By Dan Dickson
They were born between 1946 and 1964, right after WWII, during Eisenhower’s 1950s or in the first half of the remarkable 1960s. They’re baby boomers and today range in age from 48 to 66. They’re the most talked-about and analyzed generation in American history, having influenced everything from music to fashion to technology to social mores.
And boomers are becoming known for their love of travel. “They’re still the largest segment of the group travel market by far. There’s no close second place,” said John Mucklow, vice president of babyboomertrips.com.
“It’s a tsunami wave that is getting ready to hit group travel,” said Charlie Presley, co-founder of the travel industry conference called Boomers in Groups (BiG). “Boomers are the fastest-growing segment of the population of America. They have time, money and health. Those are the three key ingredients that result in travel.”
Boomers grew up in extraordinary times — men on the moon, computers and medical breakthroughs. “They’ve got a new mind set to take chances and go on trips of a lifetime,” said Mucklow. “They’ll try things their parents never would.”
Presley said the travel industry needs to adjust to boomer buying patterns. “They want less structure in a tour, more hands-on, more experiential. They don’t want to watch a cooking class. They want to be part of a cooking class,” he said.
Presley said that approximately 10,000 boomers turn 65 every day, which means more people are retiring and anxious to get out there and travel. Inheritance is also a factor.
“We are in the midst of the largest transfer of wealth [$7 trillion] ever to happen in America, and it’s from seniors to boomers. And those [boomers] are going to have fun spending it,” he said.
On the opposite end, younger people who are married with children will vacation twice a year, Mucklow commented. One will be to visit family somewhere; the other time, at most, will be a long weekend. “That is the typical family vacation for the masses,” he said.
But boomers are the ones taking transatlantic group cruises or trips to the Panama Canal or South America. “International: That’s where you’re seeing the growth. It’s the bucket-list syndrome. Maybe it’s going to see where your grandparents grew up,” said Mucklow.
“Trips will also be longer, more expensive and internationally based.”
Travel veteran Carolann Moisse writes the blog Mature Traveler, identifying her target group as “50-plus.” That would include a 16-year chunk of the boomer generation.
“I think the average mature/boomer traveler buys into group travel experiences — two- or three-week packages that assemble the pieces of hotel, flights and guides,” said Moisse.
Boomer vacationers with the means for high-end travel book safaris and cruises to Antarctica, the South Pacific islands, Alaska, the Panama Canal, the Galapagos Islands and Scandinavia. “There are also luxury train experiences through Russia, the Canadian Rockies, Southeast Asia, India, and on the Orient Express. All of these experiences don’t make physical demands on them,” she added.
Moisse suggests boomer travelers leave their groups occasionally and explore for personal growth. “Leave your comfort zone and wander. Get in touch with the culture. Learn a few words of the language,” she recommends.
Boomer travelers are at a much different stage in life than younger travelers. Lucky for them. They also have more interesting travel wish lists. “Places they want to see that have been accumulating a lifetime,” said AARP travel editor Bill Newcott. Boomers love to go with others. “That’s the best kind of group travel, isn’t it? You’re surrounded by people who share your specific interests.”
Newcott agrees that young families seem obligated to make a Disney trip or to visit a beach. But boomers think about the places they’ve always wanted to see, but didn’t or couldn’t. “Finally, the kids are gone; they have more time and disposable income.”
Boomers have been exposed to the “temptation” of group travel more than any other group in history, says Newcott, like when Marco Polo returned to Italy from his world travels and produced a book that stimulated people to travel. “This amazing information age has prompted many boomers to explore the world. There’s so much information available on travel.”
The oldest baby boomers are just starting to retire, and as a result, most travel companies expect to see healthy sales over the next two decades. But if you think boomers are depressed about growing older, forget it. When it comes to group travel, they seem poised to set off yet another “boom.”