More than Meets the Eye

October 20, 2017 · Share via Email LinkedIn

As older Americans continue to reinvent the possibilities for life after 50, they are becoming an increasingly varied and vital demographic segment for the travel industry. Over-50 adults continue to love cruising and still favor group travel in disproportionate numbers, but their travel desires don't stop there.

Because they are more youthful, active and open to new experiences than previous generations, today's over-50 travelers want to learn, explore and investigate a greater range of destinations and cultures than ever before, and they want to do so independently, with spouses or friends and with family members from multiple generations.

Today, older travelers are responsible for 47% of all vacation-related travel spending, a marked increase from 36% just 20 years ago. Moreover, because the population growth among the over-50 segment will outpace growth of the 18-to-49 population by a margin of 2-to-1 over the next 10 years, that commanding share of travel dollars will be even more pronounced over the following decade.

Consequently, it's a safe bet that the most successful travel companies will be those that recognize and cater to the wide-ranging and ever-expanding interests of this travel-savvy demographic.

Here are nine essentials for brands to keep in mind as they pursue this lucrative market segment:

Boomer travelers spend more on travel.

While the stereotype suggests that people spend less as they age, all bets are off when it comes to travel and today's over-50 demographic. Last year, travelers over age 50 spent 18% more on foreign vacations and 16% more on domestic vacations than travelers ages 18 to 49. In fact, the oldest travelers (those over 70) were the ones who contributed most to this lopsided spending last year.

Over-70 adults spent 42% more than the youngest adult travelers (ages 18 to 34) on foreign vacations in 2016 ($3,839 vs. $2,713), and they spent 35% more on domestic vacations ($2,115 vs. $1,562).

Multigenerational travel is top priority.

By far, the biggest reason boomers take vacations is to spend time with family and friends, which is not surprising given that this older generation continues to be heavily involved in the lives of their adult children and grandchildren. Last year, 21 million boomers told AARP they were planning to take a multigenerational vacation.

Boomers see multigenerational vacations as a crucial time to solidify bonds, monitor changes within the family and create lifelong memories for younger members of their extended group. In addition, boomers say vacations bring together multiple generations in ways that are typically unlikely to occur at other times of the year, when busy work and school calendars crowd out meaningful, extended interactions. Destinations and hotels that foster these types of unique experiences are likely to benefit, as are restaurants and resorts that cater to the different eating preferences and energy levels of people at different life stages.

Bucket lists are the primary motivator for foreign travel.

Bucket list travel, the "trip of a lifetime," continues to be an appealing ideal to boomers. In fact, nearly one in three of them told AARP that their international travel plans for 2017 were focused around this concept. And with more discretionary dollars to spend -- just 40% of boomers set a budget for travel expenditures, compared with 54% of Gen Xers and 62% of millennials -- boomers also appear more likely to activate this particular kind of indulgence.

They like to share in local experiences.

Boomers see travel as an opportunity for adventure, exploration and learning. They are enthusiastic about diving into the local culture and customs, and they search out authentic experiences.

In fact, more than 50% of all boomers say they would like to share a meal with a local person; 23% would like to break away from a packaged, guided tour for the opportunity to sightsee with a local while in a foreign country; and nearly one in five (18%) would like to stay in the home of a local resident.

Travel companies that can provide boomers with these up close and personal experiences are sure to distinguish themselves and be rewarded for their efforts.

Domestic travel happens year-round.

On average, boomers take four domestic vacations annually. The top motivator for traveling domestically is to experience a summer getaway (29%), but that's not the only season boomers are traveling. One in four (25%) hit the road for the weekend, and nearly that many (22%) travel during the holidays. Get-up-and-go travel packages as well as last-minute travel deals are sure to appeal to boomers, especially since many of them are empty nesters and are not required to plan their trips around school calendars.

Many, but not all, count on travel to unwind.

For boomers, a laid-back and relaxing vacation is the most highly desired type of trip, especially when they travel domestically. That's not surprising considering that many boomers are still working. In fact, 39 million boomers are employed, and among younger boomers (those ages 52 to 61), 69% still have a job.

So like their younger counterparts, many boomers use some of their vacation time to unplug and unwind. But unlike previous generations of over-50 adults, this group defies easy labeling. One size does not fit all for boomers in any of their purchasing habits, including travel.

Active/busy vacations are their second most popular type of trips, and adventurous/outdoor vacations are also extremely popular. Consequently, if you are a travel company offering any product, from a spa to a whitewater rafting trip, you are likely to be servicing boomers. So don't shy away from showing them in your ads and talking directly to them in your promotional literature.

They want to stay connected.

Gone are the days when vacationing boomers barely noticed if the WiFi was free. Today, 43% say it's a "must have" while traveling for pleasure. Those still employed estimate at least 10% of their time away will actually be spent working, and about 40% feel it's at least somewhat important to remain connected to their workplace while they travel for pleasure.

Remote destinations take note: Even if boomers are coming to you to "get away from it all," you're apt to be asked how to connect to the real world if it's necessary.

They love cruises.

Not surprisingly, the convenience of cruising makes it a popular choice for boomers, who account for nearly 58% of all passengers on a major cruise line. But don't take them for granted.

Boomers are sophisticated consumers who research their travel plans extensively and can differentiate a true value from an empty promise. To earn their loyalty, you need to offer them new experiences, maintain a high level of service and deliver on your promise. Companies have been wooing them since they were children, so they've come to expect it, and they know when they're being underserved.

They embrace loyalty programs.

Travel is an ongoing life experience for this demographic: 82% belong to an airline loyalty program, and 72% belong to a hotel loyalty program. In addition, 70% say they book their travel through their loyalty providers.

Often, boomers have been members of these programs for many years and have come to rely on the benefits and feeling of privilege these programs deliver. For marketers, offering points and reminding boomers of their benefits are effective ways to keep them coming back to you.

What's next?

Support from the over-50 market is and will continue to be an imperative for any travel marketer. As the numbers within this age group grow, companies focused on building sales and growing revenue will be well-served to focus on the boomer demographic.

In her role as associate director, integrated marketing, AARP media sales, Pam Millman is a category and demographic expert on over-50 travel to help maximize ROI for travel companies.

This article was originally published on Travel Weekly.