How Our New ‘Nation of Maturity’ Will Transform Travel

By David Baxter

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. While this population aging will create unprecedented opportunities for the travel industry, it will also create new challenges.

On the opportunity side, compared with younger generations, boomers and seniors spend 70% more on airfare, 85% more on out-of-town dining, twice as much on recreational activities while traveling, and about 2.5 times as much on hotels and ship fares.1 On the challenge side of the equation, products and marketing strategies developed for a younger population no longer apply, and companies will need to rethink how they can best resonate with a new generation of older adults.

There are several key trends that travel decision makers should take into account when developing products and marketing strategies for boomer customers. Many of these trends offer specific opportunities for new revenue streams.

• The “time boom” phenomenon
Growing numbers of empty nesters and retirees have more free time available for travel than at any other point in their lives. Free time is a rarity for younger adults, who often are grappling with the responsibilities and competing demands of careers and raising children. Among two-thirds of today’s families, both spouses work, making it difficult for them to find time off and coordinate vacations and travel.2 For families with children, travel opportunities are frequently restricted to school holidays and summer vacations. People in their later years are increasingly liberated from these responsibilities and constraints.

To fully capitalize on this growing market, travel providers and distributors must re-gear for newly time-emancipated older adults. One opportunity for providers is to develop new “off peak” travel offerings and strategies targeting age 50-plus travelers; this will appeal to their more flexible schedules and help grow revenue during traditionally slower travel seasons.

• Merging work and fun 
Today’s redefined retirement lifestyles are creating new purpose and roles for travel experiences. Among prior generations, retirement was largely considered a time for rest and relaxation. Today, two-thirds of people age 55-plus say they would ideally like to work in retirement. The vast majority say 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.3 

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.

Older adults also are increasingly blurring the lines between work and leisure time. Empty-nest business travelers have greater flexibility to invite their spouse along or to add a weekend travel package following a business trip. This presents opportunities for travel companies to develop add-on leisure travel packages and rates to combine with business travel. 

Let’s all go together
A recent survey revealed that 86% of boomers are seeking travel experiences that bring them closer with family and friends.

For today’s time-stressed and geographically dispersed families, travel experiences often offer the most enriching and fulfilling way to reconnect and revitalize their multigenerational family relationships. Studies show that Power Years bookgrandparents will spend more than $2,000 on their grandchildren in their first 18 months, and a third of grandparents say they have traveled with their grandchildren in the last year.4 

Despite these clearly evident trends, resources and products for multigenerational travelers are scarce, and many families find that coordinating multigenerational travel — from finding the right activities to booking adjacent hotel rooms — daunting and confusing. There is a strong opportunity here for travel companies to cultivate this growing market by designing travel experiences and new small-group products that appeal to multiple generations of families and friends.

• New and different travel triggersThe travel desires and needs of older adults are triggered by very different events and life stages than those of younger adults, including grandparenthood, empty nesting, retirement and reunions.

Travel companies that develop a deeper understanding of these dynamics will recognize myriad new product and marketing opportunities. For example, just as honeymoons and baby-moons are now recognized and promoted as potential travel events, “retirement day” is an opportunity for travel providers and distributors to engage with new retirees just as they are entering a life stage of unprecedented leisure time.

• Focus shift, from stuff to experiences 
A few years ago, I oversaw a study that asked boomers what they wanted most in their next stage of life. The No. 1 answer: “more fun.” Other top responses included “more time with spouses or partners” and “new travel experiences.”5 

Research shows that in our younger years we are often focused more on status and possessions. 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.

There is great opportunity here for travel companies to resonate with older travelers by developing new language, messaging, and brand imagery that speaks to how experientially focused travel can be fun, fulfilling, and even transformative.

1 Bureau of Labor Statistics, Consumer Expenditures Survey, 2011; Age Wave analysis
2 US Census
3 Age Wave/SunAmerica Retirement Reset Study, 2011
4 The Power Years: A User’s Guide to the Rest of Your Life, Ken Dychtwald
5 Age Wave/Merrill Lynch New Retirement Study 


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