Monday, January 20, 2014

Baby Boomers and Group Travel, Part 1

The Kankakee County CVB is aware of how the 78 million baby boomers are an enormous bulge in the U.S. population. Born between 1946 and 1964, they 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.

Group travel seems especially vulnerable. Although Robert Whitley, president of the U. S. Tour Operators Association, said, "The escorted tour market is alive and well," National Tour Association research among boomers indicated potential problems. According to the NTA, "The overwhelming perception of tour packages by NTA's focus group participants was negative."

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. Adele Malott, editor of The Mature Traveler newsletter, noted, "When we began we had to educate our readers because they hadn't traveled much. Now we've eliminated much of the primer stuff."

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. "Adult teenagers" is the way Phil Goodman, co-author of the Boomer Marketing Revolution, described boomers. A consultant to the NTA on its boomer market assessment plan, Goodman noted, "Boomers will always try to act much younger than their chronological age." As a result, boomers still want to fulfill the dreams they had at 25 - even if their bodies aren't always willing or able.

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.

Finally, boomers desire to have fun and make money is driving some career changers into the travel industry. According to Marc Mancini, president of Marc Mancini Seminars and Consulting, these entrepreneurs are carving out niches that will have a major impact on the business.

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.

These free-spending ways, however, could spell trouble for the travel industry, if boomers must work longer because they didn't save for retirement. The hot stock market of recent years may have changed the outlook for many, but Mancini thinks a major market correction could keep boomers from enjoying their paper profits.

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.

7. Boomers think they are special. Always been a force to be reckoned with, they are very demanding consumers. "Whether they go budget or luxury, boomers tend to want the best," said Day.

Boomers like things that reinforce their feelings of specialness, so they are attracted to credit cards that offer preferred theater seats or tours that give them after-hours access to a museum. They also want products designed to fit their individual needs, so customization, or the illusion of it, is important.

What boomers definitely do not want is herding. To many boomers, group travel has the faint aroma of a cattle drive. This has prompted some operators to drop tours from their names. Others have pared down group size, either by forming smaller groups or breaking larger groups into subsets which engage in different activities simultaneously.

Day suggested tour operators offer products that provide group transportation and accommodations, but impose a less rigid structure on travelers' daily movements. "I can see a much more à la carte approach that allows more independence," she said. The experts also recommended promotional materials down play the group aspect of tours and emphasize the benefits to individuals.

Please look for the second part in this series or contact the Kankakee County CVB for more info. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Get Creative

Smart hoteliers pay attention to what’s happening outside of their own markets and comp sets to identify emerging travel trends and opportunities. Our last article focused on trends for 2014 and now let's look at packages. 

Packages don't have to offer a discount to be attractive. Consider some of the trends on the rise and incorporate them into your packaging. For example, making a creative hands-on package  to include a cooking or art class. Offer a unique opportunity with a behind-the-scenes tour of a factory or business. You could also work with an event to offer a VIP experience. None of these have to provide a discount, just an experience travelers want to try.

In Jacksonville, a market that is driven largely by its submarkets, hotels were unaccustomed to utilizing packages because they assumed they were too far from the airport for their offerings to be effective. By experimenting with the package path, one hotel ultimately grew its business by 20 percent and became one of Jacksonville’s top producers. While packages are not the lion’s share of this hotel’s business, you can be sure they’re not interested in giving up those incremental room nights either.

It’s imperative for hotels to use market-specific demand data in addition to trends when creating packages. For example, if 15 percent of shoppers in a given market are looking for four-night packages, 15 percent of any area hotel’s bookings should be for four nights. If a hotel’s booking metrics don’t reflect market averages, the hotel can adjust their package offerings to capture that lucrative guest. Offering discounts on a fourth night might convert three night shoppers into a four-night guest and capture the four-night shoppers along the way.

Major vacation markets are naturals for package offerings, but with a little creativity and some solid trend data from experienced market managers, hotels in markets big and small will find that when it comes to packages, there’s something for everyone. Please contact the Kankakee County CVB sales department for package ideas and to post your packages online.