Boomer travel offers new opportunities for travel agents. // c 2014 Thinkstock/IPGGutenbergUKLtd
This year, the last of the Baby Boomers turn 50. This storied generation, comprised of the 76 million-plus people born in the U.S. between 1946 and 1964, constitutes a prime market for travel agents and suppliers who understand Boomers’ motivations and needs.
“There’s tremendous potential for the travel industry in the older population,” said Sara Rix, a senior strategic policy advisor with the AARP Public Policy Institute. “Older people are buying, and they want products and services targeted to their interests and their stage in life.”
David Baxter, senior vice president of Age Wave, a research and communications company focused on the aging of America, said this generation will have major implications for the entire travel industry.
“As the massive Boomer generation moves into its later years, we are increasingly being transformed from a nation of youth to a nation of maturity,” he said. “While this population aging will create unprecedented opportunities for the travel industry, it will also create new challenges.”
The opportunity side is significant. Boomers are the most active, healthy and wealthy generation of older Americans in U.S. history. This generation collectively controls more than half of all consumer spending and more than 80 percent of personal financial assets, according to some studies. In terms of travel spend, compared with younger travelers, Boomers and seniors spend about 70 percent more on airfare, twice as much on recreational activities while traveling and about 2½ times as much on cruise ship fares and hotels, according to a recent Consumer Expenditures survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The challenge side of the equation is equally significant. Products and marketing strategies developed for a younger population simply will not apply, Baxter said, “so travel companies need to rethink how they can best resonate with a new generation of older adults.”
Baxter outlined a few defining characteristics of the Boomer generation and the “specific opportunities for new revenue streams” they offer travel agents.
Boomers Have Different Travel Triggers
The travel desires and needs of older adults are triggered by very different events and life stages than those of younger adults, including grandparenthood, empty nests, retirement and reunions.
“Travel agents who develop a deeper understanding of these dynamics will recognize myriad new product and marketing opportunities,” Baxter said. “For example, just as honeymoons and babymoons are now recognized and promoted as potential travel events, retirement day is an opportunity for travel providers and travel agents to engage with new retirees just as they are entering a life stage of unprecedented leisure time.”
Boomers Have the Time to Travel
Unlike younger generations, millions of Boomers have the time to travel as well as the means and the desire to do so. Growing numbers of empty nester and semi- or fully retired Boomers have more free time available for travel than at any other point in their lives, Baxter said. They also have more time available for travel than younger adults who are grappling with the pressing responsibilities and competing demands of careers and raising children.
Baxter advised agents to “re-gear” for these recently time-emancipated older adults by promoting or developing off-peak travel offerings specifically targeting age 50-plus travelers.
“This will appeal to their more flexible schedules and help grow your revenue during traditionally slower travel seasons,” he said.
Boomers Have Redefined Retirement, Creating New Roles for Travel
Boomers have redefined retirement lifestyles, Baxter said, which in turn has created “new purpose and roles” for leisure and business travel experiences.
While prior generations largely considered retirement a time for rest and relaxation, today two-thirds of people age 55-plus say they ideally would like to work in retirement, according to a recent AgeWave/SunAmerica Retirement Reset survey. Most Boomer survey participants said they are seeking more flexible work arrangements for this period of their lives including part-time work, shorter work weeks and going back and forth between periods of work and leisure. That trend bodes well for travel.
“Older adults with flexible work schedules will seek ways to merge work and fun or to take ‘vocation vacations’ that offer opportunities to try out a new profession or participate in volunteer experiences as part of their travel,” Baxter said.
At the same time, empty-nest business travelers have greater flexibility to invite a spouse or partner along or to add a weekend travel package to a business trip. This presents opportunities for travel agents to sell or develop their own add-on leisure travel packages that Boomer clients can combine with their business travel, Baxter said.
“As more people work longer, more of them will have the financial resources to spend on things like travel if there are services and products out there that appeal to them,” said AARP’s Rix.
Boomers Just Want to Have Fun
A few years ago Baxter oversaw a study that asked Boomers what they wanted most in their next stage of life. The number-one answer was “more fun.”
“Other top responses included ‘more time with spouses or partners’ and ‘new travel experiences,’” Baxter said.
The emphasis on new travel experiences is important for travel agents to recognize, Baxter said.
“Research shows that in our younger years we are often focused more on status and possessions,” he said. “In our later years, we begin to realize that it is the experiences that matter most — the opportunity to bond with a grandchild, discover a new passion, reconnect with one’s spouse, or simply have the opportunity to escape the stresses of life.”
Baxter said that particular Boomer orientation offers travel agents a rich opportunity to cultivate Boomer clients “by developing new language, messaging and brand imagery that speaks to how experientially focused travel can be fun, fulfilling and even transformative.”