Monday, February 3, 2014
Baby Boomers and Group Travel, Part 2
As promised, here is the second part of our article on how Baby Boomers are affecting group travel.
8. Boomers like creature comforts. This fact, according to Malott, actually keeps boomers from booking the exotic locales they profess to like. Day puts a slightly different spin on the issue. "A tent is OK," she said, "but it better have a great view and great food. Even if you're in the wilderness, luxury is being served a delicious meal without having to lift a finger."
Accommodations should "reflect the experience of a place without being down and dirty," she said. Boomers don't want a generic-style hotel, but they demand the amenities they are accustomed to.
9. Boomers are time deprived. To get relief from their stressful schedules, boomers vacation at spas where they can do absolutely nothing but be pampered. Or they may go to the opposite extreme, choosing adventures that are physically or mentally challenging - or both.
"Group travel is turnkey travel," noted the Senior Network's Day, so the boomers' time deprivation can be a boon for tour operators. Letting somebody else deal with all the details is very appealing, she said, but the hang-up for boomers is trust. They wonder whether they can rely on somebody else to plan their kind of trip.
When booking travel, boomers also need time-saving devices. They like 800 numbers, the Internet, videos and virtual reality because they offer convenience and interactivity. Their predilection for technology can reduce travel suppliers' costs for agents' commissions and printing and mailing brochures. However, it also means call centers must be staffed to meet whenever boomers call.
Internet use is so common among Mature Traveler readers, editor Malott automatically lists website addresses along with phone numbers. Day pointed out that boomers use the Internet more for information gathering than booking. "It's human nature to want to feel connected to what you're about to sign up for," she said. However, she added, boomers also like the freedom of not involving other people when they are exploring a subject. Their attitude is, "When I've decided, I'll initiate the next move."
10. Boomers will pay for luxury, expertise and convenience. ATM fees, nannies and bottled water prove boomers are willing to pay for what they want. Mancini noted, "Boomers are willing to do things for themselves, if it's a hobby or if they think it won't require too much effort, but they really like to hire others to do it for them because it implies status."
Day added, "When boomers travel, they want to do it right. They still look for a bargain, but a bargain to them means getting a good price on something of great value."
Organized group travel becomes valuable to boomers when it's a physically or mentally challenging adventure, but they don't have the skill level to do it themselves. Or when safety and cost make traveling with a group more practical. "You get to an impasse where you need the experts to facilitate the experience," noted Day.
To attract boomers, tour operators must emphasize their expertise. They must add value boomers can't get on their own. Guides must become like personal trainers and demonstrate the skill and knowledge boomers will respect and pay for.
11. Boomers are skeptical of institutions and individuals. With Viet Nam and Watergate as touchstones, who can blame this generation for lacking trust? As a function of their distrust, boomers are not joiners. They are less involved with alumni groups, civic organizations and museum societies than their predecessors, so these traditional sources of group business may be less viable in the future.
Because they are skeptical, boomers actively research their travel options, so suppliers must expect a lot of information gathering before the buy decision. Public relations efforts that impart third-party or expert endorsement help break through boomers' skepticism. NTA focus groups in 1997 and 1998 said ads in local newspapers and word of mouth were the best sources of information and persuasion for travel products.
In marketing materials, patting oneself on the back too vigorously is sure to raise boomers' suspicions and hackles. Companies hoping to build long-term relationships must not promise more than they can deliver because failure to perform undermines boomers' trust.
12. Boomers like to associate with people like themselves. As noted earlier, boomers do not identify with people older than themselves. According to Day, one of the questions uppermost in their minds when they purchase travel is, "Who is going to be on this trip? Is it going to be people like me or a bunch of stodgy, gray-haired people?"
Day said boomers look for outfitters or operators who "share my values,"so they are very selective about who they'll use. She added, "They want an interactive feeling with the outfitter . . . where there's equality between boomers and the leader."
The industry can respond to these needs by not mixing age groups in the same tour and using younger images and words in their marketing materials. They should stress the flexibility and participative nature of the experience as well as hype the expertise of their staff and guides. Environmental and social awareness will strike a responsive note in some boomers, so they should be highlighted.
13. Boomers are not homogenous. While boomers identify themselves as boomers, they are not a single group. In terms of life stages, boomers may be the least homogenous generation to date. There are childless-by-choice boomers, others with new babies, others with grandchildren and some with both. Fifty year olds who are retiring and others starting new careers or returning to college. Empty nesters downsizing their lives, parents who can't get their Gen Xers out of the house and others raising their grandchildren. These variations affect spending habits, the amount of time available for vacations and with whom boomers travel.
There is also a dichotomy between older and younger boomers. For those born between 1946 and 1955, Viet Nam was the defining event of their lives. For those who came later, it was Watergate. When older boomers finished college, jobs were plentiful and interest rates low. Younger boomers faced recession and 21% interest. The older group, the first to benefit from women's movement, tends to be more career-oriented. The younger ones experienced the down side of women's lib - the higher divorce rate. They also felt they never got as much attention as their older siblings, so they are more family-oriented. According to Mancini, older boomers, including himself, "thought our parents stuff was corny and stupid." Younger boomers, who watched Donna Reed and Ozzie and Harriet reruns on TV, he said, "unleashed this whole wave of nostalgia." All these factors too impact travel behavior.
If they keep these 13 truths about boomers in mind, marketers will be more successful in pursuing this large, but complex market segment.
For more information on group travel, contact the Kankakee County Convention & Visitors Bureau.