect of their lives? 

I can remember my own grandmother telling me once that in her youth, you knew exactly how much your winter coat was going to cost, because prices never changed; and neither did the way you saved for it. Now the world moves so fast, you’d never be able to predict even what length that coat was going to be next year, never mind the cost. Probably within a couple of years we’ll be buying them with Bitcoin. How things have changed!

In my next blog I will outline how, in the middle of all this, parts of our economy have been pretty much paralysed for a decade. Since the financial crash, people have no longer been swapping cars every two years and automatically getting a 5% pay rise, and expecting 10% interest on savings. It’s affected the way we plan, the way we save, the way we spend. And the way we travel!

Last year, we  shared insights from futurist Brian David Johnson and the CHPA, on possible future paths for the industry. It’s been a decade, after all, that’s seen the rise of both serviced apartments and the sharing economy in the face of all this.

And of course we’ve been even more paralysed in the UK for the last three years as we wait for the outcome of Brexit. Meanwhile we watch the shift in power towards Millennials and the increase in Gen Z travellers, and what travel might look like in ten, twenty years’ time, for instance.

But for now – and I’m certainly not preaching, in any way, shape or form, I find this unbelievably humbling! – I’d like to finish this week by pointing out that the world has only been lent to us, however old or young we are. I was told recently that the air we breathe today is the residue of the industrialisation and rising car use in the 1950s – and of course we know that can only get worse. What will my kids be breathing by the time they’re having children of their own?

So let us celebrate that it’s taken rebellious schoolchildren to make the world sit up and take note of shrinking icecaps and increasing smog, and the loss of habitat forcing wildlife to encroach on human spaces; at least we are finally facing up to some responsibility. Many budget airlines now offer the chance to make a donation, to offset at least in part your carbon footprint, as you book another eye-wateringly cheap flight. And I recently watched builders near me installing several electric fast-charge points as part of the parking for a brand new supermarket. Shame the government has withdrawn incentives to buy electric vehicles, mind you! But it’s a start. 

As an industry, serviced apartments are already delivering guests control over their catering, laundry, power usage, and therefore control over their own carbon footprint at least to some extent, while developers are encompassing energy-efficient methods of construction and building management. And hotels are also moving in this direction, realising their customers expect these concessions as a minimum. 

As an Association we are proud of these small steps in the right direction. We have pioneered the need for credibility differentiators for the consumer – the knowledge that our accredited Members have proved their adherence to safety and duty of care. And when it comes to future-proofing, we are driven to ensure that these things will  make the difference between success and failure with these environmentally-aware and forward-looking next generations travellers. 

As they say; when you travel, leave only footprints. I’m becoming more and more aware of my own, by the day.