Monday, June 30, 2014
How Baby Boomers Influence Travel Trends, Part 1
Born between 1946 and 1964, 78 million Baby Boomers changed American business at each stage of their development. Diaper services, Barbie dolls, Rolling Stone magazine, relaxed-fit jeans and SUVs - all were created in response to boomers' needs. Now it's the travel industry's turn to be affected.
Baby boomers today are between 35 and 53 years of age. They are in their peak earning years, and the oldest of them have reached the prime age for travel. Boomers, however, are significantly different travel consumers than their parents, and experts expect them to maintain those differences as they age. Travel industry organizations that fail to identify and heed the boomers' unique qualities could soon find themselves in serious trouble.
To help marketers more effectively target boomers today and in the future, Travel Marketing Decisions interviewed a series of experts to gather insight into this enormous and potentially lucrative segment. Below are 13 truths about baby boomers and their marketing implications for the industry.
1. Boomers consider travel a necessity, not a luxury. This is good news for the industry on two counts. First, the sheer number of boomers traveling will cause business to grow. Second, since travel is a necessity, boomers engage in it no matter how scarce their time or money. Their travel behavior, therefore, is less dependent on life stage or the economy.
2. Boomers have traveled more than their predecessors. While their parents first visited Europe when they retired, boomers criss-crossed the Continent as students. As experienced travelers, boomers seek out more exotic destinations or more in-depth ways of experiencing familiar places. "You're not likely to see them on bus tours of the U.S. because they already did that on their bikes or with backpacks," said Courtney Day, senior vice of the Senior Network, a New Jersey research and marketing firm that specializes in the older consumer.
Been-there-done-that is one reason adventure travel appeals to them, Day said. She defined adventure travel as either physically-challenging outdoor activity or an off-the-beaten-path destination. Because boomers are interested in bettering themselves, intellectually stimulating travel also holds appeal.
3. Boomers see themselves as forever young. This cult of youth also affects boomers' choice of travel suppliers and companions. They don't identify with people older than they are, after all, their credo was "Don't trust anybody over 30." Now well past 30 themselves, boomers still don't want to be like their parents. That means mixing the two generations in the same tour group probably won't work. Early bird specials and senior discounts hold no appeal for boomers because, according to Day, because they won't think of themselves as seniors until they are in their seventies.
She said some companies may have to reinvent their images because boomers don't want anything that smacks of being stuffy or stodgy. More youthful models should be selected because boomers relate better to younger images. The word maturity should be replaced with experience and education.
4. Boomers want to have fun. It's not surprising that adult teenagers put a premium on having a good time. Although fun, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, Day said companionship, stimulation and the cultural/social experience make travel fun for boomers. She added, "Part of the enjoyment of the experience is knowing it's unique -that's part of the rush."
Day said tour operators and destinations can increase the fun factor by encouraging boomers to bring friends with them. A group isn't a negative when it's a group of their own friends, she said.
Day also pointed out, "Fun that is too difficult to obtain isn't fun at all." This again underscores the importance of making the travel purchase quick, easy and convenient.
5. Boomers demand immediate gratification. Unlike their Depression-era parents, boomers grew up in times of plenty. Easy gratification bred a desire for still more and quicker rewards. As a result, boomers don't wait to take the trips they want. If they don't have the money, they just use plastic.
Boomers' instant-gratification lifestyle means they don't book travel as far in advance as their predecessors. But when they are ready to book, they want to do it NOW.
Finally, it's important to remember boomers invented the question, "Are we there yet?" They have little patience for long, uninterrupted stretches of road time. Tour operators should plan shorter hauls or more frequent stops or provide entertainment such as personal video screens or Internet access.
6. Boomers are not passive. They want a measure of control in designing their travel experience, and, once on the road, they want to choose their activities. "If you tell them they're going to do A, B and C, they might want to do E or F," noted editor Malott. The challenge for travel marketers is to make it clear their product offers plenty of options.
Boomers also want more interactivity in the travel experience. According to John Stachnik, president of Mayflower Tours, "They don't want to hear about panning for gold, they want to do it." Stachnik called it sightdoing vs. sightseeing.
Malott said boomers also crave the "local human touch." That means activities such as "meet the people" dinners or playing golf with locals will be highly attractive tour elements.
Check back for part two in the series on Baby Boomer travel.