‘Boomers want the sizzle’
In the past, escorted tours have been “blue-hairs on buses; no independents; pack and unpack; move, move, move,” but that model doesn’t jive with baby boomers, said Mary Stachnik, co-owner of Illinois-based Mayflower Tours.
“They want to go and learn and experience things,” she said, adding, “Baby boomers want the sizzle.”
Boomers want flexibility and independence, and they never want to feel rushed, she said, which is part of the reason they’re particularly fond of Mayflower’s Danube River cruise between Budapest and Prague and the Rhine River cruise through central Europe.
“They can just not get enough of [the cruises], and the reason is because they have flexibility and independence,” she said. “It’s the vessel that moves, not them.”
On the boat, passengers can relax and enjoy meals, drinks and live entertainment between stops, “so they’re not sitting there like a lump,” Stachnik said. At every stop, passengers get off the boat to take in the city and the experiences. Mayflower provides local step-on guides at each stop for walking tours, or guests can take one of Mayflower’s bicycles to explore on their own.
Boomers are also more active, which makes Mayflower’s trip from Portland down the Pacific Coast to San Francisco another popular product. The trip includes a jet boat tour in Hellgate Canyon, hiking in Crater Lake National Park and a dune buggy ride in Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area.
Stachnik has also noticed an uptick in solo or multigenerational travel among baby boomers. People are more comfortable traveling by themselves, or they’re forgoing couples travel to include children and grandchildren. Mayflower offers a guaranteed share program that pairs up solo travelers for the double-occupancy price.
Although boomers want tours packed with experiences, they also want options for free time because “they go kicking and screaming if the schedule is too controlled,” Stachnik said.
“Boomers don’t like too much control over what they do with their time; they don’t like you telling them what to do on their vacation,” Stachnik said. “You have to give them some time to breathe. You can’t have someone lecture for 30 minutes. They want to walk, to bike, and they want to experience; they don’t want to be talked to.”
‘Director of fun’
Richard Arnold, president of Atlantic Tours in Nova Scotia, still guides a few trips a year. And he prefers the title that’s on his business cards: “Director of Fun.”
“As director of fun, I think it’s really important [to lead trips] because your customers change,” he said. “If you’re not there to see how they’re changing, it’s sometimes harder to convince your team that they need to change up their program and do things differently.”
Much of that change is happening among Atlantic’s baby boomer clientele. The biggest difference Arnold has noticed is their desire for more flexibility. They still enjoy traditional tour items, but they want choices, customization and to be able to do it at their own pace.
Atlantic Tours has adjusted its tours to allow travelers to be part of a structured program but “have more say about when and how they do things within that,” Arnold said.
“Instead of having everyone do the same thing at the same time, we have multiple choices; you can go whale-watching or browse shops,” he said.
Flexibility also plays into the length of the trip, Arnold said. For example, people don’t have to do an entire two-week excursion; they can now buy as little as two days, joining the tour later or leaving earlier. All of Atlantic’s trips are also designed to piggyback off each other, so “you can do as much or as little as you want,” Arnold said.
Boomers particularly enjoy the Canadian Maritimes: Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Arnold said Newfoundland and Labrador, known as the Alaska of the East, have become more popular among boomers because the provinces aren’t touristy and provide a wealth of wildlife, wilderness and unique experiences.
Boomers also want to do more than “just ride along,” Arnold said. They want to experience what the area has to offer. That can mean sitting down at a harvest-to-table dinner, hauling up a lobster trap before enjoying a lobster meal on the boat, learning about Nova Scotia’s seafaring heritage, sea kayaking in a protected bay or tidal bore rafting on the Bay of Fundy’s world-famous high tides.
Arnold said boomers also want smaller, niche group tours or driver-guided trips that allow them more access and more intimate experiences. Fewer people and smaller vehicles means “there’s flexibility to go places where a full-size coach may not go,” he said.
Next: They really get hooked on it
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