How boomers are transforming the travel industry

Arrive at the airport of just about any exotic destination, and you are likely to be greeted by a sea of gray hair … baby boomers on the road. Boomers have a lot of clout in the travel industry worldwide … money. One of America’s leading speakers, authors, and experts about the boomer generation, Denver’s Brent Green, says baby boomers have an annual travel spending power of $120 billion.

With nearly 10,845 Baby Boomers reaching age 65 daily during 2018, a transformative portrait of retirement travel is emerging.

Relaxing on the dock of a lake in Bavaria.

Boomers view travel as fundamental to their next chapter, a time they anticipate being the most enjoyable and liberating of their lives. They are bringing new opportunities to an industry already responsible for over seven million domestic jobs and the nation’s number one service export.

Throughout their wandering lives, Boomers have contributed to the growth of many new forms of travel entertainment, from European excursions to backcountry trekking. As the generation prioritizes more time for travel and learning — so-called edutainment — tourism industries will continue to realize substantial growth and evolution.

Two up-and-coming trends being fueled by Boomers include heritage and cultural tourism.

The solitude of an ancient waterfall at Þingvellir National Park in Iceland.

Heritage tourism is tied to a geographic location and connected to neighboring history, customs, historical figures, traditions, and mythic stories. This form of travel presents underdeveloped opportunities for smaller communities and off-the-beaten path destinations. In concert with the period of life when history takes on added significance, Boomers will progressively seek out locales that showcase fascinating, transforming journeys into the past.

Locales that amplify Boomers’ own nostalgic coming-of-age experiences will become breakaway top-sellers. For example, London tourists can enjoy one of several all-day walking tours of The Beatles’ most famous landmarks, including Abby Road Studios and The Palladium Theater, birthplace of Beatlemania.

Equally compelling as a travel industry growth prospect, cultural tourism involves immersive experiences with less emphasis on a specific locale. For example, Boomers are rushing into regional art museums to see rock icon photographs by Linda McCartney (the late wife of Paul). Ronnie Wood, guitarist for The Rolling Stones, is luring hip crowds into hip galleries to view his striking sketches of the band that made him famous.

American Harley rider on Memorial Day. (Photo: Cecil Brathwaite. Used with permission)

For culture-thirsty Boomer travelers, a trip to Milwaukee must include a tour of the Harley-Davidson motorcycle factory. In Cleveland, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has become a Woodstock generation must-visit destination.

National Geographic has responded to these trends by developing its travel product called Expeditions, in line with changing Boomer tastes. Expeditions include out-of-the-ordinary journeys, education from preeminent tour guides, and access to off-the-beaten path experiences (such as a private tour of the Sistine Chapel after hours). Emphasis is on learning, cultural immersion and peak experiences.

Hotels and resorts will also continue to create new travel experiences that appeal to Boomers, offering gourmet cooking, wellness education, skill improvement in leisure sports, and room/event packages tied to neighboring festivals and special attractions.

The opportunities for suppliers of travel experiences have never been greater. Boomers have an annual travel spending power of $120 billion. (Skift) Two-thirds of Boomers say that high prices have no impact on their travel plans. (AARP)

Their primary travel goals include staying healthy (83 percent), intergenerational family connections (53 percent), “peak experiences” (48 percent), and adventure (45 percent). (Age Wave) More than 50 percent of Boomer travelers choose a destination based on its cultural value. (TripAdvisor) They seek educational enrichment with every tour decision.

Recent consumer research has disclosed other salient business facts about the future of Boomer travel:

  1. Ninety-nine percent of Boomers will take at least one leisure trip in 2018, with an average of five or more trips expected throughout the year (AARP);
  2. “Bucket List” trips are the most significant motivation for international travel (AARP;
  3. Fifty-two percent say they would like to visit specific cities or towns;
  4. Boomers have an average of eight places they hope to visit;
  5. A laid-back and relaxing vacation is the most desired type of trip (AARP);
  6. Boomers are slightly more likely to prefer domestic travel (53 percent) to international destinations (47 percent).

While these statistics help validate a compelling case for targeting Boomers with travel offers, one significant question remains: “How can travel marketers, tour operators, and destinations take advantage of this unprecedented marketing opportunity through strategic brand development and competitive differentiation?”

Brent Green, expert on the baby boomer generation.

That question needs at least ninety minutes to answer and a live presentation!

As a travel industry veteran with career experience marketing resorts, hotels, and destinations, my keynote speeches present compelling and actionable strategies to propel the travel industry to the next level of business success.

Other questions answered during his presentations include:

  1. What are the salient business facts about Boomer travel today that justify a substantial generational marketing focus by tour operators, destination managers, and travel planners?
  2. What are some of the most successful strategies and tactics employing generational marketing, and how can these insights be applied specifically to tour and travel offerings?
  3. What are the future Boomer trends and opportunities that will continue to transform travel for the next twenty years?

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