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Baby Boomer Travel

Preferred Hotel Group finds that with retirement looming, an iconic generation plans to see the world.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010
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A significant demographic shift will take place at the start of 2011 that could have profound effects on the travel industry.

Starting Jan. 1, the first Baby Boomers will turn 65 years old, the traditional age of retirement. The generation, defined here as people born from 1946 to 1964, represents 77 million people in the United States. For the next 19 years, about 11,000 Boomers a day will turn 65.

Preferred Hotel Group, in a study conducted with Ypartnership and Harrison Group, sought to uncover why Boomers travel, where they want to go, what they want to do, who they travel with and how they book their travel. Results of the study were announced at the International Luxury Travel Market in Cannes, France.

Insights from the research will help guide Preferred as it markets to this influential group.

“For those that are not focusing on this, it will be their mistake,” Lindsey Ueberroth, president of Preferred Hotel Group, told Hotel Interactive®. “As a company we are really excited about working with this generation of Boomers. It’s a phenomenal number of people. They’re ready to travel, they’re passionate and want to have fun.”

The research was based on interviews with 1,185 Boomers, a subset of a larger study of 2,524 active U.S. leisure travelers. The subjects had household incomes of $50,000 or more and had taken at least one leisure trip requiring overnight accommodations during the past 12 months.

The study called this group the “healthiest, wealthiest and most active senior generation.” Ueberroth said Boomers cited travel on the top of the list of where they want to spend their time and money, and that they still have money to spend on leisure travel despite the global recession.

“Even though many have been affected by recent events, they will still be the wealthiest generation,” she said. “They still plan on making travel a priority. This will not deter them from the things they plan to do when they retire.”

The study found that Boomers spent an average amount of $3,324 annually on leisure travel and expected to spend about the same amount in the coming year.

Boomers took an average of 3.6 trips in 2009. Two-thirds (67 percent) took a trip of five or more nights, often including a Saturday night, while one-third took a mid-week trip of up to four nights.

Most boomers (73 percent) traveled at least once with a spouse or other adult, and nearly one-third took their grandchildren on a trip. A quarter of them (25 percent) made a journey alone.

More than half traveled to visit family or friends, while 38 percent reported taking a family vacation. Another 35 percent took a nature-inspired trip and 18 percent spent time in casinos.

Their favorite domestic destinations were California (44 percent), Florida (42 percent), and Hawaii (42 percent), followed by Alaska (34 percent); Arizona, Nevada, and Washington, D.C., (each at 28 percent) and Colorado (27 percent).

Almost 30 percent of the Boomers in the survey took international trips. The top destinations were the Caribbean (33 percent) and Europe (28 percent), followed by Mexico (19 percent) and Canada (18 percent).

The study also found that Boomers embrace technology when researching their travel. In fact, 84 percent reported using the Internet to book one or more trips. They visited an average of 3.5 sites for a hotel/resort, 3.6 for an airline, and 2.9 sites for a car rental.

The survey noted that one exception to the trends in online travel booking is among the wealthiest of Boomers, who prefer one-on-one service from luxury travel experts.

Understanding these travel trends will help hotel companies cater to this generation as they plan “Bucket List” trips and celebrations that involve travel. In fact, the celebration of a major event accounted for 66 percent of trips taken during the 12 months surveyed.

“How can we market to the anniversary and monumental birthdays after 65?” Ueberroth said. “When we did the research, the thing Boomers want to do for their birthday is travel. Not, ‘Let’s go out to dinner.’ It’s, ‘Let’s go to Napa and celebrate with friends.’”

Ueberroth said Preferred Hotels Group would continue to delve into the research as well as reach out to Boomers in its I Prefer loyalty program.

“Unlike traditional marketing focused on younger generations, we want to spend time dialogue with this group,” she said. “We’ve got 800 wonderful properties to have a conversation with them about.”

Boomers are different from past generations in that they are prolific travelers, Ueberroth said, and they don’t expect that to change as they enter retirement and semi-retirement.

About 68 percent have valid passports, according to the survey, compared to about 30 percent of Americans overall.

“Intrepid world travelers, many older boomers have circled the globe more than once and are unafraid of new cultures, foreign languages, exotic cuisines,” according to the study. “Preferred Hotel Group has observed a distinct eagerness to expand horizons with the education afforded uniquely by travel, and to explore the lifestyles of increasingly distant shores. The pursuit of special interests has sparked a growing preference for themed trips with a focus on topics that include art and architecture, history, golf, sailing, fishing, spa and wellness and cuisine.”

The survey asked Boomers where they would like to travel. Domestically, their wish lists include the Hawaiian Islands (70 percent), the National Parks (67 percent) and Honolulu (63 percent). Also popular are the Florida Keys (56 percent), Las Vegas (51 percent), San Francisco (47 percent), Napa Valley (46 percent), San Diego (45 percent), Washington D.C. (45 percent), Orlando (44 percent), and the Florida Gulf Coast (43 percent). They also expressed interest in visiting Hilton Head (39 percent) and Colonial Williamsburg (37 percent).

Overseas, Europe remains a top destination (61 percent), with Italy, the UK, Ireland and France the hottest markets. Other popular overseas destinations included the Caribbean (46 percent), Canada (34 percent), and Australia/South Pacific (33 percent). Also cited were Mexico (25 percent), Central America (23 percent), Asia (18 percent), South America (13 percent), the Middle East (9 percent) and Africa (8 percent).

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