||A Boomer Boom for Travel Starts on January 1
When the bells toll at midnight on New Year's Eve, the Golden Age of Baby Boomer Travel will begin.
Every day for the next 19 years, more than 11,000 U.S. boomers will celebrate a 65th birthday, and travel suppliers will need to adapt to share in the growth and prosperity they will generate.
"This is a turning point," said Lindsey Ueberroth, president of Preferred Hotel Group, which commissioned Ypartnership, a travel, leisure and lifestyle research firm, to study the behavior of 2,500 adult travelers.
"Unlike their parents' generation, baby boomers don't consider themselves old at 65," Ueberroth said. In fact, the opposite appears to be true.
Born between 1946 and 1964, boomers are more physically active than any previous generation. "And now, with more time available as they reach retirement age, they say they are going to intensify their pursuit of travel, new experiences and adventure," Ueberroth said.
Global research firm Tourism Intelligence International terms these boomers "Bobos," short for bourgeois bohemian.
"What this segment wants is exclusivity, a once-off discovery that no one else has made, or so they are willing to believe," said Tourism Intelligence International's chief, Auliana Poon.
For boomers, a vacation is, above all, a learning experience. They have superior education and believe that an important goal in life is to heap more esoteric knowledge onto the stockpile of what they already know.
According to the Ypartnership survey, "They are already world travelers. They backpacked through Europe as teens and have trotted the globe since. They now want more."
Seeking "sight doing," as opposed to sightseeing activities, this generation places emphasis on experiential, sustainable, interactive and thematic travel. "Their holidays must include an element of effort and accomplishment," Poon said.
A trend toward themed trips is closely linked to a desire for discovery and educational enrichment, the survey revealed. Among the popular themes now are art and architecture, history, hiking, golf, sailing, spas, the performing arts and food and wine.
It is the last that is perhaps the key niche experience most sought by boomers. They have a desire to stimulate their more educated palates, and they have an appetite for exploring exotic cuisines in their native habitats. These "foodies" are ready to plan entire vacations around the dining experience.
While they are seeking intellectual, spiritual and physical enhancement, they are also looking for fun.
Boomers don't identify with products or services that are more mature, because they don't consider themselves seniors until much later in life.
"A portion of discretionary income is earmarked for travel," Ueberroth said, "fueling a passion that these aging adventurers are now ready to pursue to even greater heights as increased leisure time opens the doors for longer and more frequent trips."
At the moment, there are 77 million boomers in the U.S. alone. Of boomer travelers, 99% are "connected" in the sense that they have access to the Internet from home and are completely comfortable using it to research and book travel.
Boomers, the survey suggests, spend several hours each day on the Web and are now much more likely to research and book travel online than through other sources. The vast majority (84%) have used the Internet to book one or more trips, with TripAdvisor being the most visited site for details about a destination or travel service supplier.
One exception the survey found "is seen among the upper echelons of the high-net-worth group, who demonstrate a preference for working one-on-one with luxury travel experts."
A prime motivator for travel within this group is the celebration of a major event such as a milestone birthday or a wedding, accounting for 66% of trips taken within the 12 months surveyed.
Asia Transpacific Journeys says vow renewals are on the upswing as boomers approach milestone anniversaries and want to renew their vows in exotic locales.
"We recently had one couple renewing their vows in Hindu tradition in India and another couple who renewed their vows in Buddhist tradition at a monastery in Bhutan," said Kim Mitchell, a spokeswoman for Asia Transpacific Journeys.
Boomers are of interest to her firm, she said, because they have the time and resources to travel to distant locales such as Asia.
"Travelers to Asia on custom journeys still get insider access, expert local guides, flawless logistics, and expert advice on where to go, what to see, and where to stay," Mitchell said.
Connecting with family is also important to boomers, one reason that multigenerational travel is increasingly popular. Some 52% of boomers polled said they traveled to visit family and friends within the last year, while 38% took a family vacation. Almost a third took their grandchildren on a trip. In planning vacations, almost half indicated that their children are influential in the decision-making process.
Despite the ample opportunities for the travel sector to tap into the boomer market, the Ypartnership study found that only 13% of this demographic had used a traditional travel agent in the previous 12 months.
Still, Poon believes that this generation does need to be walked through the buying process.
"Since they are not looking for off-the-shelf holidays, you must be prepared to spend time with them," she said. "The travel trade must enlighten them about their destination and show them how their holiday fits into their mental, spiritual and moral framework. It's more like counseling than selling."
(Source: Travel Weekly, 12/14/10)
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