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Boomers Set to Be Future of Tourism; Hospitality Market Should Prepare as
Aging Population Plans Spending of Retirement Funds

By Jake Spring, The Sun News, Myrtle Beach, S.C.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Feb. 27, 2011--Tourism demand is set to grow, and hospitality businesses should prepare to serve the aging baby-boomer population as well as pet owners, an academic said at last week's state hospitality conference in Charleston.

"Times are good. They're going to get better. Don't worry about the economy. It's OK," said Lowell Catlett, dean of the College of Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at New Mexico State University.

Baby boomers are set to start tapping into their retirement funds and will also inherit wealth as the last of their parents' generation dies within the decade, Catlett said at the 2011 S.C. Governor's Conference on Travel & Tourism, which concluded Wednesday. The generation known for saving will begin spending as a result, and the tourism industry should be ready to cater to them, he said.

Resorts that also provide medical care are in a position to capture that aging market, Catlett said.

With more discretionary income than any previous generation, boomers spend most on entertainment and pets, he said. Hotels and other businesses can cater to these visitors by welcoming pets, he said.

Global economic trends also point to growing tourism demand, he said. The middle class is swelling in so-called "BRICS" countries -- Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa -- and demand for vacations everywhere will grow as a result, Catlett said.

Catlett was the highlight of the conference for Peter MacIntyre, general manager of Ripley's Attractions in Myrtle Beach. He said Ripley Entertainment in Myrtle Beach may rethink its strategy to attract more retirees as a result. The company manages Ripley's Aquarium, Ripley's Believe It or Not! Museum and three other attractions in Myrtle Beach.

Ripley's often focuses on attracting young families, so it could do more to attract retirees, he said. MacIntyre raised the issue with Ripley's corporate offices, but he said it's too early to say how it might affect the company's strategy, he said.

The speech made Phil Vassar, general manager of the Captain's Quarters Resort in Myrtle Beach, consider allowing pets in part of the hotel, he said.

"Most people who travel with their pet take as good of care of their pets as they would their children," Vassar said.

Gov. Nikki Haley pledged last week to bring more stability to a marketing program that has brought about $30 million to the Grand Strand, but one legislator says that goal is more than a year away.

The destination-specific marketing program, commonly called the $2-for-$1 program, matches every $2 for tourism promotion that a destination raises privately with $1 in public funding. The Grand Strand has benefited the most from the program since its creation in 2006, receiving roughly $30 million.

The General Assembly sets the funding for the program each year, causing the amount of money allotted to the program to fluctuate by millions of dollars.

"We will come up with a business plan that lets us get more stability to the 2-for-1 match," Haley said, addressing about 500 people at last week's S.C. Governor's Conference on Travel & Tourism. "We need to make sure that we are getting the dollars back, that people feel the return on investment."

Haley said she'd work to educate people on the importance of the program.

The program is unlikely to become a recurring part of the state budget this year because the legislature is occupied by a roughly $800 million shortfall, said state Rep. Thad Viers, R-Myrtle Beach, who supports the program.

"The current formula will be sustained, and I believe in the next two years, we will see an increase," said Viers, who was not at the tourism conference. "I would not expect this year [for it to become recurring], just because of the $800 million gorilla we have in the room."

Contact JAKE SPRING at 626-0310, or follow him at


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