Gray is the New Green Part 11: Cross-Generational Travel

Awhile back, I wrote about cross-generational word of mouth, and about how ideas related to hospitality percolate up and down through the generations – daughters talking to mothers, granddads chatting with grandsons, uncles conversing with nieces and so on. The central observation was that we, as hoteliers and marketers, tend to compartmentalize our target demographics, oftentimes failing to see them as an interconnected web of nuclear families, extended families, workplace colleagues, neighbors and social circles of like-minded peers.

Thinking cross-generationally about word of mouth will help you design better promotional materials so that your message carries beyond the select few who hear it firsthand or who have had the pleasure of physically staying at your hotel. In this busy advertising world we find ourselves in, your messages need that staying power to outlast the constant distractions that plague our eyes and ears. But there’s another aspect to cross-generational appeal, and that is the travel itself.

While we tend to generalize the business traveler as the independent road warrior or as a member of a large group of similarly aged corporate cogs, we also do the same for leisure. We think in terms of couples, parents with young kids, spa-pampering packages solely aimed at women, or a group of guys looking for a golf getaway. As such, we tend to neglect the rising flow of fully-grown, multi-generational families traveling together or reuniting at a predetermined locale.

And the reason for this trend’s increase rests predominantly with the boomers. As they get older, they are accruing greater stores of free cash (especially once they become empty nesters) while the onset of retirement means more free time for travel. While journeying across the globe as mature or elderly couples consistently ranks high on every boomer’s bucket list, we are also seeing members of this generation who want to splurge on their families by using a part of their disposable nest-eggs to bring the whole family together, young, old and all in-between.

Think a winter destination vacation at a Mexican resort with the grandparents flying in from Long Island, son, wife and young kids from Chicago, and daughter, husband and teenage kids from Seattle. This is but one arbitrary case of a multi-generational rendezvous on neutral ground. More commonly, such meet-ups are annual ventures over the Xmas holiday season, either down in the tropics or a preselected territory of mutual interest, or at the patriarch’s/matriarch’s seasonal abode (with nearby hotel accommodations often acting as bedroom overflow).

While there’s not much you can do to control multi-generational travel to someone’s personal domicile for a traditional turkey, roast ham and mashed potato dinner, you can control the cross-generational appeal and marketing message you disseminate to get families to consider your hotel in this manner. Essentially, you need to express that your property is compatible with a multitude of demographics and that you are able to deliver an exceptional experience for each divergent mindset.

Boomers want to feel young, millennials want to be treated like mature adults, and Gen Xers just want to everybody to get along. While soft brands and independents have a modest advantage here insofar as it is easier for them to offer a bespoke experience, chain properties shouldn’t despair. Any hotel can emphasize its unique qualities and how they apply to any given generation. It’s just a matter of sitting your marketing team down and thinking holistically instead of fixating on only one or two target age groups.

Lifespan Versus Healthspan
Another related topic worth addressing at this point is the current debate between lifespan and ‘healthspan’. While the concept of lifespan (life expectancy) is readily understood as how long the average person is alive – and indeed this number is increasing year-over-year in the Western World – healthspan looks at how long the average person is in good health.

Many statisticians have been quick to point out that lifespan is on the up largely because of advancements in medicine and technology that prolong an elderly person’s later, enfeebled years – a time in which travel comes with its own set of difficulties, thus making it rare. Instead, healthspan would appear to be a better indicator of a population’s overall vitality as it incorporates such lifestyle choices as diet, exercise and cigarette usage. Ideally, you want lifespan to equal healthspan, but this is rarely the case.

Even though lifespan is much easier to measure than healthspan (life and death are binary, after all), we are finding that the latter is in fact increasing within the baby boomer population. When you put this trend through the marketing gauntlet, the pertinent question is: how can you target healthy boomers?

That is to say, as our medical, dietary and fitness knowledge bases increase, more and more people are taking an active role to ensure that their healthspans are as long as possible. Yes, the younger generations have a definitive leg up – for example, they know cigarettes are bad, they’ve been raised in a society where refined sugars are rightfully demonized, organic is king and there are carnivorous options beyond steroid-injected, grain-fed beef or poultry.

But older generations are catching up. Hotels that appeal to the health-conscious boomer’s desire to live longer – in addition to a millennial’s aspiration for clean eating and leading a regularly active life – will find a receptive audience.

(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, published in HOTELS Magazine on September 1, 2015)