Last updated: 12:03 PM ET, Wed June 08 2016

Marketing Author Brent Green: The Boomers Will Dominate Travel for 20 Years

Tour Operator | David Cogswell | June 07, 2016

Marketing Author Brent Green: The Boomers Will Dominate Travel for 20 Years

Photo courtesy Brent Green Associates

Millennials are getting more and more attention in the media, and are no doubt a rising force in the travel industry. But Brent Green, an expert on marketing to the baby boom generation and author of Generation Reinvention and Marketing to Leading Edge Baby Boomers, says that the baby boom generation will continue to be the main driving force in the travel industry for the next two decades.

“For the next 20 years,” said Green, “baby boomers are without question the financial force behind leisure travel.”

What Green calls the “sweetest of the sweet spot” in that market is the market segment he identifies as “leading edge baby boomers,” those born between 1946 and 1955. In 2016 they are between 61 and 70 years of age.

This demographic, says Green, is “where the opportunities are” for travel agents and tour operators.  

Quoting AARP, Green says that the 50-plus demographic, which includes five years below the baby boomer age group, is a $120 billion-a-year market. AARP says that 97 percent of that group expect to travel domestically on at least one trip this year, and at least 45 percent anticipate taking some type of international trip.

Green also referred to a study done by British Airways, which found that the generation born between 1946 and 1961 have a newfound interest in seeing the world as they enter into retirement, though not everyone’s prepared for long-haul travel.

“There is a strong propensity and desire to travel and see the world,’ said Green, "a lot of pent-up demand. But it is a surprisingly small percentage that have gone overseas and view that opportunity as a realistic next step.”

The leading edge boomer generation “feels under-satisfied with the amount of travel they’ve done up to now,” said Green, and the generation has a strong propensity to travel, though some of them are feeling they are not going to be able to afford it, which may or may not be accurate.

According to Green, the “silent generation,” those born from 1925 to 1945, have dominated the industry for the last 10 years as retirees, but now they are moving into their twilight years and their travel interests are waning. Baby boomers are now entering retirement and are becoming a more powerful force than ever.

Not only are they reaching their heavy travel years, the generation also has a particularly pronounced propensity for travel. The generation is also a large demographic and is in control of a lot of wealth and discretionary income. In addition, that demographic has been a trend setter for its whole life. All of these factors converge to make the market a veritable gold mine for the travel industry.

“The leading edge boomers set up a lot of the trends that became mainstream,” said Green. It was the generation that was in college during the Vietnam War and led the protest against it. It was the generation that championed women’s rights and the generation in which women entered the workplace in larger numbers than ever before.

And it was a generation that pushed the frontiers of travel, with hitchhiking in America and backpacking in Europe during their youth. Now as they reach retirement age, they are eager to get back to traveling, though in a more catered manner than when they were young.

The later baby boomers, aged 52-61, are less of a force in the travel industry now because “they are still actively in their careers, some in the peak demands of their careers, still dealing with college kids or with caregiving of their parents. They will age into the travel sweet spot within 10 years.”

Leading edge baby boomers, between 61 and 70, “are prime time for travel right now,” said Green. “And they have the economic capability of higher end travel. Many are retired, semi retired or within a few years of retirement.”

For those travel agents and tour operators who want to maximize the opportunity presented by the entrance of the leading edge baby boomers into the retiree travel market, Green presents several overarching themes that can help travel marketers target that sweet spot.

1. Creative Experiences. “Leading edge baby boomers are looking for something outside of cookie cutter travel experiences,” said Green. “They want immersive activities. They don’t want to just eat pasta, they want to make it. They don’t want to just make it, they want to see where the wheat is grown that makes the pasta. That’s immersive experience and creative experience. Travel companies that get it and are at the leading edge are doing it already.”

2. Authenticity. “They value experiences that are as close to being culturally consistent with where we’ve traveled as possible,” said Green. “You don’t want to go to McDonald’s in Paris. If you think about why people like to get off the beaten path, it is that they are searching for authentic experiences. They want to see the horse-drawn wagon hauling milk or whatever. They want to travel to destinations that are not over traveled.”

3 Focus on Health and Wellness. “People who fit profile of heavy travelers also tend to be people who are very interested in managing their health and wellness,” said Green. “They travel actively. They rent bicycles and go on a 40-mile day trip. They hike 10 miles in Paris. They want to eat well but don’t want to eat globs of cholesterol. They want a healthier diet.”

4. Community and Family. “They value travel that gives them a sense of community, whether it be a university affiliation, an age affiliation or their families. The leading edge boomers are heavily motivated to travel with their children and grandchildren.” Family travel is a market that will continue to grow.

5. Personal Development. “The leading edge boomers desire to have travel enrich them by increasing their depth of understanding of history, culture or what is involved in a place that makes it significant in history,” said Green.

6. Sustainability and Eco Responsibility. Boomers, as well as other generations, are increasingly concerned with environmental responsibility. An important part of this motivation is the desire to be involved in philanthropy or giving back. “They want to tie the travel experience to doing something meaningful to help others. It may include simply travel with philanthropic organization. Or it may be something like going to Peru to build houses or going to Everest but helping to clean up the trails below. Even if it is a superficial level of contribution, if added to the travel experience it can inspire people who don’t have time to give back if they can combine it with a great vacation.”

Within the leading edge baby boomer demographic, there are many opportunities for development, such as increasing multigenerational travel opportunities; celebration vacations, recognizing rites of passage; solo vacations, 40 percent of the generation is now unmarried; girlfriend getaways, more women are traveling with other women; dating vacations, single people want to meet other single people; and spirituality, as people get older they get more interested in spiritual matters.

Another important trend for travel professionals to note is the growing demand for professional travel services. “The boomers can afford more catered travel,” said Green, “and appreciate professional support. They want someone to help plan their trip so they don’t have to worry about anything but showing up.”


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