By Alan E. Young
Over the past few years, millennials (individuals born between 1982 and 2000) have received special attention, as leaders across industries speak to their growing presence, impressive buying power, and unique buying behaviors. However, while millennials may be the future, the decision to turn our sights away from the baby boom generation would be irrevocably ill-advised.
Baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, are the wealthiest age group of the century, represent an audience of 74.9 million, and in the past decade, they spent more than any other generation. In 2016, nearly three in 10 U.S. leisure travelers were baby boomers and, even further, every year, more boomers enter retirement, and many have the time and disposable income to enjoy travel.
It is apparent that millennials aren’t the only buzz-worthy generation when it comes to travel and hospitality. Moreover, catering to an influx of younger travelers doesn’t require hoteliers to turn their backs on their former generational counterparts. The aim, instead, should be to create a hospitality experience that lends itself favorably to each generation, based on their own expectations.
Understanding the Boom Travel Boom
Despite focusing on millennials’ penchant for travel, it’s essential to recognize that boomers continue to be avid travelers, planning to take a total of 4-5 leisure trips this year where they will spend over $6,600. This actually shouldn’t come as a surprise, as the majority of boomers are primarily empty nesters and have the desire, time and resources to travel. Even further, studies show that by 2025, seniors will account for 11% of the world’s population, and industry research finds that baby boomers spend a whopping $157 billion on trips every year. At the 2019 New York Times Travel Show, Steve Cohen, SVP Travel Insights at MMGYGlobal, explained that “By generation, boomers are still spending the most money on travel.” This leads us to the question, what does baby boomer travel look like as we head into the latter half of 2019? What kind of trips are they taking, what do they deem as valuable from a service perspective?
According to studies, approximately half of boomers expecting to travel will seek out domestic destinations (47%), while the other half hope to travel both domestically and internationally (48%). In most cases, baby boomers are traveling to spend quality time with loved ones, or checking off ‘bucket list’ items while gaining authentic experiences of other cultures. This indicates a growing opportunity for multi-generational travel, cruises, hotel packages centered around relaxation or local culture, and more. As far as bucket list travel goes, these trips might not quite resemble the wild activities sought out by Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson in their 2007 movie, but there is still plenty of opportunity for the provision of unique packages and great service.
The Desire for Technology Spans Across Generations
Earlier this year, an article was published in Forbes titled, “Forget Generational Stereotypes, Baby Boomers Are Just As Addicted To Smart Phones As Millennials”. Throughout the piece, the author spoke to a recent study which compared smartphone habits across 1,000 baby boomers and 1,000 millennials. Surprisingly, baby boomers are on smartphones five hours a day. That’s almost the same amount of time on a phone as millennials, who clock in over five-and-a-half hours per day. I say surprisingly because, in many cases, hoteliers may attribute the increasing demand for a mobile experience to millennial guests. Millennials, more often than not, are deemed as the tech-savvy, digital generation. However, while the younger generations may be especially receptive to the new-age tech, baby boomers also appear to be well-versed in the world of mobile technology and, moreover, they have a preference for it.
Another study revealed that 84% of baby boomers book their travel online, and 55% say having their smartphone is essential while traveling. And it doesn’t end there. Baby boomers spend 27 hours per week online, which is two hours more per week than those who are between 16 and 34. Even further, 96% of baby boomers use search engines, 95% use email, and 92% shop for products and services online rather than shopping in stores and shopping malls. In terms of social media, baby boomers are often motivated by the pursuit of additional information. While millennials may operate according to a sense of social media derived “FOMO,” baby boomers often seek out more information on a company website or search engine after seeing something on a social media platform. They are an exceptionally informed generation and crave a more personal and service-oriented interaction with the brands they trust. Studies also show that about 95% of baby boomers want to know that they have found the best deal possible before booking their trip. Much like other generations, baby boomers expect companies to curate a more personalized and relevant experience, which means the intelligent use of data and targeted marketing or offers can go a long way.
Ultimately, the case for optimizing the digital experience across all travel touch-points isn’t specific to millennials or baby boomers; rather, it’s a multi-generational expectation that hoteliers are implored to meet.
A Penchant for Luxury, and Great Service
The days of backpacking and hostels are no longer on the travel list of baby boomers, for the most part, as we observe a generational preference for luxury travel. Often, boomer travelers enjoy the finer things in life, and actively seek out trips which provide them with the opportunity to escape regular life and live more lavishly, even if only for a week or two. Picture comfortable accommodations, great food and beverage experiences, attentive service, and, in some cases, exotic locale. Europe remains a popular destination for 2019 with England, Italy, and France also represented popular choices. To this point, only 57% of boomers say that their budget plays a factor in their trip, and many are prone to booking luxury services included upgraded tour and activity packages. Of course, this is music to hoteliers’ ears, as the baby boomer travel segment undeniably represents a wealth of revenue opportunity.
Moreover, despite the current influx of non-traditional hospitality options, including Airbnb, hotels, resorts, and motels are sought out most often for both domestic and international travel accommodations among boomers. This can likely be attributed to baby boomer’s preference for a more traditional service model, one in which in-person service is attentive, responsive and personal. This isn’t to be confused with resistance to modern technology. Boomers are certainly receptive. However, the emphasis should always be on the provision of exceptional, personal and memorable service.
Hoteliers, are you braced for the boom? Or have you put all your eggs in the millennial basket? Recognizing the opportunities that each generation brings to your hotel will, ultimately, be an integral indicator of long-term success in this ever-competitive climate. With boomers spending more and traveling more than ever before, it’s important to take the time to get to know their desires and expectations throughout the entire guest journey. After all, why should millennials have all the fun? I’m a boomer myself and, I can assure you, my desire to travel shows no sign of slowing down.