Half rock 'n' roll, half flat cap: understanding the Baby Boomer generation

The mainstream travel industry is failing to understand the changing demands of the Baby Boomer generation, writes Lazar Dzamic, planning director at Kitcatt Nohr Digitas.

He is 65. He wears a flat cap. He is the lead singer of AC/DC.

The trip I had in mind was not… well, you could guess what may be part of a rock star’s "rider". What I meant is the journey, the packaged holiday of a sort. Because, it seems, a very few mainstream travel companies can envisage that anyone over 60 could be anything else than a flat cap, pipes and slippers person, happy to go anywhere as far as it is not more than a hundred yards away from a toilet.

The way the mainstream travel industry fails to understand the Baby Boomers (BBs) is the newest instalment of the saga of the ‘zeitgeist blindness’, the same one that made Sony oblivious to iPod, Microsoft oblivious to mobile phones and music industry oblivious to downloads.

Variety of interests

The BBs are now expected to change many aspects of the industry, due to the variety and idiosyncrasy of their interests. Both rock ‘n’ roll and flat cap, they break through some long-established category conventions. They think themselves much younger than their biological age, so need products that cater both for the truth and for the perception.

Both rock ‘n’ roll and flat cap, Baby Boomers break through some long-established category conventions.

They want experiences, more than things: action mixed with relaxation, dirt roads that end in comfy spas, travelling with their family as well as alone. Technologically more literate than their predecessors, they also cherish human contact.

They are a tricky bunch to get right. And there are going to be many more of them in the next five to 10 years. According to ONS, the number of 65-74-year-olds in the UK is set to grow by 15.3%, while over-85s will grow in number by 16.3% – the two fastest growth rates of any age group.

Given that "retired" is a bit of a misnomer today, as many 65-plus people will still be employed due to changes in the retirement age, the industry has to respond to their unique blend of interests. Is there an opportunity, therefore, to create new products and services, quite outside of the dull and passive "packages" prevalent in the industry today? Here are a few examples.

According to Travelling.com’s BB research, 86% of BBs see their later years as the time to actively pursue their interests and set new goals. Why not turn the holiday into a learning experience that may even end up with a basic professional certificate?

They also want to leave a legacy of a sort, through emotional engagement with local projects and charities; so, a holiday that combines relaxation and learning with a hands-on charity work at a local community pottery? All of it combined with their advocacy of it through the social media they use.

Hard times

Finally, many of them are supporting both their parents and their grown-up kids, due to hard economic times, which creates space for innovative products where both the parents and the kids can go free. A cost that could be offset by providing special paying ‘crèches’ for frail parents, while the (grown-up) kids will constitute good paying customers at the bar anyway.

Clever up-and-coming travel companies are already doing it. Road Scholar is an US-based website that operates as a non-profit business and, for many, is cornering the US BB market with the right mix of thinking and products.

BBs and "senior" people, professionals, lecturers and customers featured on the site are all mature, vivacious, energetic, educated (some of them look even wise) and exude an air of a life well-lived. Inter-generational travel packages are prominent and well thought-through, as well as the breadth of destinations and topics. The feeling of travelling that at the same time enriches both the travellers and the place they go to is inescapable.

The site is also feature-packed: product filtering options, participants’ blogs, weekly raffles, photo competition, donations and even an alumni association! Travel as a sustainable university of life.

Now, that’s something that even Brian Johnson can look forward to.

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