Report: Don’t ignore baby boomers in favor of millennials when it comes to travel

Focusing on millennials means baby boomers become an oft overlooked, large slice of the U.S. travel pie, according to Phocuswright research analyst Mark Blutstein.

Although the 75.4 million millennials (people age 20-37) outnumber boomers, there are still 74.9 million boomers (age 54-72). Each year more boomers will retire, providing many of them with the time and money to travel.

Boomers also make up a larger share of the traveler population: about 30 percent of U.S. leisure travelers were boomers in 2016, up from 24 percent in 2015, according to Blutstein. That compares with overall U.S. leisure travel declining somewhat in the same period.

While millennial travelers are adventurous and seek authentic experiences, they’re price-sensitive and brand-agnostic, Blutstein says.

Boomers may take fewer leisure trips each year, but they take longer trips – often seven nights or more – and spend more money than millennials, Blutstein said. Boomers are the only age group that increased travel spending from 2015 to 2016.

Average travel spending (Phocuswritght)

Boomers expect to take four or five leisure trips this year, spending about $6,400 ― the same or more than in 2017, according to a national survey conducted by AARP.

About half of those survey respondents expect to travel within the United States, with Florida and California being the most popular destinations. The other half plan to travel domestically and internationally. Top choices for those going abroad are the Caribbean/Latin America and Europe.

In 2016, 30 million Americans traveled internationally for leisure, according to the International Trade Administration. Here are some characteristics about U.S. leisure travelers who visited another country that year:

  • The average age was 45.
  • 54 percent were women
  • 58 percent traveled alone
  • 91 percent were adults
  • 63 percent were on vacation and 32 percent visited family or friends
  • The top three international destinations were: Europe (36 percent); the Caribbean (25 percent); and Asia (18 percent).
  • The average trip cost $2,398 per person.
  • The average household income of travelers was $119,779.
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6 travel trends to look for this year

Who doesn’t love to travel?

Each year, many of us add more destinations to our bucket list and new experiences we want as part of those trips. That’s partly why travel is up and expected to grow even faster this year, according to the US Travel Association. Another reason is the strong economy and high unemployment giving people the means to travel.

Here are six trends that may reshape the way we travel this year and beyond:

1. Unplug

More travelers want to refresh themselves and escape their busy lives. They’re prioritizing mental health over fun and thrills, according to the ATTA-Outside study.

This trend, however, varies by age, according to AARP. Nearly half of boomers say they travel to relax and rejuvenate or as a getaway from everyday life. But nearly three-quarters of millennials expect to bring work along on a trip.

I wrote an article about spa travel for the Chicago Tribune in late 2016. Spa spending has grown steadily over the last decade.

Japanese garden at Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary
The Japanese garden at Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary in Freestone, Calif., offers another way to relax and meditate. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

2. Higher prices

That relaxation may come at a higher cost this year — a reflection of the stronger U.S. economy and growing travel demand, according to a report by Carlson Wagonlit Travel and the GBTA Foundation. They expect global airfares to rise 3.5 percent, hotel prices to increase 3.7 percent and ground transportation, such as taxis, trains and buses, to remain more or less flat.

“If 2017 was the rise of the airline carriers’ “basic economy/no frills” concept, 2018 will be the hotel industry’s big year for ancillary charges,” according to a report by American Express. More lodgings are charging higher rates for a refundable room and fees for services that used to be free, such as Wi-Fi service, holding luggage, parking, early departures or a room safe, it said.

This may affect older travelers more because Baby Boomers (people age 54-72) prefer to stay in hotels or motels for amenities such as the concierge and room service, according to AARP. Millennials (age 13-36) are more open to staying in private home rentals, citing better prices, more space and amenities like a kitchen or washer/dryer.

3. Travel restrictions

Cheap regional airfares, home rentals and social media hype has contributed to overtourism in many popular places worldwide. Italy’s Cinque Terre is trying to control large tour groups that visit the five small, hillside towns linked by a trail along the Ligurian coast. Peru’s Machu Picchu restricts the number of visitors and how and when they access its ruins. Norway has introduced safety digital marketing to help deal with increased tourism and rescue calls.

The ATTA expects more places to restrict visitor access as governments and local residents protest the impact of overtourism on historical sites, pollution, traffic and the cost of living.

4. Customized travel

More people traveling to more places means there are fewer hidden gems and untrammeled areas. Research by Deloitte and the ATTA show that more travelers want personalized itineraries in their quest to experience something truly different.

5. Go local

Travelers also want more authentic interactions with local residents and communities, according to a study by the ATTA, East Carolina University and Outside magazine. This may include immersive experiences, such as staying overnight in a villager’s home or visiting a farm to learn about their sustainability efforts.

AARP found similar trends among international travelers: 49 percent want to “tour with a local” vs. 40 percent in 2017.

Bike and donkey in New Zeland
Personalized travel, such as a multi-day bicycle tour in New Zealand, lets you get closer to local people and animals. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

6. Virtual travel

Simulated travel experiences based on virtual and augmented reality technology provide access for people who can’t travel, enhance travel with behind-the-scene looks at damaged or hard-to-reach sites and create new marketing opportunities, according to the ATTA. Discovery Communications’ Discovery TRVLR project takes people to the seven continents using VR headsets. Go Under the Canopy takes people into the Amazon rainforest in an educational VR tour by Conservation International and Jaunt. You can take an interactive kayak tour of the Grand Canyon with Immersive Entertainment.

Virtual travel still can’t replace the real thing.